Exodus of Flavor


by Adam Rains

This was first Published as a 2 part article in the October/November 2013 issues of Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional

It was the 1950’s and freedom was in the air. America had won the war. Even with a partially manufactured rivalry with Russia, we were still riding high. On top of the world! Top of the food chain… the big dogs! Even as we cooked from the bottom of our basement bomb shelters, nuclear test explosions could be seen across the Nevada sky and they lit it up like an artificial man-made sun, no strike that, an American-made sun.

American ingenuity and know-how could and did save the world! Of course our science and technology surpassed all other nations and we were, as a society, on board and ready to follow it to the moon. At that moment in history, science was king and it was decided that we could use our technology to make anything, do anything, solve any problem, and defeat any foe. We dreamed that we could go to the moon, we could go to Mars, even more dramatically, we could even make our own manufactured “mother’s milk” (what?!?!)! We could even have a “fresh” tomato in the middle of winter. Gone were the fresh herbs and delicious produce from backyard gardens, instead we used canned peas and Shake ‘n Bake. Everywhere you’d look, there was frozen this and canned that. T.V. dinners were all the rage; Tang, Spam and all sorts of unfathomable processed “foods” were enticing the American public with their saccharine-siren songs. Of course when company labs created these “food products” and the ad companies created markets for these products and then more remarkably, the really good ones were able to actually create needs. We then became lazy and we got fatigued, along with our palates. Cooking from the depths of our bomb shelter pantry, we filled our diets with so much sodium, fat, corn syrup and artificial flavoring that we had almost lost our ability to taste what real food was. This was echoed in the world of Cocktails.

King Cocktail himself, Dale DeGroff has called what happened during this period of time, the “Exodus of Flavor.” Where most of the country and a lot of the world departed from those majestic, and at the time, mandatory ideals of keeping it fresh and being in season. Staying within the confines of Mother Nature became very old fashioned. We were ready for whatever technology had in store for us. Fast food became en vogue at this time and after that we all know what happened (we ended up in a Jack in the Box drive thru at 4 A.M.). Yes, we had lost our way. It seemed as though convenience, as well as a scientific assault on our flavor sensors, added fuel to the fire.

As a counterpoint, Chef Zach Taylor of B&B and CarneVino once exclaimed to me, “Some of the best things in the world are rotten.” Whether it’s sausage, cheese, wine, or beer, they have all been chemically transformed from a fresh ingredient to a preserved ingredient. It comes from thousands of years of trial and error on ways of preserving crops/products before we had the benefit of refrigeration. At that time they were still seasonal by necessity and freshness was a required truth; but it was nearly impossible to completely lose our taste and our affinity for the freshness. I do have to admit that in some cases the canned goods are not any better or any worse that the fresh, they are just different. There is as much a place for dried oregano as there is for fresh basil. Some pasta recipes actually call for a dried pasta as opposed to the fresh; just as most recipes for a Gimlet calls for Rose’s Lime Cordial (but I still prefer the fresh stuff!). Not to beleaguer the point that fresh is best, even some of the canned seafood of Spain actually goes through a transformation into something equally as wonderful, not to mention costs a pretty penny. It “can” be great, but just different from the fresh.

Let’s face the facts. As bartenders, all of us are using a concentrated “rotten” substance, alcohol, as our base for a consumed product. Just by this very fact, I feel that we owe it to our guests to be as fresh as possible with the other ingredients that we use. The range of flavor that we can evoke is vast when using both fresh and aged products together. Also, one cannot argue about the nutritional value and bursting effervescence of a fresh product that trumps all preserved organics. In the preserved food, all or most of the essential oils can disappear and are replaced by the preservative (salt, chemicals and others). All of the fresh aroma is gone or has been muted and all of the life that is apparent in the fresh ingredient is fleeting. It is obvious when saying, using fresh ingredients comes through in the drink just the same as it would in a dish.

Armando Rosario is a longtime proponent of the power of freshness. I spoke to him in an interview for my podcast Las Vegas Cocktail Weekly. We discussed the last international cocktail competition that he won in Europe; Armando mentioned, “I was the only one that had three fresh ingredients in my cocktail.” We talked at length about the changing face of Mixology and how the USBG is leading the way for changing the way things are done. Even if everyone has not yet caught on, it is no secret that his mantra of “Making it Fresh, Keeping it Simple” has influenced many, including myself. As we were concluding our interview, Armando reminded me, “Remember, there is no substitution for freshness.” I hold on to that statement as an absolute and plain truth.

Fresh is best, no doubt, but what does that mean exactly? Does it mean that whenever I come for a cocktail at your bar, that you are expected to use juice freshly squeezed from an actual fruit? Yes, if the recipe calls for it, absolutely!!! Should you be uncompromising when it comes to what you produce? Positively! Even if there are times when we cannot adhere to our personal standard of freshness, we must try! You may work in an industrial grade food desert, but make do with what you have and always strive for better. Write emails, tell management what you need, even bring your own supplies if you have to, because there will come a time when this is required by the guest. Try not to get caught behind.

The times are changing; we have already made the “Exodus from Flavor,” but the pendulum is swinging back the other way. We are no doubt in a new renaissance for bartending; there is a new desire for new flavor profiles and for simplicity as well as complexity of flavor in drinks. Many of us are looking back in order to move forward, and making drinks from before the time of agricultural industrialization and widespread refrigeration. Bars all across this nation are now becoming reacquainted with the citrus press and people’s palates are yearning for what is real. It is no secret that people are demanding it and we should all do it, if for no other reason than not to get caught in the wake of the new “fresh movement.” It will soon come to pass that the artificially flavored and pasteurized juices that occupy the shelves behind most bars will not be the norm (I hope) and only be used by absolute necessity. Don’t live in the past; we are no longer subjugated to use bomb shelter bartender ingredients. Please don’t be afraid of doing things the way they should be done. Say it; yes, we can! And just know that Freshness is a Virtue, Freshness is Easy and Fresh is Best! To accept mediocrity and the status quo is to accept defeat; just don’t do it!

Let’s not let the lazy norms of bartenders past creep up on us during those endless moments of chaos and weeded nightmares. Embrace the chaos, put life back into your bar and into your drinks. You will get used to the “new norm” and be able to put out an amazingly fresh cocktail that your guest will be talking about for years, and you will be able to do it fast and with a smile; it is more than worth it. And please remember, drinkers should have all the time in the world, and they never forget…

Oh, well, maybe sometimes!! Salute!


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