Posted on | January 30, 2013
Written by | Alia Akkam
When Daniel Boulud came calling in 1999, Olivier Flosse left bucolic England—where he worked at the acclaimed Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons outside Oxford—with two suitcases and headed for New York to become the assistant to restaurant Daniel’s well-regarded sommelier, Jean-Luc Le Dû. “Who says no to Daniel?” he recalls. Accepting the job turned out to be a fortuitous move: before long, the Marseilles native was cellar master at Café Boulud.
For the past nine years, Flosse has worked for the London-based Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation, and has had Italy (and cocktails) on the mind in recent years, overseeing the beverage programs of both A Voce restaurants in New York, on Madison Avenue and Columbus Circle at the Time Warner Center, along with Morello Bistro in Greenwich, CT, and Bistro du Midi in Boston. Here, he discusses how A Voce’s lively cocktail list has become just as important a profit channel as its exemplary wine collection.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: With all your years steeped in the wine world, it must have been an adjustment responding to New York’s obsession with cocktails. What is your approach at A Voce?
OLIVIER FLOSSE: Cocktails and the bar is a different relationship than wine and the bar. The focus at both restaurants is on seasonal ingredients—of course Italian produce—and offering different sides to drinks: bitter, sweet, sparkling. My wine background helps me make sure there is a balance between smell and taste.
TBN: Your cocktail list does highlight a range of flavor profiles, from the refreshing Italian-style Kir with Prosecco, lemon juice, Crème Yvette and St-Germain, to the elegant Albicocca with Farmer’s Organic Gin, apricot purée and nutmeg. What is the creative process behind your drinks?
OF: We have a large bartending staff. I give them the produce and styles, they come up with ideas and then we assess cost. If it’s feasible, then we test them. The vision of the cocktail is critical, too; it needs to look good, it needs to look sexy. It may be old fashioned, but glassware is very important. If you see a beautiful cocktail at another table, you will be curious to ask what it is.
TBN: Although A Voce is an Italian restaurant, interestingly your top-selling cocktail is the Margarita in Fuoco, with pepper-infused Montezuma Blanco Tequila, Solerno and lime juice.
OF: We sell about 1,200 a month at each location. It’s a little spicy and delicious.
TBN: Something you are known for is the savory, $33 Il Tartufo, made with Michter’s 10-year-old bourbon, black truffle-infused Foro Vermouth, Carpano Antica Vermouth, black truffle syrup, bourbon honey and garnished with white truffle honey syrup and a sliver of pickled black truffle on the rim. Something that ambitious must have taken a few test runs to master.
OF: We wanted to bring something different to the menu when truffles were in season. Unlike wine, which is already made and we are educating guests on and selling, cocktails are the one thing on the beverage side we make from scratch with heart and mind. Cocktails are like a baby. Even if there’s a due date, we don’t deliver until perfect. I wouldn’t give up on this recipe.
TBN: And now that it’s been perfected, does it prove popular with guests?
OF: It’s mostly a hand-sell. It’s an education because some guests say they don’t like truffles, or they don’t like bourbon, but then they taste it and are surprised. There is nothing better than making someone change their mind. Some people come in just to drink the truffle cocktail.
TBN: Hand-selling is a skill you undoubtedly mastered from convincing guests to explore wines they may never have heard of before.
OF: You can have a beautiful cocktail list, but if you want to sell, the staff must know the drinks and have a deep appreciation and enthusiasm for them.