Twist and shout: Garnishes

15 February 2016

Is your banana dolphin a little sad-looking? Mango manatee a bit questionable? Then you need to up your garnish game, my friend, says Clinton Cawood

Before anyone gets anywhere near that complex and subtle combination of ingredients you’ve stirred down to perfection, they’re looking at it first. Aside from a few general rules, though, the realm of the drinks garnish is a lawless and anarchic place, leaving much to the interpretation and artistic vision of the bartender. And just as much as that can be a channel for true genius, it can also go very, very wrong. We talked to some of the best in the business to get their tips and tricks.

Art Theory
‘The Mojito is the perfect example of how to garnish a drink. In classic art works you would talk about “line of draw”, which basically means if you have a person as the main centrepiece of a painting, the background elements either distract from the centrepiece or draw the eye towards it. In the case of the Mojito, the glass is the centrepiece, while the mound of ice, the straw and the mint sprig are the background elements that draw the eyes to the rim of the glass. 

‘An untrained or visually unaware bartender might be tempted to position the mint sprig away from the straw, sending the composition off balance. A trained bartender would always nestle the sprig directly behind the straw and pull the straw out a little to create a greater angle that draws the eyes as opposed to sending them off. Once you understand the draw of the eye, garnishing drinks is easy.’
Andy Mil, The Cocktail Trading Co

Less is more
‘Generally I’m a fan of simplicity. I try to focus primarily on low-maintenance garnishes that are pretty, without needing too much in terms of cost and preparation time. A typical menu might feature four or five homemade purées or syrups, maybe five infusions… With all of that, you’ve got enough prep already.

‘What I like is the confidence to have no garnish – not feeling the necessity to garnish absolutely every drink. You can make a drink look really sexy just by putting it in the right glassware, and using the right bevnap.

‘Sometimes it seems like 50% of the effort is being spent on presentation rather than what the drink tastes like. You get your drink, a fox is jumping out of a miniature wheelie bin, and you’re going: “Am I high?” The cocktail may as well be water.’
Julian de Feral, Gorgeous Group

‘There are two main ways to create dried fruit garnishes. One is to use a food dehydrator: a round electrical device that looks like a mini space ship, in which you place the fruit, cut in to extremely thin slices and wait. Dehydration takes a long time. The other way is to layer the same thin slices one on top of the other, on an oven tray lined with greaseproof paper, and let them cook at no more than 150°C for up to four or five hours. Yeah, that’s a lot of time but it’s definitely worth it.’
Ramiro Cachafeiro Danza, European Bartender School

‘A garnish should not be over-complicated and should be easy to replicate. You need to think about how easy it’s going to be to make it again and again at an event. I like to use herbs, edible flowers or dehydrated fruit, as they’re easy to prepare and look great in a drink.’
Alessandro Rocci, Create Cocktails

‘The simpler the cocktail, the simpler the garnish should be, in my opinion. You can take a basic Gin & Tonic and take it to the next level by just adding some basil.’
Ramiro Cachafeiro Danza, European Bartender School

‘Funnily enough, we never focus on the beauty of a drink as a primary element when we’re going through the process of creating a cocktail. The presentation of a drink is something that follows the taste, and is based on many other factors. I’d say that wrapping the final drink into something beautiful to look at is just respect for the final product, in part, not to mention an effort to showcase what’s actually inside the glass.’
Marian Beke, The Gibson

But sometimes, more is more…
‘At The Cocktail Trading Company we sometimes put as much effort into the appearance of a drink as we do into the liquid. A drink might last 15 minutes, but the photo that a guest posts online will last a hell of a lot longer. We use presentation as a marketing tool for people who aren’t at the bar, and tasty drinks and good service for those at the bar.’
Andy Mil, The Cocktail Trading Co 

Cool tools
‘Knives are obviously a biggie. Bartenders get obsessed with having the fanciest bar tools. They’ll recommend vintage Japanese knives, by the guy who made the sword for Kill Bill, but those are high maintenance, and you have to keep them dry. My go-to is a serrated Victorinox knife with the prong thing on the end (for popping out seeds from lemons). Serrated because no one ever thinks about how they’re going to sharpen their knives, but you can put a serrated one through a dishwasher without too much negative effect.

‘And a y-shaped Oxo peeler. You know when you’re opening a bottle of champagne and you turn the bottle instead of the cork? It’s the same when zesting an orange – you turn it, and keep the y-shape solid. If you don’t do that, you end up literally slitting your wrists.’
Julian de Feral, Gorgeous Group

‘We’ve been using lots of pastry tools. But you need a good knife and some basic machines such as a dehydrator, vacuum machine and spice grinder, which can all help to create cheap, fast and effective decorations with an original touch.’
Marian Beke, The Gibson

‘Sil-Pads – simple non-slip silicon mats. They’re fantastic for any form of sugar or chocolate work.’
Andy Mil, The Cocktail Trading Co

‘Using a dehydrator has made modern garnishing easier. I personally love the finish you get from using one, and I embrace not wasting anything. I can turn an entire pineapple into usable garnish, as opposed to half a fresh one before it spoils.’
Amit Sood, Shaker Bar Schools

Pimp your lemon twist
‘Using tiki as an example, passion fruit can offer a very handy garnish and we can do a lot of things with the empty half of the fruit. You can make a hole in the bottom and place a mint sprig in the fruit that will look like a lovely mini island on top of the drink, but also adding the smell and flavour of mint to the drink.

‘You can go further with the Whiskey Sour by using a blow torch to cook the egg white on top. You get the smell of the meringue, and if you do it properly, you will make a light layer on top of the drink which will give another interesting texture as well – although be careful not to make an omelette…’
Ramiro Cachafeiro Danza, European Bartender School

‘Customised vessels and glasses are trendy now, so we’re playing with that, and doing garnishes for a reason, so it’s not just decoration but also has purpose.’ Marian Beke, The Gibson

‘At Shaker and Company, our sister bar, we have embraced fun once more. Candy floss and toasted marshmallows are used on some drinks. It works for some bars and not for others – just don’t be fearful of having fun with drinks.’
Amit Sood, Shaker Bar Schools

‘A lot of bars are starting to use methods that pastry chefs have been using for years. Things like anti-griddle lollipops, nitrogen-frozen foams that look a lot like space ice cream, or milk flakes made by dehydrating a milk foam to form a sheet of milk, that taste like a Mini Milk ice cream.’
Andy Mil, The Cocktail Trading Co

Garnish nightmares
‘I’ve seen some shockers but one springs to mind. This was 2007 or 2008, at a UKBG comp. They’d invited all the countries ever – there were about 60 bartenders. This Italian bartender, an older guy, didn’t speak any English, but you could tell that he was totally out of his element. It came time to make his drink and you could see he was thinking: “This is my turn to flaunt 60 years of knowledge.”

‘It was an awful drink anyway – a muddy green colour – in a highball. But he’d created an eagle, maybe twice as big as the glass it was sat on. His body was made of celery, a head made out of a carrot, with a couple of cloves for eyes, and with fennel-leaf wings. This massive fucking eagle that had no context… I was in tears.’ Julian de Feral, Gorgeous Group

‘One thing I can’t stand any more is cocktails served on plates with needless amounts of stuff on them. You couldn’t make the drink look nice so you made a plate look nice. Part of the skill of garnishing a drink is that you don’t have the flat surface of a plate like a chef would.’
Andy Mil, The Cocktail Trading Co

‘I like to tell my students to capture the essence of the drink when they work. If you serve an Espresso Martini with a ham or orange garnish, you are not capturing the name, the essence, or the aroma of the drink.’
Ramiro Cachafeiro Danza, European Bartender School

The art of the cucumber garnish, in three easy steps

Photos by André Sousa for the European Bartender School.

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