Matthew Biancaniello, farmers market forager and wizard bar wonder, loves unusual flavor pairings. He's known for using seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients in his creative cocktails at Cliff's Edge in Silver Lake, as well as previously at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's Library Bar, and he's recently been popping up around Los Angeles with some unusual boozy ice cream concoctions. Tequila and squid ink with salmon roe caviar, for example. Or Manzanilla sherry over chipotle olive oil and Parmesan. Huh? Yeah, we thought that too.
We recently spoke with the self-taught barman to find out more. And more importantly, why? What's with the peculiar pairings? What's his creative process like? And what was it like working with chef Jason Park to create these weird (and really delicious) cocktail-inspired ice cream creations? Turn the page.
Biancaniello has spent the past 4 ½ years exploring his love for mashing together opposites. In his work, he says he tries to cater to both bizarre-food loving foodists, and also introduce the average eater and drinker to newer flavors. When asked if he prefers to be called a bartender or mixologist, he admits that he feels chefs are more his "tribe," therefore he likes the term "cocktail chef"-- it more accurately describes what he does behind the bar with ingredients.
"Everything goes with everything," says Biancaniello, who belives that the secret to his creations is in the balance. "What I do is very culinary. My strengths and passions are dealing with fresh, local ingredients. For me, it's really about the ingredients first and the alcohol second. I try to put together opposites that wouldn't usually go together and try to make them work."
His desire to use ingredients found at local L.A. farmers markets was one of the reasons his recent collaboration with chef Jason Park was a natural fit. Park (Maru, Ramekin), who handpicks fresh produce from the Santa Monica market every week for his own restaurants, said he really enjoyed the challenge of designing these peculiar flavor mashups and the break from everyday cooking.
The pair bounced ideas back and forth until they got it just right. "It was a true collaboration," said Biancaniello, "Jason goes to the farmers market too and I would see him there -- I knew it would be a great match, that I could push the envelope [with him] and go even more toward savory."
Their first pop-up was at Park's Los Feliz dessert café Ramekin just earlier this month. Park had read about Biancaniello and his cocktails and was later introduced by a friend. "Our paradigm of cooking and mixing were identical," says Park, "I've been able to execute what he's conceptualizing. We believed in each other's philosophy of utilizing ingredients that were fresh, seasonal, local and more importantly, using those elements to create unique dining [and drinking] experiences."
Biancaniello on working with Park: "I knew exactly in my head what flavors I wanted to do -- I wanted fish eggs on top of the squid ink and what he did was soak it in sake and infused it with blood orange to get that fishiness out. A true collaboration is someone taking your ideas and elevating them; it's a true dance, like making music. I told him I wanted chocolate garlic on one and fish eggs on another, and he helped make those things happen and put his own touch on it."
Biancaniello's past pop-ups -- including two with Matthew Kang of Scoops Westside -- lead to the creation of ice cream "cocktails," like candy cap mushroom-infused bourbon, mochi-infused sake, coffee-infused Cynar and a curry-infused Campari sorbet. He's also dabbled with a lobster ice cream beer float.
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"I understand that these ice creams are not going to be for everybody," he says, "but foodies seem to love them." His first pop-up sold out in two hours.
Biancaniello and Park are at work on another collaborative pop-up, this time pairing cocktails with oysters at Maru. The former Valencia location of Park's farm-to-table Japanese restaurant has recently relocated to Santa Monica and is slated to open sometime in July.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Amy T. Shuster tweets at @backyardbite and blogs at backyardbite.com.