On The Rocks - The Ahumado Fresca - Stephanie Kingman
Welcome to my new series: On The Rocks. The inspiration behind the creation of this new series was that we have such great bartenders and mixologists in Tucson that I felt I needed to explore more about this craft and really dive into the art of making drinks. So what better place to start than The Parish with Stephanie Kingman whose drink the Ahumado Fresca went on to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris to represent the city of Tucson. I sat down with her and asked her to tell me the story of this FABULOUS drink along with some of her background.
We all love a good drink. I know that the people that love a good cocktail or have a favorite one gravitate towards the places that offer them what they want. Stephanie elaborated on that by adding that, "People that come into restaurants are very drawn to the bartender they're very much interested in the people that have the knowledge for what they're looking for. I think there's a level of expectation to have the full realm of knowledge about it and I think there is a lot of respect for that position. Here in Tucson we have a lot of those craft mixologists, those people really pushing the boundaries and really pushing the creative process to come up with something new."
It all had to start somewhere, right? Stephanie has created some amazing drinks throughout her time at The Parish that you would think she's had some kind of training, but she told me otherwise. "I never had any formal training, it was never a bartending academy or any kind of formal schooling that I ever participated in. I always worked in restaurants, I've always been service industry driven. The first time I bartended was in an Italian restaurant and I think that that has really given me a great foundation because Italian wines and Italian cocktails and liquors are really complex and there's a lot to it with how the grapes grow. So really learning everything about that from people from Italy and South Italian chefs and owners was a really good foundation for that sort of profile that then would allow me the creative process to do other things".
Now, let's talk about the Ahumado Fresca. I took the time to transcribe her entire account of the story because I felt it needed to have her voice and her authenticity.
I asked Stephanie to take me through everything that happened during this process that eventually led to this drink winning and representing the city of Tucson. Tucson became the first American city to become part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network for gastronomy, honoring Southern Arizona's food traditions and culinary innovation. On December 11, 2015, Tucson became one of six Creative Cities in the United States, and the only one selected for Gastronomy. Here's the story:
“In 2015 Tucson was inducted into this UNESCO gastronomy. Tucson was included in this group because of their native seeds as well as the different influences from around the world that we have brought together into different food. Basically, going around Tucson, you can find any style of cuisine and it's all locally grown stuff so that there is what kind of qualified or allowed Tucson to be part of this really cool group. So last year in Paris, France, they were having a UNESCO gastronomy celebration.
It was an event that they wanted to feature a couple of the cities that were new to UNESCO and allow the world to experience what makes them special. This particular one was a lot about Tucson because it was one of the newest cities to join. The people who were organizing this asked a chef here in Tucson by the name of Janos Wilder, to cook some food and provide a drink that they felt like best represented Tucson and could allow people to get an idea about what Tucson is about. As far as food went, that was easy for him. He can come up with recipes for anything and everything and have all kinds of great, amazing food for that. And then when it came to the cocktail part, he was really kind of at a loss.
He didn't want something that somebody else had ever done. So he put out this email and this bulletin to all of the bartenders in Tucson, the USBG the Bartender's Guild Association, and he invited any and all bartenders to submit a recipe for a, one of a kind drink that you created. Then he would select a few to best represent Tucson. So I think there was about 200 entries into this, ours being one of them.
At the same time. I'm on this super tamarind kick. I'm putting tamarind on anything and everything and I just knew that that was going to be a really good ingredient to use in the drink one way or the other. So we started playing around with the Tamarind and Travis's own smoked honey, which we do all the time for meats and rubs and that sort of thing. We had two really good flavors there and we'd just sort of built it around that. The alcohol base that we use for it was called Sotol. It is mainly grown and manufactured in Chihuahua, Mexico, and different than Tequila because Tequila is made from agave and Sotol is made from a plant called Desert Spoon.
Similar but different. And what we found is that the end product of Sotol is a much smoother and almost creamy finish, like a hint of vanilla at the end, different than that kind of citrus that you get from Tequila. The presentation was a big part of it. We knew that it needed to be sexy and it needed to draw your eye and make you want to drink it before you even tasted it. And so being from Tucson we put it over crushed ice, like a raspado because that was the flavor profile we were getting. We were getting like a tamarind and a fruit and a sweetness that we wanted it to sort of flavor that way.
Out of the 200 entries there were six finalists selected with all of their one of a kind drinks. Janos Wilder had this event at his restaurant, Downtown Kitchen, and allowed all six of the bartenders to come together, build their drink, and he would then sell tickets to guests that would come in and try each one of the drinks and a little bit of appetizers and then vote for their favorite drink. Whatever drink won was then going to go onto Paris to represent. There were amazing bartenders at this event. But what we found and the feedback we got was that this was the only drink that had sort of a spice element to it. A little bit spicy. There's a little bit of heat to it, but not too much. And that was one of a kind from the other six. All the other six didn't have that element there. And what we felt like was that was just so Tucson. Tucson has so much Spanish and Mexican influence that everything has a little bit heat. You just have to be ready for that. It just fell right into place. So not only did we win of those six, but we won by a landslide.
I mean we were number one with a bullet. None of the other drinks stood a chance really against it and it was just so rewarding and felt so good that people got what we were trying to do and enjoyed it and liked it and it really came forward the way that we want it to. And it was such a great night and it was so fun to be called and be the winner and the idea of like ‘this is going to Paris and people are going to be talking about this drink’. Another thing that we felt was super unique about our drink the ingredients that we use. This is something that you can only get here at The Parish.
Sotol we found really stood out because not a lot of people have it. Not a lot of people are familiar with the difference between Sotol and Tequila and it made it very unique that way. So after we won, Janos came to us and he's like, look, this is great. I want to serve this at Paris. That's the deal we're going to have, but you have to make the ingredients.
So we mailed the ingredients to Paris (which solidified the fact that this drink was very unique). He went to Paris and he bought all of this Sotol, which is hard to come by, but he found it. I think over 700 cocktails were served and people were just blown away and complimented his dish that he was making, which was kind of spicy as well and everything just perfectly married together and made an amazing night for Tucson in Paris, which was super cool. “
After this extraordinary moment for Tucson, the goal was to start selling the Ahumado Fresca at The Parish. But Sotol had become so popular most likely due to the fact that this drink was created and it began to be very hard to come by. Thankfully, Stephanie managed to reach out to the makers of Sotol and explained this wonderful, exciting story and they managed to make a very special shipment to The Parish to get this drink moving. Once this was available to customers people went crazy for it and absolutely fell in love with it and to this day, The Parish receives special Sotol love from its makers.
As we come to the end of this story that adds to the gastronomic greatness of Tucson, Stephanie wants to make sure that you as a customer are satisfied with your experience and to just allow her to take you on a new cocktail journey. "I want people to come to the bar with sort of an idea about what they enjoy and what they don't enjoy so that we can guide them, but I really want people to be open to trying new things. I'm looking for people that are willing to try and see where their palette will allow them to go with trying new flavors”.
On The Rocks is a platform which highlights cocktails and cocktail makers for their excellent craftsman skills and their spirit knowledge.