Posted on | September 22, 2015
Written by | Alia Akkam
Devouring Chinese food is a timelessly comforting ritual, but Ed Schoenfeld has also made it an adventurous experience. At the two outposts of his New York restaurant RedFarm, dim sum gets the inventive treatment via chef Joe Ng. Ensuring the cocktails are just as playful and contemporary is Shawn Chen.
The Beverage Network: RedFarm keeps New Yorkers happy at two locations. How do the cocktail programs differ between the two?
Shawn Chen: The philosophy behind the food at RedFarm is to reinvent the classics while also creating “Chinese cuisine with a greenmarket sensibility.” The RedFarm cocktail program embraces the same with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Not only do the classic cocktails have a modern twist, but an Asian one to celebrate Chinese-American heritage.
On the other hand, Decoy [underground, beneath RedFarm in the West Village], which is both a cocktail bar and a shrine to Peking Duck, is all about creating cutting-edge drinks. Every single detail matters when crafting a cocktail at Decoy, from choosing the right types of ice to making our own tinctures to aging our cocktails in oak barrels.
TBN: Decoy must allow you to be more imaginative, as in the Sitting Down for Dinner (duck fat-washed whiskey, lemon, egg white, red wine). Are those guests a more curious bunch?
SC: Decoy started with experimentation, and we have made it into something very special. The clientele is adventurous. They are open-minded and always excited to try new cocktails and dishes, and that’s what makes a place like Decoy so much fun.
TBN: To many, the idea of pairing cocktails and Chinese food might arouse skepticism. How are you educating guests that this can actually be a fitting combination and convince them to try a drink?
SC: Chinese cuisine is very complex, and its flavors and style of cooking vary from region to region. However, you will find soy sauce, salt and vinegar in most dishes. As a general rule of thumb if the dish is spicy or salty—Kung Pao Chicken or Ma-Po Tofu, for example—pairing it with a sweeter cocktail is the way to go for balance. These are the kinds of details we explain to them.
TBN: RedFarm has some clever cocktails on the list, such as the Bee’s Teas (chamomile tea-infused bourbon, fig, lemon, basil, honey) and Le Club Hot (jalapeño-infused tequila, cucumber, mint, agave, lime, smoked sea salt). What are you tinkering with now that we’re in the midst of autumn?
SC: Dark spirits that incorporate different shrubs made with fall fruits, such as nectar, apple and baking spices.
TBN: Using such a slate of ingredients must come naturally from being in close proximity to the kitchen. Do you always have discussions with Joe on how the food and drinks can best work together?
SC: Chef Joe, Ed and I have frequent, open dialogue on how to make the drink and food best complement each other and represent RedFarm. Communication between the kitchen and bar is a must. The success of a beverage program does not lie solely on the drinks, but rather it’s a collaborative effort. And we think this way both for RedFarm and Decoy.
TBN: RedFarm is constantly busy, with wannabe diners often left standing in line for a table. How do you translate that to good hospitality?
SC: It’s definitely an opportunity to attract customers to our drink menu while they wait. Most importantly, we get to have a conversation with them. This is very important because it allows us to understand what are they looking for in a cocktail, and what their likes and dislikes are so we can help them find something new and appealing.