in the kitchen with lukas b. smith

in the kitchen is a new series i've been wanting to start for a while. the local food industry is full of creative individuals making incredible and beautiful things. it's time to let those chefs, mixologists, bakers, makers and doers tell the stories behind the menu items you know them for. i'm just here to illustrate. 

After a year of searching for day-to-day consistency as the BD of Daikaya, I've spent an invigorating six months at The Passenger (dearly departed) and Dram & Grain. The Passenger is (was? Sigh. . . . ) well-known for running a fresh cocktail board every day. A major part of what drew me to D&G was the pledge that I would have complete creative freedom over one night of the week. The day we lit upon was Tuesday, and to date we've run a fresh Tuesday menu every week with at least five new drinks.

For this reason, no Tuesday is ever quite the same as far as prep goes. Many ideas come up over jokes or drinks or dreams and are hastily scribbled down on napkins or typed into glowing phone screens. Sometimes chef walks up on a Saturday and says, "can you use arugula? I've got some left over from an event." Three days later, Farrah shows up with her camera and captures me in the experimental wild.

The trick with using greens in cocktails is three-fold, as it turns out: A) unless you're making a Bloody Mary, don't make things that have the consistency of a Bloody Mary, because the Bloody Mary is the only drink that behaves in that chunky/pulpy way. There's no way to avoid comparison with the Bloody Mary, which is, despite and because of it's distinctiveness, also one of the most personalized of cocktails. Serve a peppery purée in a cocktail and watch people start pouring salt and Tabasco in your Rickey. No-no. B) Don't make an alcoholic health drink (smoothie). You have the same suit-to-taste problems as with the Bloody Mary with the added danger that people typically don't associate drinking such things with fun. No-no. C) Don't let it turn brown! The present seasonal transition reminds us of the states of change that plants go. Arrest that Development.

We avoid the Bloody Mary effect by putting a high concentration of arugula in a sugar syrup solution, blending the lot together, and then removing the plant solids with a fine strainer. No pulp, no Mary.

We avoid the health drink effect in two ways. First, we make it taste good. A quart of loosely packed arugula blended into a syrup lends just enough astringent pepperiness and fresh, grassy aroma to lend the "Wait, What?" effect to your soda without making it into a potable salad. Second, we directly carbonate the hell out of the finished product, which induces the palate/brain to think "party time" instead of "dinner time."

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Fruits and vegetables turn brown and rot due to enzymes. Enzymes are heat sensitive, but then, so are fresh aromas and textures. Raw collard greens anyone? Carrot purée? The trick is to heat the arugula enough to neutralize the browning enzyme but not enough to wilt the arugula.

Behold, the blanche-shock. Using a chinois, we dunk the arugula into boiling water for a second or three, and then immediately dunk into an ice water bath. Repeat a time or two, and your arugula is green as grasshoppers, and will stay so for a week or more. (And we dance.)

Having secured a happily green, silky, and not overtly side-dishy liquid, we commence to finish the soda. Peppery Aviation gin fortifies the thing, while fresh lime juice and store-bought lactic acid round out the affair. Thus is born the Rickey Rucola. It's tangy, bubbly, tingly, and as fresh-as-fresh can be.

Only four more to go for tonight's service.