- interview by Sara Gorelick
Sara caught up with Francesco Lafranconi, Director of Mixology & Spirits Education for Southern Wine and Spirits, when he was in New York for the Spirit of Italy. The Spirit of Italy was held at the end of January and focused on promoting select spirits from Italy.
SG: Where did you begin your career?
FL: I grew up in my parents bar in Northern Italy (the Friuli region), then after hotel school, I worked in some of the finest European hotels including Cipriani in Venice, Palace in Gstaadt and the Intercontinetal in Cologne, Germany.
SG: What is the most important message you can impart in your role as Director of Mixology?
FL: Ultimately the priority is to deliver a product that satisfies the guest, makes profit for the establishment and excites the bar staff while promoting the bar fresh culture.
SG: Can you tell me about your favorite experience behind the bar?
FL: I can't recall one in particular, but there are some circumstances where there is great chemistry among you and the guests. You become the epicenter of social interaction. At that point you can sell anything!
SG: What do you order when you go to the bar as a guest?
FL: Generally I look for clues, so I can realize if the place is good for cocktails or not. I enjoy my champagne or Americano (Campari, Sweet Vermouth and Soda on the rocks with orange slice and lemon peel). After dinner I look to the back bar, if there is something I have never tried before, particularly brown spirits. I do not like to challenge the bartender by any means.
SG: What are you currently working on?
FL: I'm working on international hotel chains mixology programs and training videos as well as other national accounts projects. I develop seminars for annual cocktail events like Tales of the Cocktail and Manhattan Cocktail Classic and the San Diego Spirit Festival and Skyy Party at Aspen Food& Wine 2011. I am getting ready to host some mixology seminars overseas in the next few months where I promote the American cocktail trends as well as the Italian aperitif culture...all with gusto!
SG: What is the best cocktail you ever created?
FL: I don't know if I did it yet! I do like to promote the Sorriso, because it is very pleasant, intriguing and easy to execute.SORRISO
In a mixing glass stir ingredients with ice for few seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail martini glass. Garnish with oils from orange and lemon peels and Luxardo marasca cherry.
(Photo courtesy of the L.A. TIMES)
SG: What would we be surprised to learn about you?
FL: You stick with me, I make you rich!! Really I am obsessed with ethnic foods and flavors, and any alcoholic beverages from around the world. And man ties! I own more than 300!
SG: What was your role in the Spirit of Italy?
FL: Mixologist and ambassador for 9 fine Italian companies. I have been approached to promote and educate the trade about incredible opportunities to involve Italian spirits (and liqueurs and amari and aperitifs), to partake in the great American cocktail resurgence. They make the best complement (modifiers) to any spirit category available, including Sake and Soju too.
SG: What is your favorite ingredient to work with now?
FL: Anything, I really like the emphasize the quality of each individual category of spirits and liqueurs. However I enjoy to explore Lambic beers in drinks. I also like sorbets and ice creams in the drinks. A specific herb that I like to work with is fresh verbena.
SG: Favorite bar tool?
FL: Tweezers (Fruit tongs), a sharp pairing knife and an immaculate white-colored cutting board.
SG: As an educator, what advice do you have for an aspiring bartender?
FL: Develop your own style and charisma. Study the foundations such as classic recipes, manufacturing process of alcoholic beverages, then travel, travel, travel (learn other languages) and breathe in the flavors of the world so you can put them back into your cocktail. But above all, remember, the guest comes first!