A Toast to Seasonal Sipping
The term culinary cocktail has been around since at least 2009, when the National Restaurant Association named it the second hottest trend of the year (behind sustainability). In Northeast Florida, Gabby Saul of Restaurant Medure in Ponte Vedra Beach is intent on crafting kitchen-inspired beverages that excite her customers’ senses of sight, smell and, ultimately, taste. Her inventive use of produce, herbs and spirits points to a sophisticated knowledge of flavor, and she approaches drinks as a chef would approach a meal, though, surprisingly, she doesn’t have any formal culinary training.
Her focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients sets Gabby apart in the latest cocktail revolution. Her signature drinks change with the season, and recent creations highlight the fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs available from local farmers. While training the restaurant staff on a new cocktail menu, she gives the team additional background on ingredients. Once in a while, staff members who share Gabby’s commitment to freshness will bring mint and basil from their own gardens.
While technology and molecular gastronomy such as gels, foams and emulsifiers are trending throughout the craft cocktail scene, Gabby’s approach draws on more traditional methods to capture flavor essences. Her homemade elixirs include shrubs and tinctures that can sometimes take several weeks to mature into the nuanced flavors found in her creations. Her quest for flavorful combinations has also led her to make many common ingredients, such as orgeat, pineapple juice and cucumber water, from scratch.
Shrubs and tinctures are what really set Gabby apart and showcase her kitchen prowess behind the bar. To create her tinctures, Gabby combines high-proof spirits with spices or herbs and allows the mixture to sit in a dark place for at least one week, sampling as she goes until the extracted flavor passes her taste test. Shrubs, vinegar-based syrups, have their origins in the 17th and 18th century, when the process was used to preserve seasonal fruit. Jewel-tone jars adorn the bar at Restaurant Medure, highlighting the current sampling of shrubs, such as strawberry-rhubarb, blackberry and plum for her signature cocktails. Even while these extracts are underway, Gabby is looking ahead to her next creations, knowing that when the shrub is gone, the drink’s season is over as well.
Then it’s time to get back in the kitchen and cook up her next flavorful concoction.