Frankie Solarik of BarChef Toronto is taking the traditional concept of cocktails beyond the bar and behind the kitchen, crafting experiences unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Think light textured foams and cocktails you slurp like a bowl of noodles.
To blur the line between cocktail and cuisine.
How did your journey as a bar chef begin?
When my business partner Brent VanderVeen and I opened BarChef back in 2008, right from the beginning our goal was to ensure we used only the freshest possible ingredients.
Creatively, my approach has always been to make as many of the components involved in the cocktails as I physically could in-house to have control of every single aspect of the flavor profile, viscosity and aromatics of the compositions. This included making bitters, infusions, syrups, etc. for the program.
Moving from behind the bar and into the kitchen was a huge point in my creative freedom, because it allowed me resources of space and lighting and access to ingredients, equipment, and a team to execute the more technical “dishes.”
My motivation, artistically is to create a multi-sensory, immersive and emotional experience for our guests, to completely challenge the genre of the cocktail and create an entirely new experience in the world of food and drink. To blur the line between cocktail and cuisine. For me, it’s very important to be constantly pushing, creating, and evolving artistically and technically.
At what point did you decide to go beyond the cocktail norm?
There was a huge moment for me one day while watching an episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. It was an episode titled “Decoding Ferran Adria.” Watching the reactions of the guests consuming his cuisine, the element of the unknown, the anticipation and surprise – I knew right then and there that that was exactly what I wanted to do.
My goal is to provide our guests with an experience they have never had before. To involve the guest as a component in the overall experience by utilizing references of nostalgia and emotion. My goal is to provide the tools to allow the guests to create their own references to positive and powerful emotions with flavor, texture, and aroma. As a general perspective, our goal is to create an entirely new experience for our guests in the world of liquid and cuisine.
Typically, what is your process when crafting a new cocktail?
Generally, the creative process begins with a rough image in my head of the finished piece, capturing a specific time of day, experience, or emotion. Something that I would like to achieve with the guests. For example – the nostalgic references of the “Thaw of Winter,” the welcoming of spring with “Spring Thaw,” or walking through the forest on a beautiful crisp autumn day with “Essence of Fall,” or celebrating a beautiful summer day with “Day Into Evening.”
From that point, sketches, notes, and concepts are drafted and altered numerous times. If it’s an idea I’m super excited about, I will transfer the notes to a canvas and begin sketching on that and transfer it into my living room where I am able to be physically immersed and create an emotional attachment. I usually begin to work on Modernist concepts at least two seasons in advance to be able to work on new techniques and ingredients. As a team, we focus on creating new flavors, ingredients or techniques for each new menu.
Where do you find your inspiration?
For me, creatively, the moment of inspiration is a very special one. I have had experiences walking through the park after service with my dog and coming across a perfectly list tree with vibrant colors of brown, green, and purple flowers blossoming. At that moment it was perfect. The lighting was perfect, and there was a slight chill in the air. It was dark, but the way the light was hitting this tree was so special, it spoke to me emotionally. I took a picture and began working on the concept the following day. It’s still one of my favorite pieces – the “Night Blossom.”
We recreated the tree with a 6′ long gel made of cacao, cream, sugar, green Chartreuse, Gellan and agar. The blossoms we made with a fluid gel of violet liqueur and almond orgeat (a liqueur we make in house). We used julienne of balsam fir and honey to replicate the wood tones and exemplify the essence of wood, forest, and trees, along with spherified Amaro and patchouli to pair with the cacao. A warm cocktail of Bourbon, Islay Scotch, rosemary syrup and maraschino is poured table side to melt the ice components, thaw the noodle, and create a “Ramen” type consumption experience with chopsticks or a spoon.
I feel this dish truly embodies my approach. Is it a cocktail? Because of the volume of alcohol? Or is it a dish? Because it’s consumed with chopsticks or a spoon?
What are the different techniques you’re using to create cocktails?
We’ve used techniques like dipping rosemary sprigs back and forth between a mixture of white chocolate washed water and balsam fir bitters, essentially creating a rosemary and white chocolate water “ice” for our “Mezcal, White Chocolate and Eucalyptus.”
The white chocolate washed water is made using a technique of proportionately melting water and white chocolate and setting in the fridge – essentially fat washing the white chocolate. After eight hours, the fat content of the chocolate solidifies on the surface of the water and is removed, leaving a vibrant infused water that isn’t overly sweet, but has the color, aroma, and flavor of white chocolate.
We also created very thin shards of eucalyptus ice with a hallowed batonette of white chocolate and pastis we filled with fresh mint.
For “Day Into Evening,” we created a transitional edible base made of one consistent piece of gel that transitions from flavors of chamomile to represent “Day” to darker flavors of bitter almond and Amaro to represent “Day Into Evening.” Then a very light textured foam.
For the autumn menu, we made an apricot sugar to prepare an apricot meringue placed into demi sphere molds, frozen in liquid nitrogen, and removed and dehydrated to create spheres. These are then filled with a fluid gel of bitter almond and Madeira and then placed in liquid nitrogen again to create a brittle sphere of apricot meringue and garnished with a fresh mint.
Do you cook as well?
As a chef utilizes modern equipment, ingredients, and techniques to manipulate textures and flavors of proteins, starches, vegetables, herbs, dairy, etc. – I take this approach and apply it to liquid and alcohol. I would say that what we do here is closer technically to that of a pastry chef.
Your cocktail of choice?
My personal cocktail of choice would be a Martinez – the more balanced of the classic cocktail genre, in my opinion. The incorporation of the marschino adds viscosity and depth which I enjoy. That and a double Jack Daniels with Cola on the side.