it’s shaking a perfect martini, infusing bourbon with bacon or
figuring out how to put a new spin on the classic old-fashioned, savvy
bartenders not only know their way around a bar, but many times, they
also know their way around a kitchen.
of Wolf Peach and Belmont Tavern, Jeff Cleveland of Hue Vietnamese
Restaurant in Wauwatosa and formerly of Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge,
and D.J. Thompson of Black Sheep sat down to explain how the lines of
bars and kitchens are blurring and how their passion for home cooking
impacts their bartending.
Less is more for
Jeff Cleveland. "Some of the best dishes we’ve ever eaten have
the fewest ingredients, and that can be the same for a cocktail,"
he says. "If you put together too many things, then none of those
tastes are going to be distinguishable. You really need balance in
both a drink and a dish."
When he’s not
working behind the bar, Cleveland enjoys cooking for his wife, Kat,
and his son, Chandler. Since they like to eat healthy, he’s been
experimenting with vegetarian dishes.
enjoyment in cooking is to try something new, and even when I make
something that turns out really well, I just move on to the next
thing," he says.
In the summer,
he tries to make flavorful salads. One of the best salads he made last
summer was a bread salad with homemade croutons that were crunchy on
the outside but soft on the inside with tomatoes and lettuce. Another
salad had scallops and grapefruit with a light vinaigrette. "It
just had a complex flavor and also a blend of textures," he says.
cooks, he often throws things together as he experiments, but he’s
more methodical when he’s mixing drinks. "I give cocktails a
lot of thought before I put them together," he says. "If you’re
halfway competent in the kitchen, most dishes turn out, but if you put
things wrong in a cocktail, you waste ingredients."
Cleveland likes gardening, especially growing herbs. When a sage
liqueur came into a bar, Cleveland thought about the sage in his
garden, so he created a drink he calls Sage Wisdom. "I used the
sage liqueur, some gin, some lemon juice and a little bit of ginger
liqueur and simple syrup, which I garnished with a sage leaf from my
garden and some Jamaican Number 2 bitters from Bittercube," he
says. "The ginger lightly played with the sage. I think that
drink was mostly attributed to my garden and my cooking."
that people shouldn’t be afraid of trying new things,"
Cleveland says. "See how things turn out. If it doesn’t work
out, you’ve learned something. But more often than not, something
will work out part way, and you’ll come up with a way to make it
cooking and bartending are related immensely because you’re creating
flavor, and the end result is something that tastes good," says
cooking, but he especially loves making breakfast burritos and
breakfast hash. "It was right after Thanksgiving, and I had
leftover parsnips and sweet potatoes. I did a parsnip, sweet potato,
vidalia onion and bacon hash with fresh rosemary and thyme," he
says. "I was very happy with the outcome and so was my fiancée,
inspired him behind the bar. "Right now, at Wolf Peach, we have a
strawberry black peppercorn simple syrup and rosemary simple syrup,
and I’ve also done bloody mary infusions with mirepoix. Another one
is a bacon washed bourbon and cherry bacon Manhattan," he says.
started with some leftover bacon at home. He seared them off, rendered
the fat, and strained it through bourbon. He let it sit overnight,
then froze it so the bacon became solid, and then filtered it with
coffee filters. Add to that a Door County cherry simple syrup and a
cherry bacon garnish. "It worked out just beautifully,"
Just like he
enjoys cooking seasonally at home, he also likes to mix drinks using
seasonal ingredients. Since his fiancée loves pumpkin chai lattes, he
created a drink that replicates that flavor for her.
This spring he
plans to be using a lot more bright flavors and work with more gin, as
it is herbaceous. "Bright flavors bring me out of that darkness
we call Wisconsin winters," he says.
not making breakfast, he likes making steak, but he likes to use
different marinades and spices, especially from Penzey’s. "I
also use Penzey’s in my drinks," he says. "One of the
ideas I’ve been throwing around is a parsnip simple syrup with
rosemary to bring out the herbaceous flavor, and I’m thinking it
could be a parsnip gin fizz."
Growing up as an
Italian, Thompson’s grandfather was always in the kitchen, so he
grew up around cooking. He’s worked in the restaurant industry since
In fact, it was
when he was in the kitchen at Maggiano’s when his managers thought
he might have what it takes to be a stellar bartender. "They
thought I had a great personality for the bar, and it was always
something I wanted to do," says Thompson. "I love being a
that whether he’s cooking or mixing drinks, he’s always
experimenting. "You’re always looking at flavor profiles —
whether it’s drinks or food, and I think that trying different
ingredients and different flavor combinations comes naturally to
me," he says. "I have a passion for both, and cooking and
making cocktails are things I really enjoy."
Thompson loves to do cream sauces, and he also adores seafood,
especially raw tuna in ahi poke. He lived in Hawaii for a while, and
he fell in love with this raw tuna dish. "I like to do Asian
stuff, like making scallops with a wasabi cream sauce," he says.
behind the bar, he likes to experiment with fresh herbs, and he
especially likes to change up an old-fashioned. "I make an
amazing old-fashioned, and you can do so many things with that drink,
whether it’s using different bitters or adding some maple
syrup," he says.
cooking and making cocktails, Thompson says it’s important to learn
the basics first. "You have to work on the craft first," he
says. "Before you start changing things, you have to learn how to
make a dish or a drink correctly."