- Beth McKibben For the AJC
Food sustainability has been on the minds of Atlanta’s chefs a lot lately. According to a 2014 study by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, nearly 84 percent of all unused food in restaurants is thrown away, while 14 percent is re-purposed. The newly opened Bluetop in Chambleehopes to reverse those numbers not only in the kitchen but behind the bar. Chef-owner Matt Marcus hired beverage director Jonathan Joy to bring sustainability to the restaurant’s cocktail menu.
Joy moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles after being in that city’s bar scene for six years and trained by L.A. cocktail giants Julian Cox and Josh Goldman. The pair opened some of the city’s most impressive bars and churned out a few of L.A.’s best bartenders. Joy says the duo put him through his paces in what he describes as a “six-week intensive” on classic cocktails and spirits. It ended with an intimidating “final.” But the process fine-tuned Joy’s bar skills and helped him to understand flavor combinations for creating balanced cocktails — something he has brought with him to Bluetop.
Before moving to Atlanta, Joy put out feelers to the city’s service industry and was overwhelmed by the positive response he received. This included Marcus, formerly executive chef at Portofino in Buckhead, who encouraged him to check out what he was planning at Bluetop. The two hit it off, and Joy soon found himself setting up a cocktail program for Marcus’ new restaurant with a menu that contains a stirred drinks section using fat-washed spirits aptly named “Meat Locker.”
“Matt is creating meat dishes that have leftover oils. I thought, I could infuse those oils in spirits. Why waste perfectly good fat?” Joy said.
Fat-washing spirits like whiskey or rum is nothing new, but Joy chose to think of this not as a gimmick to sell drinks but as a way to enhance a cocktail’s texture and flavor while simultaneously re-purposing a trash ingredient from the kitchen.
Alcohol extracts the essence of everything in which it comes into contact. It’s like a sponge. Fat-washing a spirit with meat oil is simple. Take the drippings from cooked bacon, for example. Pour a small amount of bacon oil into a spirit like bourbon. Let it rest for a few minutes (no more than an hour) at room temperature. Place the bottle in the freezer until the fat separates. Then, skim the fat and strain the bourbon through a coffee filter. The bourbon retains the flavor, but not the fat, of the bacon.
While Joy has created a cocktail for the menu using bacon-washed bourbon, he’s also working with more unusual meat-infused spirits like duck-washed curacao, lamb-washed rye and chicken-washed praline liqueur.
“It scared me at first to work with these oils because most of them are seasoned or spiced. The one that scared me the most was the Counting Sheeple cocktail with lamb-washed rye.”
The braising liquid used in Marcus’ lamb dish is infused with tomato and fennel seed. Joy pairs the lamb-washed rye with Lillet rouge (a light, bittersweet aperitif wine), dark fruit cordial, orange bitters and salt for a savory take on a Manhattan.
“I wanted to challenge my guests with the ‘Meat Locker’ cocktails. If a guest is already going for the bad and boozy drink and enjoys savory flavors in cocktails, then likely they’re already a bit of a risk-taker.” He is also working on a vodka-based cocktail infusion using pork fat that he calls “Hogwash.”
But the bar’s no-waste policy doesn’t end with fat-washed spirits. Joy says he re-purposes kitchen waste into cocktails whenever possible and juices much of the bar’s citrus fruits used for garnishes once they’ve been peeled clean. Whatever rind is left is used for zesting, and any fruit unused is given to the kitchen for creating ceviches. During the summer, leftover fruit pulp from the kitchen was used in frozen cocktails.
Currently, Joy is experimenting with sotol, a spirit distilled from an agave-like plant that grows in northern Mexico. It’s grassier than tequila and soaks up notes of the terroir in which it inhabits. Sotol is a highly adaptable spirit perfect for mixing in cocktails or for infusions.
“I’m roasting pineapples in hopes of making a charcoal base out of the skins. I plan to utilize them as a glass for the drink. It’s still in research and development.”
With winter approaching, Joy has begun putting up and preserving late-season fruits, vegetables and herbs from the restaurant’s garden to create infusions and cocktail shrubs for drinks he plans to roll out in the colder months.
Joy said that he’s pleased with what he and Marcus have accomplished already in keeping waste down behind the bar since Bluetop opened in August. Before throwing anything away that might be re-purposed, they have now gotten into the habit of asking one another, “Do you want this?”
“It’s a fun challenge for me to get creative with these trash ingredients for cocktails. I look forward to seeing what the kitchen might offer me every day. Stay tuned.”