The craft of mixology has gained widespread popularity in recent times. Several institutes now offer certified courses in mixology, just as top restaurants are making room for qualified mixologists on their staff.
In keeping with this trend, Novelé, a cocktail bar in Shangri La’s Eros Hotel in Delhi, has partnered with Luca Cinalli, a UK-based mixologist who is famous for redefining the cocktail experience. He has curated amazing blends and fusions for Novelé’s bar menu. The award-winning mixologist, whose mantra is “there are no rules to creativity”, speaks to Guardian 20 about this collaboration, his career and his future endeavours.
When it comes to creating new cocktail recipes, possibilities abound. But to achieve that right balance, one has to keep exploring and tread out of the comfort zone. “While making a new cocktail, we have an image in our mind, but in reality, we face a few issues. The whole process is driven by creativity. When we start creating a cocktail, it is a puzzle containing lots of elements which are to be put together to create the final product. We need the perfect mix of ingredients, season, regional preferences and functionality”, says Cinalli.
A celebrated bartender now, Cinalli’s initial days in the hospitality sector were spent in Casalbordino, a small village in Italy. He worked with his chef brother at the back end of a restaurant, not creating or cooking dishes. This was when his ideas clashed with those of others, and Cinalli realised he was more of a creative soul–a realisation that steered him towards bartending.
He says, “Bartending just came along with people looking for something new and different. With people searching for more, it motivated me to do the mixing and come out with unique, alluring and divergent drinks. I learned that if I don’t offer to my guests something they cannot replicate, they will never come back to me. My creative inclination and passion to do something more than what existed got the passion stirring in me.”
The craft of mixology has often been confused with bartending in the past. Mixology is not only about mixing drinks, but has a close association with molecular gastronomy.
Cinalli has experienced at first hand the changing trends in, and the evolution of, the mixology industry. He says, “15 years ago, I witnessed the trend of textures. There was a lot of play with jellies and more artificial ingredients. Earlier, mixologists wanted to present to their customers a kitchen in the glass or, so to speak, food in the glass. There were no machines to extract the flavours from, but now with machines being available to us easily, we are able to get cleaner and lighter cocktails to the guests. It is more about complementing lighter cocktails, which are simple, clean and fast, with food. Cocktails are meant to wash the palate of the guests, and not over-complicating them is the key. I take my time to finish processes. For instance, I use coffee filter in a few of my drinks and strain it over night and next day collect the residue.”
Always fascinated with different cultures, Cinalli has worked as a consultant for bars all over the world. On entering the Indian market with Novelé, he says, “I always wanted to work in here. Delhi still isn›t as developed as the West in terms of cocktail bars and I feel Novelé is a great offering to the people of Delhi.»
He has his own approach to crafting the cocktail menu. “As we enter the Indian market for the first time, we want a cocktail menu with local flavours. The Indian taste palate is sensitive to rich and delectable flavours. So if I expect my guests to like my creation, I should gain their trust in my choice of ingredients.”
In the past, Cinalli has worked as bar manager at Nightjar and Oriole Bar in London, a profile which won him many leadership awards. But it was in mixology that he found his true calling.
There is a lot of business potential in cocktail-making as well. Cinalli feels that in the coming years, bartenders will have the opportunity to experiment more.
By way of advice for aspiring mixologists, Cinally says, «Mixology in cocktails is about understanding the needs of customers, engaging them in the process, understanding the ingredients used and essentially creating an impressive experience. It’s about creating a culture using imagination, talent, or skill to create work that may be judged to have a unique element attached to it.”
Cinalli concludes with his future plans. He says, “I plan to create a botanical garden anywhere in this world. Coming from a small village we had everything homegrown. I would like to get fresher ingredients in the market and show people the complete process of where the ingredients are coming from.”