A Voce's Olivier Flosse: "The Cocktail Is as Dangerous as a Kiss."
I was running late for a meeting. "On my way!" I texted.
"Should I sent u an white horse to welcome u"? I didn't quite know the sender well enough to know how seriously to take the request. There are, after all, white horses in Central Park, which is where I was headed. "Please!" I replied as I laughed and scurried into the subway entrance.
I had spoken to Olivier Flosse earlier in the day for what I thought would be a complete interview over the phone. The renowned sommelier, with credits from Daniel Restaurant and Café Boulud, and a Diploma-Universitaire d'Aptitude a la Degustation from Bordeaux, the most prestigious wine diploma in Europe, is now in charge of not only wine, but spirits, as he serves as Wine and Beverage Director for MARC US, a restaurant company that owns two locations of A Voce in New York City. Google Flosse and you will see link after link pairing him with impressive Wine Spectator awards and articles, interviews on how he manages the thousand bottle wine collection at A Voce, and his many achievements in the world of wine. But nowhere do you see any mention of his craft cocktail menus filled with inventive infusions, balanced mixology, and quirky garnishes.
This was the topic of our conversation: the ties between wine and cocktails, the importance of balance and glassware, and the learning curve of a wine guy coming into a liquor world.
But at the end of our phone call he said, "Come in to the restaurant. You can't write about cocktails without tasting them." I immediately agreed. It was between the phone call and my impending visit that I found myself texting about white horses with the French jokester and undeniable flirt. When I finally arrived at A Voce, Flosse texted that he had gone to the other location. As my heart sank, he walked over with a Cheshire grin.
At the bar of A Voce at Columbus Circle, Flosse shared many drinks: the Pesca Mediterranea made with peach and cinnamon infused bourbon; the Margarita in Fuoco made with house-infused pepper tequila and peperoncini garnish; the Carota made with gin, cardamom bitters and carrot juice; and the Il Tartufo, a $33 cocktail made with truffle-infused vermouth and bourbon served in a glass rimmed with white truffle honey and garnished with a bourbon pickled slice of black truffle. Of the latter he says, "By putting the truffle honey only on half of the glass, you can have two different ways of experiencing the cocktail. Number one, you have the smell of the white truffle. But if you roll over the glass, you have the white truffle in your mouth but not on your nose. And when you swallow you have the black truffle infused with the aroma. It's a five-ounce cocktail, so most of the time we try to present it as a cocktail to be shared."
As we sipped our way through the bouquet of cocktails, the conversation shifted from garnishes and tannins to life: the challenges of living the fast-paced day-to-day of the restaurant industry, why he could never see himself returning to live in France, and the romance of champagne in the morning.
What is the connection between wine and cocktails?
I judge a cocktail the same way that I judge a wine. The region, number one; the way that the cocktail looks--the color is extremely important. But what is more important for me than the color is the glass. I always compare wine to a human being--most of the time as female--and I do the same with cocktails. A beautiful lady with the wrong dress isn't that beautiful. If you have a beautiful lady and a beautiful dress, it's even better. So the glassware, for me, is extremely important.
After, regarding the taste, because that is the main focus, it's the same thing as the wine: it has to be balanced. The difference is that there is no tannin in a cocktail; it's all sweet or all bitter but it also can be very well-balanced. The cocktail has to be something you want to have again. The cocktail is as dangerous as a kiss. When it's good, you want another. That is why balance is important.
What was your history with cocktails before you began the beverage program for MARC?
In France, if you are a sommelier, you are sommelier. There is no way you can do what I'm doing now, over there. A sommelier or wine director is only involved in wine. And professional bartenders take care of the bar. I still learn quite a lot and have a lot of lot of respect for the bartender. It's a lot of working together to create a cocktail list. You need something for everyone: something sweet, spicy, bitter. I learn every single day with my bartenders.
Did you have a favorite liquor at home?
They're not big cocktail drinkers, the French. There is a special alcohol in the South of France called Gambetta, a fig liqueur, that I would drink. When you're underage you drink that with lemonade, and it gives you an unbelievable taste of figs. But I can't seem to find it here.
Do you have a cocktail on the list that was inspired by seasonal ingredients?
We're doing an infusion of six different peppers, where the peppers sit in tequila for one week. We use it in the Margarita in Fuoco. It's a very spicy cocktail, but people get crazy about this margarita. Many, many, many people have said it's the best margarita of their lives. We top it with solerno and fresh lime juice. We sell 1,100 a month. It's our number one cocktail, which is crazy for an Italian restaurant.
When you go out to drink, where do you go?
I don't know. It depends who I'm with, it depends on my mood, on the weather. When you ask where I want to drink and what I want to drink, it can be different. If I'm with a French person and it's 9 a.m., I want be very French, I will have oysters and champagne at 9 a.m. Weekday champagne and oyster is a perfect breakfast. In Italy you add a little bit of peach and use prosecco. I know in Germany they do it with dry Riesling. In England, they do it with white Burgundy and sausages. It's romantic.
Well, do you have a regular drink?
I always look at the cocktail list and if there's something unusual, that is where my mind goes. I like to drink local beer as well. I'm trying to learn about local beer. There are some really good things. There's a brewery over in Williamsburg that is phenomenal. I really, really, really like it.
Yes, exactly. I have tasted some of the more experimental beers, and I don't want to sound too traditional, but there is a limit. I believe that when you get too extreme, I don't think it's bad, but it's a completely different taste. I like a little bit of a twist, but nothing too extreme. Beer has to be pleasure, a cocktail has to be a pleasure, and sometimes I drink something that is too heavy, too full of flavor, and you can't have anything after that. You cannot eat, you cannot drink. That's why I'm so concerned with balance: to have something with great taste that's not affecting my palate.
Would you return to France?
Only for vacation.
I don't have the spirit anymore--not working too much, relaxing. I'm all right with that, but it cannot be your life. You cannot expect to get this lifestyle and get money, without working hard. They want to get everything. You cannot. They have quite a lot-- social security. The government help is beyond ridiculous. You're out of a job, they pay you for 24 months. In the United States, it's like 2 days! And they're still complaining. You pay zero for a very good education. Don't get me wrong. They're the best for food, wine and pleasure, they're incredible, but to live over there?
Pesca Mediterranea 2.25 oz. Michter's Peach Pie Infusion 0.5 oz. Peach Schnapps 0.75 oz. Dubbonet Rouge 0.5 oz. Peach Nectar
Put all ingredients in a shaker. Shake vigorously, strain into a martini glass and garnish with a grilled peach slice.
Margarita in Fuoco 2 oz. Montezuma Blanco Tequila infused with peppers (bell, roasted habanero, roasted poblano) 1 oz. Triple Sec 1 oz. lime juice 1 oz. simple syrup 0.5 oz. Solerno
Shake all ingredients and strain onto fresh ice in rocks glass. Garnish with salt rim, lime wedge and peperoncini.
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