Tools of the Trade is a series in which we ask chefs, bartenders and other restaurant folks which tools they simply can't live without.
Christiaan Rollich has a lot to juggle. As head barman at all three of Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne's restaurants, Rollich has to keep the drinks flowing at Tavern, Lucques and now at A.O.C., where earlier this year he launched an all-new cocktail program (in its former location, the restaurant had served only beer and wine).
With all those bars and all those cocktails, we figured it would be interesting to see what tools Rollich can't do without. When I first asked him about the tools he uses, Rollich said, “My tools are my syrups and tinctures. The tinctures are fairly easy to make, but they do add an extra layer to every drink I make.” With that in mind, we asked him for a recipe — and he gave us one for homemade cola. It's a project for sure, but it will give you enough for a lifetime of use, unless of course you're planning on opening a bar (or three). But first, Rollich gets mystical about a chef's knife …
5. Chefs knife
“This is my knife. There are many like it, but this one is mine. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my knife is useless. Without my knife, I am useless.
I must use my knife true. Every cut must be done with precision and determination. My knife and I know that what counts is to work clean. We know that it is the efficiency that counts. My knife is human, even as I am human, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its characteristic, its strengths, its blade, its edge, its grip and technique. I will keep my knife clean and sharp, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other.
“Without joking around, I hate walking into a bar and I need to prep and the only thing I can find is a miniature cutting board and a tiny bitty knife. I feel you need a proper chef's knife and a proper cutting board. Ingredients and garnishes are part of a cocktail and need to be treated with respect. Just like the liquor and so on. Got to make sure it is always sharp and ready to go.”
4. Vita-Prep 3
“This is the kind of machine the kitchen makes soup with; it blends and purees anything I throw in there. It is the greatest for making syrups, premixes and so on. Nobody likes chunkiness in their cocktails.”
“This is great for making your own cranberry juice or syrups. It is a superfine mesh. Even though the Vitamix purees, this thing really smooths things out.”
2. Potato peeler
“There are different kinds: There are the ones that are specifically for peeling potatoes, light plastic and quick. Then there are the one that are supposed to be used at home — they are better for cutting twists than peeling potatoes. For this [cola recipe below], when you are peeling 60 pieces of fruit, It's best to use one that's a bit heavier and wider. I like a wider one as well for my own twists. So you can get a nice piece of oil out of the skin.”
“The first four ones I really like for using in the kitchen and prepping. However, the juicer is one of the most important tools. Especially when you work in a big restaurant. If you need 2 ounces of a specific juice, I recommend a regular hand juicer. However, If you need a gallon of each juice, lemon, lime and so on, it's nice to have a machine that is sturdy and strong. I like the Sunkist juicer. It is one big heavy engine block and a cone on top. It is has a bowl for outside protection. It actually prevents the seeds and pieces of lemon flying all through the kitchen. There are times I'm catering for 300-plus people with five different cocktails and we need 10 gallons of juice — believe me, the Sunkist commercial juicer is my best friend.”
Turn the page for Rollich's recipe …
From: Christiaan Rollich
Note: For soda, mix 1 ounce of cola syrup to 4 ounces of soda water.
Yield: Approx 2.5 liters
2.5 liters water
zest of 10 oranges
zest of 10 limes
zest of 5 lemons
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 points star anise
1 tablespoon dried lavender
1 tablespoon ground kola nuts
50 grams fresh ginger, peeled
1 vanilla pod, opened and scraped
1 tablespoon citric acid
30 grams coca leaves (optional)
white sugar (approx 2 liters)
Demerara sugar (approx 1/2 liter)
1. Simmer all ingredients except sugar and caramel coloring for 30 minutes.
2. Strain with fine-mesh strainer/cheesecloth. Mix in 1:1 white sugar to liquid plus 25% more Demerara sugar. Approximately 2 liters “tea” to 2 liters white sugar to 1/2 liter Demerara sugar.
3. Add caramel coloring until desired color is achieved.
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