Posted on | November 3, 2014
Written by | Alia Akkam
Chef Matt McCallister’s modern, farmers-market-driven cooking at FT33, in Dallas’ Design District, is what initial hooks diners. But once they catch a glimpse of General Manager and Wine Director Jeff Gregory’s beverage program, they won’t leave without sampling a cocktail like the Huck Fizz (huckleberry shrub, Caña Brava white rum, crème de violette, lime, splash of ginger beer.)
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: How do you create a beverage program that is impressive in its own right while complementing chef McCallister’s cuisine?
JEFF GREGORY: To match his level of care and attention, first we strive to always feature a degree of seasonality in our specialty cocktail program, using herbs, fruits and vegetables sourced from the same farms and gardens we utilize in the kitchen. Items such as figs, plums and late summer herbs all factor into the drinks we are working on right now. Chef McCallister is also a great mentor when it comes to pickling and other preservation methods, which allow us to extend the useful life of some summer fruits like huckleberries, peaches and cherries. Our second area of focus is using spirits producers that have a smaller footprint and a bit more of a story to tell.
TBN: Barrel-aged cocktails get a big nod on the cocktail list. What was the inspiration?
JG: Being located in the South means that whiskey barrels are a part of the culinary terrain. Barrel-aging has become a great method for elevating classic, spirit-forward cocktails. Fortunately, we have Texas’s best whiskey distillery in close proximity, Balcones, out of Waco. From them we were able to source used 20-liter barrels that still hold tons of amazing flavors. They help to smooth out a Martinez or Negroni, and also add their own layers of complexity from the toasted wood and residual aromatics. We also have a few smaller-scale experiments going, trying to see what results we can get from oaking our own London Dry Gin and Green Chartreuse. A house amaro made from green pecans will probably wind up spending some time in a barrel before coming onto the menu.
TBN: With these innovations in play, how does the restaurant’s bar manage to remain familiar to guests?
JG: Our bartenders are trained to carry the same warm, welcoming demeanor that we strive for in the rest of the house. My goal for our service is that it hits many of the finer points of restaurant service while remaining as disarming as possible to our guests. We want everyone who drinks or dines here to feel comfortable enjoying themselves, even though they may be experiencing something a bit different for the Dallas dining and bar landscape.
TBN: What is your personal approach to guiding guests though the drink menu?
JG: Our most useful tools are a big smile; a few probing questions to get an idea of a guest’s general preferences for spirit, cocktails or wine; and strong product knowledge that allows us to make several useful recommendations we hope will excite them and provide an experience that complements the amazing cuisine they are here to enjoy.
TBN: What’s new for fall?
JG: We are experimenting with some herbal tinctures we make in chef McCallister’s rotary evaporator. We are also playing around with juicing and centrifuging fall tree fruits such as pears and apples. Fun times