Bartender Q&A: The Modern Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim on Pairings, Negronis, and Adventurous Females

This past weekend was a busy one for South Florida foodies. Broward had some porcine deliciousness at Baconfest. Miami featured the epic South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Fortunately, for us, we got to do a bit of both.

While we were there we got to sample some amazing food, drink some darned good cocktails, and meet a bunch of celebrity chefs and mixologist. Seeing as we have a bit of a soft spot for the art of mixology--and yes, we're aware, it might be a problem--we decided to have an industry chat with the Las Vegas-based, Modern Mixologist, Tony Abou-Ganim.

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Clean Plate Charlie: Hometown/ High School?
Abou-Ganim: Born and raised in Port Huron Michigan, graduated from Port Huron Northern in 1978.

How long have you been in the industry?
32 years

I knew I wanted to be a mixologist when ____.
I sat at my Cousin Helen David's bar, the Brass Rail, on the eighteenth birthday and my cousin Tony prepared all the classics for me. I fell in love with the Manhattan and the art & profession of bartending that night.

Favorite drink to make?

Least favorite drink to make?
Long Island Ice Tea

Strangest drink requested?
Scotch and dill pickle juice over ice

What's your favorite spirit?
Campari, but I love all my children...

What's your favorite thing to drink after work?
A cold Miller Hi Life...or a Negroni...or both

What is your favorite place to drink after work?
Petrossian Lounge at the Bellagio

What's the best pick-up line you've heard at the bar?
How was your day?

The worst?
Does your face hurt because it's killing me

If someone comes in and orders a ______, you instantly think ______ about them.
A glass of Mezcal...they have taken the journey, or they work behind the stick.

Biggest pet-peeve while working?
Arrogance and being sloppy

Who is your favorite local mixologist? Any why?
Laura at Clarke's, she gets it and she is the consummate host

If I wasn't a mixologist, I would be a ______.
A fireman or a pro hockey player, so I'm pretty sure that means I would be a fireman

Favorite kind of bar customer?
Adventurous, patient, appreciative, female

Least favorite kind of bar customer?
Loud and obnoxious, demanding and unappreciative, one who has never worked in the service industry.

If you could make a drink for anyone, who would it be? And which drink do you think would suit them?
I would love to make my dad a cocktail. All I ever served him at the Brass Rail was beer, I'd like to make him a Negroni, see if I inherited my love of that cocktail from him, that would be special.

Favorite thing about mixology?
To me it is and always has been the interaction and relationships with my guests, after all, we are in the hospitality business, mixology is just a small part of the equation.

What do you look for when pairing cocktails with food?
Contrast, look to pair acidity with fat; texture, something rich and full bodied with something sharp;  Something briny and salty with something creamy and viscous.

Is it easier to pair spirits or mixed cocktails with foods?
Depends. There is a reason Margaritas are a safe choice with Mexican food, contract. With foods from Eastern Europe, caviar, smoked and pickled fish, dried meats, pickled vegetables; these lend themselves beautifully to pair with vodka.

You just wrote a book about vodka, Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka & Vodka Cocktails. And you were a part of a vodka and caviar pairing during the weekend. What was your goal with the book and the event?
Creating an awareness that all vodkas are not the same and an understanding, that different vodkas, made from different raw materials will pair differently with a variety of foods. All of the dishes contained caviar and all one needs to do is experiment with three varieties of caviar paired with straight, ice cold from the freezer, glasses of vodka; say one made from rye, one from potato and the other from a mix of grains to experience how uniquely these two work together.

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Sara Ventiera