Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Modern Mixologist

Tony Abou Ganim

I first learned about Tony Abou-Ganim at my favorite Hollywood sushi spot, Katana when I asked Tom (one of the head honchos there) about their drinks. He put me in touch with The Modern Mixologist who designed the cocktail programs for Katana and sister restaurants, Sushi Roku, Balboa and Boa.

As luck
would have it, not long after that, I arrived in Arizona and Tony was doing a cocktail seminar for the Tucson Culinary Festival. The first thing that struck me about Tony is that his charisma just about bowls people over. His smile, high-energy and genuine niceness enhance his ability to speak comfortably in front of a group, share cheeky anecdotes and impart behind-the-bar know-how. I took a million notes on his version of the “perfect cocktail” (which includes using fresh ingredients, double-freezing the ice and creating balance in the drink).

The most fun part about his presentation, though, was watching the crowd react to him. Tony says that is his favorite part, “I get excited getting a positive reaction. That makes me feel really good, like I’m contributing something.” Tony’s theatrical background surely helps, however his passion for Mixology is what shines through. (btw – I asked him to define that much tossed-around word. Tony describes Mixology as “anything to do with cocktails, spirits and bartending.” Fair enough. If anyone would know, it would be The Modern Mixologist!)

After meeting him in Tucson, I was even happier to attend Finlandia Vodka’s Finnishing School seminar in Scottsdale, two days later, taught by Tony and Dale DeGroff (ie: The Cocktail King, and another of my cocktail idols). For me, The Liquid Muse, rubbing shoulders with these Sipster-style celebrities was inspirational, indeed!

Abou-Ganim says he loves the cocktail’s “glamorous, glorious past” and enjoys showing people that there is more to the cocktail world than “Tom Cruise flipping bottles.” As far as cocktail trends, Tony notes, “As things progress, some stuff gets a little too far ‘out there.’ I like to get creative but I don’t know if people really need a lavender-infused-foam with gold-dust to have a good drink. The trend I’m excited about is re-discovering forgotten drinks.”

Tony’s track record is long when it comes to liquid libations. He started out at Jack Slick’s Balboa CafĂ© in San Francisco, after graduating college. In 1990, he helped open the legendary Harry Denton’s. In 1993, Tony headed to New York and worked at Po in the West Village. 1995 saw his return to San Fran to open Harry Denton’s Starlight Room atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. There, Tony created his first “Specialty Drink Menu” which included classics such as the Sazarac, Negroni and Between the Sheets. He also came up with original recipes for the Starlight and Cable Car. In 1998, Tony lit up the Las Vegas strip when hand-picked by Steve Wynn to design the cocktail program for the Bellagio. He currently resides in Vegas and is still very hands-on with the beverage line up.

Abou-Ganim has won numerous Mixology awards and his specialty drinks have been featured in several publications including Playboy, Vanity Fair, Wine Spectator and Santé. He has been mentioned in cocktail books such as New Classic Cocktails, The Elegant Martini and Champagne Cocktails. (Imagine how incredibly excited I am that Tony will contribute a recipe to my upcoming cocktail book, as well!)

Tony’s star-quality has sparkled on CNBC, the Food Network and on the Fine Living Network’s “Raising the Bar: America’s Best Bar Chefs.” He is also working on his own cocktail book called The Modern Mixologist, due next year. I encourage you to check out his site. And, keep an eye out for his line of cocktail tools using his initials T.A.G.

Next time you’re in Vegas, belly up to the Bellagio and order a cocktail. The high-roller with the dazzling smile and year-round tan on the barstool next to you might just be Tony, himself! And, for the record, I'm sure he has many faves but one of them, for sure, is the Negroni.

1 comment:

Delos Benedict said...

You could still find Tony at The Bellagio. That is true. He was at my bar in Le Cirque two nights ago. And what was he drinking ? Of course, a Negroni. He tought me how to flame the orange peel on top of it eight years ago. He gives Dale
DeGroff credit for teaching him. The burnt orange is one of Dale's signatures. Tony always gives proper credit where credit is due. He never blows his own horn. He has helped many bartenders, me included, start their careers in Mixology. He never seeks the credit and is always there to help anyone who seeks him out. I'm proud to call him my friend as well as my mentor.