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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 24 September 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 24 SEPTEMBER 2016 13 FOOD PHOTOS: VINCE CALIGIURI to bring in more variety and help them to higher standards. We inspire them with new finds and products that help them better their craft. We all become better through this interaction. As an analogy, a great steak restaurant is only as good as its quality meat supplier. A great cocktail bar is no different ... When the above is combined with the popularity of shows like MasterChef or My Kitchen Rules, which have inspired people at home to broaden their palates and try new things, we get a community which is open to explore the culinary and beverage world. We want to be seen as a strong and creative partner in this exploration and in allowing the cocktail scene here to grow to new levels. How would you describe the cocktail culture in Melbourne at the moment? Melbourne has an elevated cocktail culture. One of the great things about Australians is that they travel. They work in bars around the world. They come back with their experiences. They seed the next bartenders. This crosspollination has been happening forever in the bar scene here. You get some great innovators who take a very professional approach to their craft. Bartenders no longer see their roles as 'just a job' but a serious profession. We have had some of these pioneers early in Melbourne and have developed a cocktail cluster here similar to the likes of New York and London. We have world-class bars, to name but a few at the forefront in no particular order: Eau De Vie, The Everleigh, Lily Blacks, Black Pearl, 1806, The Gin Palace, Boilermaker, Romeo Lane. Both Black Pearl and Eau De Vie are regularly in the running for prizes for best bar at Tales of the Cocktail awards each year. Also, as an example, in last year's Diageo World Championships (the Olympics of bartending), Jack Sotti (of Boilermaker) came in the top five in the world. How does cocktail-making follow the gastronomic trends? As bitters are to drinks what seasoning and spices are to food, anything that gets people to explore more spices assists in both the gastronomic world and the drinks world. Bitters at the end of the day are an aromatic additive that either enhances a flavour already present in the drink, or changes the flavour of the drink. They are typically alcohol extracts or spices, fruits, herbs, and can be either flavoured with many ingredients, or just hero one particular flavour. Sometimes, certain cocktails come into fashion and we get a whole bunch of orders for a bitters or a shrub (drinking vinegar). A good example of this is with a lot of people discovering Peruvian cooking, they have also discovered the wonderful pisco sour which requires Amargo Chuncho bitters. With many people enamoured with truffles at the moment, our unusual black truffle and white truffle bitters sell very well. Smokey flavours are doing nicely right now too. But an aromatic and an orange bitters will never go out of style. They are the two most prescribed bitters in cocktail recipes. How did you get involved in this industry? My original involvement in the industry was by watching my parents drink at home. There was always vermouth in the house, gin and of course whisky. I started working at the Underground nightclub and at Inflation in the mid ‘80s. I then went on to be a cocktail barman at Monsoons at the Hyatt. I left the industry in the ‘80s to become a professional in the finance and telecoms world. I worked in London and New York for many years. Here in Australia, I helped to privatise the TAB to Tabcorp, was the 2IC of Optus Vision in Victoria and South Australia in the ‘90s. I started the first prepaid mobile company and sold it to Vodafone … so I know what it is like operate a start-up business. In the last 13 years, as a technology mergers and acquisitions specialist, I travel the world and in doing so, I end up drinking in countless high-end cocktail bars. I never lost my curiosity for a well-made drink. I loved the resurgence of the pre-prohibition era cocktail recipes. It was during one of my down times (no deal in the works) that I started the online business. My wife Sophia, a Greek New Yorker, now runs the day-to-day business with a great, small staff of four. I still run the US online business and source all the products that we sell and get involved in distribution deals etc. How has your Greek background influenced your professional development? Being not only Greek, but a Spartan Greek, has imbued me with a sense of great selfconfidence. Let's call it Greek exceptionalism. Being independent both financially and professionally is part of the mercantile instinct inherent in us Greeks. So choosing the independent mergers and acquisitions path made total sense. Opening a business came naturally. Greece itself, for instance, has a massive self-employed culture and one of the highest per capita in the OECD. Being Greek to me is to be a part of something very special. A great sense of pride in our amazing history, our culture, our rich language, our traditions, our filoxenia and in the end, our indomitable spirit. 'I tan i epi tas.' Having Greek parents who pushed us to be a better version of ourselves and ultimately to honour their huge sacrifices to make us be better off than them. If this isn't drive enough ... What is your favourite drink? Of all the questions, this one is the hardest: which is your favourite child? I like to drink the classics: Manhattan; Old Fashioned; Sazerac; whisky sour; Negroni; boulevardier. Sometimes I am in the mood for a mojito or pisco sour. And then there’s the classic gin and tonic, made with a traditional tonic syrup.
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