In recent years cocktail creation has grown into an art form– using fruits, vegetables and other flavors with the same precision that they are used in cooking. If you thought that a mixologist was just a fancy term for a bartender, you’d only be partially correct. Mixologists are akin to chefs, creating new drinks, not just pouring them.
Dimi Lezinska is one of the world’s best mixologists. He has perfected his craft at some of the London’s top cocktail bars including the Atlantic Bar, Mash, Eclipse and LAB. He was the co-host of the Discovery Channel’s hit show “Cocktail Kings” and currently is filling the role of Grey Goose’s global ambassador.
I recently had the chance to pick Dimi’s brain about what inspires him behind the bar. And in anticipation of New Year’s Eve festivities, he’s shared with us a cocktail recipe that works well both with and without the vodka.
How do you explain your style of cocktail making?
I believe that less is more. There is a lot to be said for simplicity. Resist the temptation to overcomplicate things. It won’t make a cocktail any more interesting. If I do use a complicated technique then I try to balance it with simplicity elsewhere in the recipe. So don’t make a cocktail with 6-7 ingredients. My cocktails will typically have four ingredients – a maximum of five. And I will be inspired by the context and the environment in which I’m making a cocktail. I follow the rules of a chef and use local, seasonal ingredients as much as possible which makes life very interesting when I’m travelling as I get to experiment with so many new ingredients. Most importantly when you’re making a cocktail you must think about satisfying all of the senses.
What goes into creating a new cocktail? What inspires you?
Anything can be a source of inspiration. It’s similar to someone writing a song. It could be the news of the day, people I meet, an emotion – happiness, sadness. From there you have to link the inspiration to a flavour and the combination of ingredients that will match the flavour profile.
How should bartenders approach seasonal ingredients?:
It’s very important that they approach seasonal ingredients in the same as they approach any ingredient – by their quality and their provenance, where they are grown and how they are grown. These ingredients will not only add incredible flavour, they will add to the beautiful story behind the making of the cocktail which can be shared with anyone who tastes it.
Which of your original drinks are you most proud of?
Château Grey Goose was very interesting because of the technique I used and the story behind its creation. The challenge was to create a cocktail in the style of a wine so we extracted juice from blackberries and blueberries to create the flavour profile and texture of a wine. We then added spices which had been roasted to soften their intensity slightly. The berry juices fortified with Grey Goose gave the profile of a well-rounded, delicious red wine.
Is there a culinary influence to your cocktails?
I studied catering at a young age so this early experience of experimenting with ingredients and flavours has stayed with me throughout my career. I’m constantly developing my culinary techniques and you can see very clearly how they’re used in cocktail-making with the increasingly important use of fresh, seasonal ingredients and the rise of molecular mixology – inspired by molecular gastronomy. I would recommend that anyone making cocktails should take their inspiration from the kitchen and the flavour matching and culinary techniques that are used when preparing a meal. Chefs have an amazing amount of knowledge. They know how to create an incredible sensory experience from food and I’m certain that any chef who turned to bartending would do phenomenally well.
What’s your favorite meal?
There’s a Caribbean meal I love. It’s West Indian fish boiled in water with lots of chillis, breadfruits, rice and plenty of bread to go with it.
What advice do you have for the home bartender?
There are no disasters, only ways to perfection. If you go wrong when you try something for the first time – the second will be much better. Having the right equipment is not essential. You can improvise with what you find in your kitchen but you should never compromise on the quality of your ingredients and that includes the ice. And serving your cocktails in beautiful crystal glassware makes all the difference to the moment and the experience.
What have you been working on lately?
I’m currently experimenting with some ideas for the Grey Goose cocktails which will be served at pre-Oscars parties in Los Angeles next February. I’ve been creating cocktails for these parties for many years now and I’m very proud of the amazing drinks we’ve served but it does mean that every year the challenge is on to create something even better than the previous year.
If you weren’t a mixologist, what would you be doing?
I would love to have been a photographer. There’s always a story behind a picture in the same way as there is behind a cocktail. I love to take pictures which really express something powerful, something compelling. Whether it’s the beauty of a landscape or an expression on someone’s face.