One of the motivations that many have for becoming a chef is a strong appreciation of sense memories. Certain smells or tastes can trigger a flood of memories from a certain time and place. My love of Mexican flavors is certainly enhanced by fond recollections of meals shared during my childhood with my family at our favorite Mexican restaurants.
One scent that stirs up particularly happy memories for me is the smell of fennel pollen. I was raised in Southern California, and each summer, my sisters and I spent a few weeks away from home at summer camp in Malibu, just across highway 1 from the famous surf spot, County Line. For those not familiar with the flora of coastal Southern California, wild fennel grows in profusion, and in the summer, their overgrown stalks are bursting with pollen, perfuming the air for miles around.
Like many adolescents, I looked forward to these few summer weeks throughout the year. Camp was a safe place, away from my parents, where I made new friends, and saw old ones each year, found romance for the first time, and was free to re-invent myself to others in a way that was different from how I was perceived at home during the rest of the year.
Matthew Campbell, our lead bartender, has created a cocktail that captures for me this time and place in a glass. “Summer Camp” makes its debut this evening on our cocktail list. Put away your umbrella and let the scents of summer take you back to a sunny place and time; perhaps you’ll even meet a summer crush.
Matthew C’s notes:
The basic idea started with toasted coriander syrup (made previously with no specific drink in mind) and peak-of-season Meyer lemons. In keeping with the traditional sour model, egg white was then added for body. The Salers apertivo (gentian) was the next piece to fall into place. When I tasted it initially I knew it could be the earthy, stabilizing force to offset the floral coriander/Meyer combo.
I’ve had a bag of fennel pollen since the summer and now seemed the perfect time to incorporate the aromatics over the egg white foam. Ground with lavender and dusted atop, the botanicals are then keyed in to both taste and smell.
The finishing component was the base spirit. We often build drinks “backwards”, where the spirit is the last thing considered. Somewhat atypical, as most folks set out to make a “bourbon drink”, then work from there. Tony had brought in a bunch of freshly picked bay leaves and we infused them on highland tequila (green, vegetal, minty). At this point I realized we had (similar to our botanical gin) designed a drink featuring a lot of local plants and winter aromatics from the East Bay hills. Probably no surprise, as Tony and I spend our free time tromping around regional parks with packs of dogs…