Most successful restaurants hire three different people to serve as general manager, mixologist and resident sommelier. But at Boston’s Brasserie Jo, David Cicciarella wears all three hats. He’s just that good.
Possessing an undeniable passion for food and wine, Cicciarella studied for years through the Court of Master Sommeliers as well as the Society of Wine Educators. He’s as committed to advancing as a sommelier as he is to creating a comfortable, unpretentious and unforgettable food and wine adventure for his restaurant patrons. Genuinely thrilled to share his experience, passion and knowledge with all those who visit, David enthusiastically engages his customers in the creation of the perfect food and wine pairing during a meal at Brasserie Jo. I recently caught up with David for an interview regarding his thoughts on spirits, food and wine. Here’s how our conversation went down.
MT: You seem to use theme cocktails extensively as opportunities for seasonal and occasional engagement with your patrons. Why do you think this is such a powerful tool for mixologists and venues looking to increase their revenue?
Cicciarella: It keeps things fresh and interesting. This is a creativity-based business and the last thing we’d want to do is become stagnant, for both our guests’ and employees’ sake. Taking an artisanal approach to making cocktails and always presenting something new sparks interest and creates buzz in the community. Our patrons are always excited to see what is coming next.
MT: Your wine credentials are certainly impressive. How do you think this assists you as a general manager?
Cicciarella: I love to teach and watch people grow professionally. This truly gives me a platform to share what I am most passionate about with my team and in turn, watch THEIR passion resonate. It results in a seamless transition to creating memorable food and wine experiences for our guests.
MT: For the newbies who are reading, what do you consider some of the top secrets to success in the industry?
Cicciarella: A very big ingredient in the recipe for success is having humility. We can be great at what we do without letting the world know. The biggest impact is made when we remember that the experience is about our GUESTS, not us. The ROI with this approach will be unmatched in the long run.
MT: What are the most important elements to consider when crafting a custom cocktail?
Cicciarella: TASTE, TASTE, TASTE!!! Just as a chef would taste the dish that is being made from beginning to end, adding more seasoning here and there, a mixologist must use the same concept when perfecting a cocktail recipe. Balance is another element. Make sure that the drink has enough acid such as lemon or lime to counteract the addition of anything sweet, for example syrups or sweet liqueurs. Lastly, don’t think about mass appeal when making a single recipe. One drink is never going to be everyone’s favorite. Instead, look at the big picture and comprise your entire cocktail menu of stylistically diverse flavors and tactile sensations.
MT: Which things do you consider when suggesting a food pairing to go along with a particular wine or cocktail?
Cicciarella: It is essential to consider the beverage as the final ingredient to the dish for which it is to be paired with. Knowing what characteristics are found in the wine or cocktail is key, as the decision can be made to mirror the flavor components in the dish. Pairing a bacon dish with a Washington State Syrah that has subtle smoky type characteristics would be an example of this. You can also contrast the flavor components, such as pairing spicy sauces with a sweet wine. Lastly, I let the acidity in the wine really be the hero. Wines which have a moderate to high acid level will make the flavors of the dish come to life and bounce around on the palate.
MT: Are there some flavors which should never be paired?
Cicciarella: Garlic and Chardonnay! This specific pairing will make the entire dish AND the wine turn completely bitter and result in a very unpleasant experience.
This man of many talents prides himself on being able to create a cocktail for any occasion. His blackberry-honey margarita is calling my name, but a visit to his venue would provide additional beverage inspiration to any restaurant guest. What types of spirits can you expect him to include? Well, anything’s fair game, but his short list of faves includes such brands as Eagle Rare bourbon, Asombroso Tequila, and a well-aged Haitian rum.
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