TORONTO, Canada — Cocktails with complex ingredients that rival perfumes and invigorate the senses to provoke fond memories are a typical experience at BarChef. The Toronto destination has become a coveted spot as people worldwide visit to try their unconventional drinks. Owner and resident mixologist Frankie Solarik has revolutionised the formula and artistry behind mixology. His drinks offer contrasting ingredients that also provide the perfect balance to enlighten the olfactory system. His most popular drink is their astounding Smoky Manhattan, which is at once rustic and nostalgic. BarChef fulfills people’s desires, whether they want a Hazelnut Sour or seek herbal compositions that can be found in the Clementine and Chamomile.
Rejuvenating the Senses: Balance and Contrast
Frankie Solarik’s drinks are composed as harmonious entities with several levels and nuances of flavour that glide on the palate. He usually starts the drink off with a base note, which could be a spirit such as gin and tequila before he includes accents of flavoured herbaceous syrups such as chamomile. Afterwards, he may tone down the drink’s sweetness with bitters. In between, he would add some water and ice for dilution to bring out the subtle aspects of each components to complement different flavour profiles.
Each cocktail is meant to garner an aromatic indulgence. In fact, there’s a story and a purpose behind each drink. Recently, he added a new drink to the menu called Abstract Ice, which is meant to change people’s experience with flavour as it freezes. As a result, BarChef’s menu changes seasonally to produce a new experience. It’s not uncommon to find at least twenty notebooks in BarChef’s kitchen and canvases with recipes at Solarik’s home. His approach to mixology is as much of an artistic endeavor as it is cuisine.
“With the modernist techniques and inflated cocktails, which are my favourite means of expression, it takes months if not years to come up with the concept of the actual cocktail and then the building of the flavour profiles and components. The cocktails of the more classic styles, unless it’s with ingredients I’ve never worked with like patchouli, the process is pretty quick,” he says of the process he goes into creating a new recipe.
Artistic Endeavors: Perfecting an Experience
Mixology is an art in every perception of the word. Art is about provoking thoughts and imparting new ideas onto the world. Artistic entities are also embedded with the artist’s personal means of expression. However, it also takes a lot of experimentation and practice to produce the desired result. Solarik wants to be the best at what he can do and use his maximum potential. He is obsessed with what he does and he constantly trains his mind to come up with new flavour pairings. He even stops to smell certain things when he walks down a street to reconnect with a particular scent. Therefore, the inspiration behind many of his drinks are spontaneous occurrences. As Solarik explains:
An idea or concept will happen at the most random time and that’s when the really special stuff comes to play. I think if you’re really trying to sit there and trying to create, it won’t happen. It has to happen organically, and that’s when the most magical thing happens for me personally. Inspiration comes from anything.
Hospitality: The Guests Come First
BarChef has remained organic when it comes to their business motto and promotional techniques. Frankie Solarik may have studied marketing, but he believes in raw appreciation above all else. BarChef’s publicity is mainly derived from word of mouth and customers’ personal reviews. Solarik and his business partner, Brent VanderVeen think it’s essential that every single guest has a unique experience when they step inside the bar. While BarChef’s purpose is to change people’s perceptions about cocktails, they have no problem serving people who have more conservative tastes. In fact, Solarik thinks it’s absurd that there are cocktail bars that refuse certain drinks as he believes that it’s important to cater to everyone. He also feels that part of BarChef’s success has to do with his employees who are just as passionate about what they do as he is. Solarik highlights the business aspect of BarChef:
We’re a huge advocate of customer service. We put a big emphasis that the guests leave incredibly happy and that’s our motto within the company. It’s the hospitality industry, we’re here to serve our guests and make people happy.
The Smoky Manhattan: Excessively Nostalgic
The first drink that people hear about from BarChef is the signature $45.00 Smoky Manhattan. Some may find that excessive, but the drink’s popularity prove that it’s worth it. They sell fifteen to twenty of these cocktails each night. Frankie Solarik came up with this drink eight to nine years ago as he watched an episode of Iron Chef. In this particular episode, one of the chefs presented a dish to the judges that consisted of a plate with an upside down ceramic bowl on top. Once it was presented it to the judge, he took the plate off and there was a little smoke coming out. Immediately, he thought of smoking a cocktail. The drink has been praised and written about in magazines and newspapers all over the world since then. The revolutionary concept has caught on as drinks like these have prospered in other establishments. Even Food and Wine Magazine called BarChef one of the best bars in the world.
“Initially it was literally a piece of wood with some charred vanilla with a glass inside an upside down vase, and now it’s reached the point where we incorporate this antique glass bell jar that’s hand blown, copper, and marble. The Smoky Manhattan is an extremely special cocktail in the sense that it’s a very emotional experience to you as a guest with a smoke-filled glass jar in front of you, the aroma coming off of it, that is super nostalgic because it smells of camp fire, fireplaces, which brings you into this experience of taking you away from where you are and going to this special place. The flavour profile is unbelievable”, when describing the drink.
Frankie Solarik would love for BarChef to become the first bar in the world to achieve a Michelin star. He and VanderVeen are planning on expanding to New York City, and he even has ideas for a new book.
It’s day by day. We’re continuing to do our best and the catering aspect of our business has blown up recently. We had to hire an events coordinator to handle the demands. I just want to continue what we do, and evolving in my skill level and create new drinks.