In Toronto, a dimly lit venue accompanied by candlelight is the home to culinary experiences beyond the imagination. It’s Frankie Solarik’s lab for culinary concoctions known as cocktails, but not of the familiar sort. BarChef, unlike many of the concepts we’ve visited on “Across the Bar” thus far, is not set at a bar, but rather more of a chef’s table. His team is not made up of bartenders, so to speak, but of chefs.
In this episode, Solarik shares with us three uniquely innovative cocktails and the inspiration and preparation behind them.
Cocktail No. 1: Night Blossom
The first is called the Night Blossom, inspired by a tree he saw while walking his dog in the park one night. “I came across this tree that was beautifully lit…[with] beautiful green leaves and blossoms on it, and I took a picture of it and started working on it right away.” This was the first cocktail that Solarik created based on something that inspired him, he says. Solarik took a “very abstract, expressionist approach” when creating the concoction, recreating the flavor profile of wood notes and bases of violet to accentuate the blossom note quality and “mint and chartreuse for that kind of vegetal quality of the leaves,” he adds. For visual appeal, the mixture is topped with chartreuse and cacao branch to represent the tree itself in a more literal sense.
In full, the Night Blossom is composed of cacao and chartreuse branch, maple and almond orgeat snow, mint and chartreuse, violet, bourbon, patchouli, amaro, maraschino, rosemary, and balsam fir and honey. There’s just as much alcohol content in this concoction as one would normally find in a drink at a traditional bar, but the process of drinking it is completely up to the guest. “We always say when we’re presenting it to have fun with it; there’s no polite way to do it.” Complete with chocolate noodles, the drink is served with chopsticks and a ramen spoon and, because the elements are consumed individually, the flavor profile builds as it’s eaten.
Solarik became inspired while working as a food runner at a restaurant in New York City. “One of my jobs was to finish the plates downstairs in the kitchen and working with the chefs, and I was totally amazed by the passion of everyone that was on that team and just the beautiful product that was going out of the kitchen, and the reaction from the guests and things like that,” says Solarik. “For me, it was a turning point in my life. I was just like, ‘I need to do this for a living.’”
It was this type of artistic approach seen through the kitchen that Solarik stored away to later implement into his own medium of cocktails and liquids.
“For me, artistically, the idea is to challenge that preconceived conventional notion of what’s possible with cocktails,” he says. “I want to give the guest a new experience of what’s possible with alcohol and liquid, and it raises the question of, ‘Is it a cocktail or is it a dish? Is it a cocktail because there’s alcohol or is it a dish because it’s consumed with chopsticks and a ramen spoon?’”
Cocktail No. 2: Mezcal, White Chocolate, and Eucalyptus
For cocktail No. 2, the theme is winter and, just like snow, dry ice is pulverized, into which a mixture of liquid is slowly poured, creating an aromatic component of the cocktail so that when it’s presented, the guest picks up notes of white chocolate, mezcal, and violet. At the base of this cold cocktail is white chocolate water, which comes from an overnight fat-washing technique. The dish it is paired with is composed of violet-filled white chocolate and pastis batonette, and there’s a charcoal vanilla cream component that pairs well with the violet. Also on the plate is mint and chartreuse, eucalyptus air, balsam fir cream, and it’s garnished with grapefruit zest and fresh thyme.
“I recommend the guest to start with the edible components individually,” Solarik says. “So just kind of interact with the components and…try some things by themselves or together, and then when you consume the liquid with those components, the flavor profile of the cocktail essentially evolves.”
Cocktail No. 3: Spring Thaw
Spring Thaw is a gin-based cocktail with sparkling wine and chamomile syrup poured onto a spherified ice of Campari and vanilla with orange blossom, grapefruit, and vanilla air with fresh basil and edible flower petals. When presented to the guest, water is poured to activate the aromatic component of the cocktail. “The idea and inspiration behind this cocktail is just an immersive environment. You have aromatics of grapefruit, cedar, soil, lilac…”
This detailed presentation is made to order, so each one is a bit different, with his team of chefs putting their own take on where things are positioned, says Solarik. “But I always make an emphasis on the idea of it being essentially an amphitheater — a natural, immersive environment so that when you do reach in to grab the glass, there’s texture of greens and leaves and flowers on the hands.”
The full concoction is made up of spherified ice of vanilla and Campari, orange blossom and vanilla air, gin, sparkling wine, basil sprouts, and aromatics of moss, soil, cedar, and lilac.
“We put as much passion and care into these dishes as a chef would.”