Three months ago, L.A.’s celebrated bar chef Christiaan Rollich had just come off a national book tour, was head bartender for the Lucques Group, oversaw the cocktail programs at three of the most famous restaurants in Los Angeles — Lucques, Tavern and A.O.C., as well as the program at the Hollywood Bowl — and was in the midst of setting up a hotel. In the afternoons he was pouring at the Mullin Wine Bar at the Music Center. He was working 70, 80-plus hours a week, every week, no vacation. There was little time for anything else. That all changed overnight.
“There are certain things in your life that you remember forever,” Rollich tells L.A. Weekly from the ghost kitchen he shares with AMMObySalt in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. “For me, that was 9/11, when they found Osama Bin Laden and the birth of my sons. And now COVID-19 has changed my life and everybody’s lives forever.”
It was a Wednesday in March that a staff meeting took place at Lucques restaurant, where it was announced that the 21-year-old iconic L.A. restaurant would be closing its doors. May 7 was decided on as the closing date and the staff began going over the guest list, making sure that everybody who came to the opening would be invited for a big farewell party. By Saturday, a cloud of apprehension loomed over the team. Staff were being laid off, even though owners Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne were trying to keep as much staff on as possible. Sunday, the crew got laid off and that night all restaurants in Los Angeles closed.
“As of Monday, I was out of a job,” Rollich says. “It was the first time in my life that I just sat there and said, now what? There wasn’t anything on the horizon and we had no idea what the future would hold. I had to make money to support my family. We live in an expensive city and unemployment only goes so far. In this city, you can’t live on unemployment. I had to come up with something else. So I came up with Golden Eagle Spirits, raw cocktails to go which are made to order.”
The farm-to-glass concoctions that the award-winning Rollich has become famous for are made to order. Orders placed before noon Wednesday and Friday can be delivered the same day from 1 p.m. till 6 p.m. Curbside pickup is available daily from 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. The name was inspired by his wife Melissa (her maiden name is Golden) and her family. “In our logo we also have the Latin words Opus (work) Servitium (Service) Artis (Art) which I feel are essential to the industry we move in,” he says.
In addition to a selection of wines and nibbles like mixed olives, roasted nuts and truffle potato chips from AMMObySalt as well as their mind-boggling Aussie pies, Rollich offers the classics like the Manhattan, old fashioned, margarita, Negroni and Bloody Mary. There are also his personal creations like the Maggie May (orange infused vodka with watermelon, strawberry and amaro), the Villain (Mezcal with grilled pineapple, anise and maple) and the 100-Dollar-Punch (Genever with orange, velvet falernum, fruit and bubbles). Every decorative bottle is scientifically mixed to the perfect proportions and just needs to be poured over ice and comes with garnish like citrus slivers that Rollich has dried himself.
“There’s a difference between working in a ghost kitchen and behind the bar,” says Rollich, who misses the interaction with patrons. “The kitchen has always been my safe haven in restaurants. I can go to wherever the pastry person sits, and they will find a little space for me where I can make my syrups. I never feel lost in a kitchen. But when you’re making a cocktail for somebody at the bar and a customer comes to you and says this is what I want and that’s how I want it and these are the flavors that I like, I can adjust it to their taste. I love the interaction and customizing a drink just for you. I see your reaction to it, I watch you drink it, I see you enjoy it and interact with others at the bar.”
While Rollich has taken advantage of the time off to spend with his wife and sons, he misses the theatrics of shaking up a frosty cocktail at the bar.
“In the kitchen it’s all about super precise measurements,” he says. “Nothing’s being shaken, it’s all just science. The craftsmanship of how much ice you put in and how long you shake it and muddle is gone. It’s just a measurement cup and your ingredients. That great show is gone, but it brought back the convenience of your house. I don’t know what’s better.”
The future for everyone in the hospitality industry is uncertain. While A.O.C. has reopened at a limited capacity with Rollich behind the stick, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered six counties, including L.A., to immediately close all bars and nightclubs Sunday amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases. Rollich sees the future in craft cocktails to go and is introducing a new bar menu this week at GES featuring a Caracas Daiquiri (recipe below).
“This is the time to reinvent yourself and get excited about it,” he says. “It’s scary because I don’t know where we are going. Everybody is just moving forward and hoping for the best. That’s all we can do. This week is great, but no idea what next week will bring.”
Recipe for Caracas Daiquiri
- 3 oz. water
- 4 1/2 oz. Diplomatico Reserva
- 3/4 oz. green chartreuse
- 3 oz. fresh lime juice
- 2 1/4 oz. allspice dram
- 1 cup Jamaican rum
- 1 cup water
- 30 grams whole dried allspice
- 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
- 1 star anise
- 1/2 tsp. cloves
- 1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 cups granulated sugar
Crack all the spices with a mortar and pestle, add all the liquid and cracked spice in a saucepan over medium heat, and warm it up until sugar is dissolved. Let it cool down to room temp, store and refrigerate properly for 24 hours. Strain through chinois and it’s ready for use.
Pour all ingredients over ice in a tumbler, serves three.
- 4 tbsp. or 1 shot glass spirit (your choice)
- 2 tbsp. acid (lemon or lime juice)
- 4 tsp. syrup (maple/pancake)
- Fruit (optional) tangerine