Schoettler started us with a trio of edible cocktails on ceramic pedestals. The frozen, chewy LEMON cocktail was inspired by Chicago’s Violet Hour and also involved Luxardo Amaro, Luxardo bitters and lemon zest. It featured a lingering bitter/sour after taste. The APPLE cocktail was a play on a Jack Rose, made with Laird’s apple brandy, grenadine, thyme and a central apple ring. Schoettler’s SQUASH cocktail was a take on a Cynar Flip involving Cynar, Carpano Antica vermouth and flor de cana 7-year rum. The “drink” had the look and consistency of a foam-capped “caramel.”
The firm APPLE cocktail was especially fascinating to behold.
Schoettler entered the world of liquid by “playing on absence of color” in Absolut vodka. He distilled one ice cube with basil, two more with coconut and floated Pernod.
Achatz flew a 12-person team from Chicago for the event, including Schoettler, vaunted bartender Joshua Pearson (previously with Nashville’s Patterson House) and several chefs.
Achatz accompanied the presentation of each course with an in-depth explanation. He began with golden trout roe from his home state of Michigan, saying, “The first chef I ever cooked for, Steve Stallard, retired from cooking. Smart man. Opened BLiS. He makes incredible maple syrup. That’s something that you might be familiar with. Incredible sherry vinegars and some artisan roes, both trout and steelhead. We have the Michigan trout roe, under that coconut mousse, pineapple foam, basil a little coconut, freeze dried pineapple and a little dot of black licorice off to the side. Thank you.” Combining the bursting roe with sweet, herbaceous and crunchy elements contributed to a truly compelling dish.
“This one will require some participation,” said Schoettler, of his next cocktail. “I want you to take your sidecar. You’re going to dump it in. Take your lemongrass swizzle stick and you’re going to swizzle your Moscow Mule. You have ginger, finger lime cells, Fresno chilies.” The bursting dots of lime and spice from the chilies and ginger contributed to my favorite cocktail of the night.
Achatz appeared yet again and said, “Yuba, the skin of soy milk when you cook it. It goes up to the top. Pull the sheet off, roll it up into a pencil, dehydrate it and deep fry it. It’s like a cracker. Wrapped around it is shrimp, Togarashi, which is a Japanese chile. Pickled onions, orange taffy, and in the ink well there, you have miso mayonnaise.” The dish was presented like a quill, only one with crunch and spice. Making soy interesting may have been Achatz’s most astounding feat.
Schoettler designed his next cocktail to pair with the following course, saying, “We have Absolut Citron, Absolut Kurant, Moda Normandy (apple brandy cut with apple juice), Champagne. You have little glass straws. At the bottom of the glass you’ll find little spheres of apple. When you consume it make sure you don’t have your straw at the very bottom of the glass. You’ll get nothing out of it.” These apple “boba” had a surprisingly bitter aftertaste, but it was still a novel cocktail.
A near unanimous choice for dish of the night ended up being the least “molecular,” a savory fall stew with chestnuts, lentils, sweet impeccably cooked lobster meat, maitake mushrooms, roasted root vegetables and airy cider nage. This dish was a great example of the power of smell, with rosemary sprigs submerged in steaming water, which created an aromatic rosemary vapor.
Achatz derived the night’s most personal course from memories of his Michigan childhood, including burning oak leaves and the spoils of his father’s pheasant hunting expeditions. He described the dish during his earlier presentation, and speared a chunk of tempura pheasant on a burning oak branch. “Exactly like I talked about, except the components inside are a little bit changed,” said Achatz. “Instead of the apple and the shallot, we did peeled green grape and walnut along with the pheasant. Pick it up, lower it into your mouth. Strip the tempura off the end. It either smells like fall or a Grateful Dead concert.”
“For our next cocktail, I want you to crack the Absolut,” said Schoettler.” [We each opened two-ounce bottles]. “Use the little metal stirrer to incorporate the two.” The New Orleans inspired cocktail, which normally features Rye, also incorporated Pernod and lemon oil.
Achatz even found inspiration at O’Hare Airport, saying, “I was starving and the only think open was Man Chu Wok, so I got the beef with broccoli and I wanted to drink a Guinness with it, so that’s what we have here. Over the top you have a very thin film of Guinness gelee. Underneath I actually have Wagyu short ribs that have been sous vide. You have on top, caramelized broccoli, a broccoli stem ribbon, some mustard seeds and then spicy peanuts.” Very clever.
A wood barrel rested on a pedestal throughout the course of our meal, and Schoettler eventually revealed why, pouring a barrel-aged martini. In the bartending community, it’s become increasingly popular to age cocktails that contain spirits that wouldn’t normally touch wood. In this case, Schoettler utilized Absolut 100, Noilly Prat dry vermouth and house-made orange bitters. The cocktail had been in a Tuthilltown bourbon barrel for six months, and he had the barrel, color and flavor to prove it.
The PEAR cocktail was alternately cold and hot, involving Absolut pear, Poire Williams (pear eau de vie), yellow chartreuse and crème de cassis. Schoettler said, “If you can take it in one continuous drink, meaning when you start, don’t stop.” Achatz added, “When we say start, you’ve got to go.” He toasted one of the event’s organizers, Simon Ford, and drank the cocktail with us.
The finally savory course was Achatz’s signature Black Truffle Explosion, which he created at Trio in 2001. “This one is near and dear to my heart because it actually got me the job at Trio,” he said. It’s truffle jello in ravioli that melts, topped with shaved black truffle, romaine and Parmesan. Achatz added an important instruction before we indulged, saying, “Make sure you purse your lips shut or you’ll hose down the person next to you.”