One of the things I enjoy most at work is the act of translating a small scale experimental recipe into something that makes sense on a high volume menu. Often when someone brings a syrup or infusion recipe to me it’s something they have made in small batches to workshop the recipe until they can achieve desired proportions. Sometimes that means that the methods originally used are a little unwieldy, and it’s quite interesting to figure out how to adjust it into something that makes sense in terms of time and money, while still retaining the right flavours and the intentions of the person who created it. If something takes hours of work and multiple pieces of equipment to produce, then it’s unlikely to sit well amongst a large cocktail menu, no matter how delicious it is. It also means that it may be hard to reproduce the same flavour consistently when there are so many variables at play.
Some inconsistencies are truly beautiful things. The way a fruit changes throughout its season, and the different flavours you can find between hard to distinguish species is so interesting, but unless you’re willing to make that difference a staple on your menu, then sometimes it’s just not going to work for you. I recently developed a recipe that required fresh peaches, and I know that this may be a problem in the long term. I’ve done my best to specify between species as I know that white peaches show a more consistent, although less rich, flavour profile through their season and ripening stages than yellow peaches, but what happens when their season ends? I’m going to need to develop an alternative method to keep that drink on the menu. If I can find a high quality peach nectar to mix then I may be on the right track, (a puree probably won’t work in this circumstance), and then I will also cut down on techniques and save on production time. I just have to force myself to let go of the fresh fruit, trust that someone else out there knows what they’re doing, and let them handle a small part of my recipe for me. I’ll call it outsourcing.
I’ve always been moved by the memory associations that people have with certain smells and flavours. Rinquinquin reminds me of nasturtiums in my mother’s garden. Yamazaki is cruising through blistering hot summer air past a crispy dry field. Every time I pick up something in a spirit or a drink, processing that information seems to dig up a memory at random. Marmalade is pretty much always the cumquat jam that my best friend’s mum made when I was eight years old, but sometimes it’s the dirty chopping board in the kitchen of the share house I lived in when I was 20 (one of the boys in that house ate a lot of toast).
Actually, it’s not that surprising. The part of our brain that processes smell is closely connected to both the amygdala and the hippocampus where our emotions and memories are processed.
So liquid nitrogen is a pretty fun toy for me. The fog produced from mixing it with liquid can be voluminous and dramatic, and more importantly, you can scent that cloud. I’ve been trying to recreate the smell of bushfire in summer, because I feel like that’s something that a lot of Australians are familiar with. I’ve been spending some time in aromatherapy and soap shops and trying to create some of my own herb and spice infusions. There’s a sweet note from that eucalyptus sap boiling that I couldn’t quite get from honey, but a fenugreek tincture seems to capture that earthiness without overpowering the others scents. Also strawberry seems to work really well, maybe just because it’s a such a summer smell.
I was a little nervous at first about mixing ingredients with nitrogen at random, because I was worried that I might somehow extract a toxic chemical with the fog and accidentally create a poisonous gas, but further research settled that. The fog isn’t nitrogen or smoke. It’s just water molecules suspended in the air, in the same way as when you can make misty little clouds with your breath on a cold night. However, the fog from liquid nitrogen displaces oxygen so if you go super overboard there’s the potential that you could asphyxiate peeps, which would obviously suck if you were just trying to make them feel like they really were in a rain forest.