St. Louis native Josh Goldman is an accomplished sommelier, restaurant General Manager and U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division veteran who couldn’t shake the creativity of cocktails, so the self-proclaimed “unlicensed barmacist,” most recently the GM at ink., joined forces with leading bar pro Julian Cox to develop cocktails for related restaurants like Rivera, Playa, Picca, Sotto, Short Order and the military-inspired MessHall in Los Feliz. They’ve also got a R&D bar in the works for MessHall, which will allow them to “further flavor” by applying advanced culinary techniques and technologies. On June 21, I spoke with Goldman after a MessHall training session at Playa, and he shared insights into his renewed interest in the past, present and future of cocktails and spirits.
How did your current opportunity with Julian Cox come about?
Julian and I had wanted to work together for awhile. We have mutual respect for each other. He’s an amazing craftsman, and really admire his professionalism. I like to surround myself with that. There was never really an opportunity until after I left ink. I was talking to Julian and he’s like, “Yeah, let’s work something out.” Everything so far has been a great partnership. It’s been fantastic working with him and a bunch of really, really great guys.
So your last three jobs, you’ve been a GM. What re-sparked your focus on cocktails and spirits?
Well, I started off in the restaurant industry in the mid ’90s, bartending at nightclubs in D.C. And then followed through with that, through college, and kind of got away from bartending, because back when I was bartending, the common question was, “Yeah, you’re a good bartender, but what else do you do?” It was never really an accepted profession, and I just bought into that. So that’s why – I’d always been interested in all aspects of beverage and food – but I started to get more into wine and had to get more into management because it was always where the positions were. Right now, I’m just trying to find my way, with all my experience of being a GM and sommelier and bartender, what kind of position I can create for myself where I find the most creativity and joy, happiness, all that good stuff, everything people are looking for.
What do you most enjoy about working with cocktails and spirits?
The creativity. Really, it’s re-emerging art. When you think about it, it’s America’s first culinary art. We really introduced bartending to the rest of the world. And we’re actually not as far – I would say – as we were before Prohibition, as far as bartending. Bartenders understand what their job is, what their craft is, so I’m really excited to be back doing it, developing flavor and using technology and culinary techniques to further flavor. It’s not about trickery or, “Look how clever Josh is.” It’s about developing flavor, pushing things further, and hopefully kind of opening up people’s eyes to different combinations, different ways of doing things and basically I just want people to demand more, out of their food, out of their beverage. There are so many beautiful, wonderful things out there, and there are a lot of guys doing it right, but it tends to get overshadowed by what is the norm. You go into a bar and get a Jack and Coke, because that’s what you always order. There are certainly other fantastic flavor combinations and experiences. It’s really the education of the people behind the bar that can turn people on to some wonderful stuff. The more we can shine a light on unique spirits or good spirits, the more people are going to make ‘em. When you develop a market for it, and you develop a demand for it, more people are going to go into that market.
Why do you think technology has been so under-utilized in terms of cocktail applications?
If you look at the basic equipment behind the bar, a tin, bar spoons, jiggers, strainers, all the rest, our technology behind the bar hasn’t changed very much in over 100 years. That has a lot to do with – obviously Prohibition – because there was no Prohibition on cooking, so you see a steady rise. There are so many things going on all over the world. Nobody said, “You can’t eat.” They said, “You can’t drink,” which not only decimated the wine industry in the U.S., but completely destroyed a craft.
Would you say that people need to re-learn before they can move forward?
Well, I always say, you have to know Escoffier before you know Adria. You can’t start anything molecular or Modernist or anything like that if you don’t have a firm foundation of what the mother sauces are. One of the great things about Julian and all of his programs is that he really takes a lot of time and takes a lot of effort and trains all these guys the different families of cocktails, different classic cocktails, different styles, the way different things go together, spirits training, basically build a better bartender, a more knowledgeable bartender, somebody who’s able to actually – when you sit down at the bar – take care of you the way that bartenders are supposed to be.
What is it that you say is missing from the Los Angeles cocktail scene that you and Julian might be able to help bring?