How Cocktails Are Inspiring My Summer Cooking

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Gregory Han)

This summer I have embarked on something I haven’t done since college: an internship! But this time, instead of working in a museum or publishing house, I’m at the bar — infusing spirits with seasonal fruits and herbs, learning how to make foam, and delving into the world of garden-to-glass cocktails. An unexpected benefit is that I’m finding inspiration for my cooking, too.

If you live in LA you’re likely familiar with my mentor Matthew Biancaniello, a cocktail chef known for his creative and seasonal concoctions at places like Cliff’s Edge and Library Bar. You may also have heard him as a regular guest on Evan Kleiman’s Good Food.

A lot of bartenders use fresh ingredients these days, but Biancaniello’s setup practically looks and smells like an actual garden with its lush bouquets of herbs and bowls of colorful fruit. Order a drink and it might include Surinam cherries, white fir, stinging nettles, sea beans, or whatever bounty California has to offer at the moment. “Everything goes with everything,” he says, and experimentation is de rigueur. No combination is off limits as long as it tastes good (like the time we made okra-infused cachaça, which was surprisingly delicious!).

(Image credit: Emily Han)

Although I started this internship to learn about beverages, I find that my cooking has taken a fresher turn, too. I often take an analytical approach to cooking and lately I am letting myself be led by curiosity and a “let’s try it” attitude.

As a result, I am starting to see even more possibilities in various ingredients and flavors. For one, I’m tossing lots of summer fruit into savory dishes — a chopped plum in my sautéed chard, fresh cherries in my quinoa tabbouleh. I’m also keeping little vases of fresh-cut herbs on my kitchen counter at all times. They look pretty, inspire me to cook, and remind me to play and experiment, especially when it comes to fun garnishes.

What’s inspiring your cooking this summer?