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Home > CHEF SECRETS > Las Vegas Chef Secrets > Tony Abou-Ganim (Part 1 of 3)

Tony Abou-Ganim

The Modern Mixologist

The Modern Mixologist

With the holidays in full swing, TravelsinTaste.com decided to check in with one of its favorite mixologists, Tony Abou-Ganim, to see if he'd share some of his secrets in the spirit of the season. An "Iron Chef" champion who, while partnered with Mario Batali, won in Battle Mango, Mixologist Abou-Ganim has been featured on Fine Living Network's “Raising the Bar: America’s Best Bar Chefs" and was hand-picked for Steve Wynn's cocktail program at the Bellagio. Given his multiple achievements coast to coast, from New York to San Francisco, we asked Abou-Ganim where he finds his inspiration, what the secrets are behind his cocktails and why he thinks ice is such an important cocktail component!

TravelsinTaste.com: Where do you find the inspiration for your amazingly creative cocktails?

Abou-Ganim: I find inspiration in all places. I can go to the market, and I'll see maybe a new or unique food or something that has just come into season. I picked up some pomegranates yesterday because pomegranates are in season, and I'm working on a champagne cocktail with fresh-squeezed pomegranate, with pomegranate seeds as garnish. Cranberries right now are in season so I have an idea for a warm punch with a fresh compote of cranberry, pear juice, bourbon, lemon juice and honey, with maybe some cinnamon. Again, I draw from fresh seasonal ingredients, but also I can draw from a new spirit -- something I taste for the first time or revisit years later and say, for instance, "Wow, the ginger notes of this are going to go beautifully with apple cider, and apple cider reminds me of when I was a kid in Michigan growing up, and it's fall so I'm going to do a warm cider with this ginger liqueur." I love Vernor's ginger ale, so maybe I'll tie in ginger that way, as well, or with bourbon, which also goes great with ginger and apples. My mom was a great cook; she could cook anything. She was a large Irish woman who said, "Tony, never trust a skinny chef," which hopefully doesn't translate to never trust a sober bartender. I've built this library of flavors in my mind, so it's easy. When something inspires me it triggers a whole train of thought of things to build from. That flavor that will complement it in a style of a punch or a toddy or a cocktail or a crusta; you have those basic recipes to work with and fresh seasonal ingredients to work with within them using your creative knowledge and understanding of flavor combinations. It becomes a lot of fun and you are really only limited by those creative understandings.

Neighborhood Negroni

TravelsinTaste.com: These cocktails all sound so delicious. Do you have a favorite season, or do you treat them all equally?

Abou-Ganim: I think I treat them all equally. I don't arm wrestle with Mother Nature. In the summertime, when she gives us these beautiful vine-ripe Michigan strawberries that are exploding with natural flavor, I'm going to make a puree of marinated strawberries and Grand Marnier and do a riff on the Bellini. When watermelons are at the peak of their season in the summertime and they are exploding with their natural sweetness I'll make Zig Zags and punches out by the pool. In the winter you get those great citrus: the Meyer lemons, blood oranges, kumquats and clementines, as well as all those wonderful pears and apples. I don't think I have a favorite season. I do see my choices of spirit going from lighter to heavier as the weather gets cooler, with vodkas and gins in the spring and summer, and darker rums, brandies, bourbons and ryes in the winter.

TravelsinTaste.com: What is your favorite cocktail -- either one you created or someone else's?

Abou-Ganim: I wish my favorite cocktail was one that I created, but I can't say that. I'd like to say it's one that I've promoted and been a huge fan of and hopefully contributed to its popularity. . My favorite cocktail is the Negroni. I first discovered it in 1990 in San Francisco. I fell in love with it at the Rainbow Room in 1993 when Dale DeGroff made it for me. I've been drinking it as my "go to." That said, I'm an equal opportunity imbiber. I think life is too short to just eat vanilla, especially with the plethora of great bars that have opened over the past five years, and the plethora of great bartenders making fabulous cocktails and resurrecting these lost and forgotten gems -- being able to get their hands on crème de violet and maraschino liqueur and all the different bitters to reproduce them. Just to drink a Bud Light would be sacrilege, so I try to drink something different if not every day at least a couple of times a week. If I find myself in a bar that isn't going to know what a Negroni is, I'm probably going to have a pint of Guinness.

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