Meet "Cocktail Innovator" Miguel Lancha
The wizard behind the cocktails for my restaurants
People of Substack!
By now here on Longer Tables you have gotten to know some of the team from my restaurant group: wine guru Maddy Maldonado, Zaytinya’s Chef Michael Costa, and some of the inspiring people behind it, like Greek grandmother Aglaia Kremezi. Now I want to tell you a little about Miguel Lancha! Seven years ago Miguel joined us as our Cocktail Innovator for the research and development team at ThinkFoodGroup, a Spanish wizard of spirits who puts together many of the creations that we serve across all 30 of our restaurants. Amazing!
Miguel is creative and fearless, using many tools found in modern kitchens, from ISI bottles used to create flavored foams and rapidly infuse cocktails, to dry ice for making beautifully aromatic clouds, to preparing entire cocktails sous vide.
Miguel not only makes cocktails that are truly next level. Have you had the Foggy Hill Negroni made with Vida mezcal, Cynar, Aperol, and fog made with orange peels and thyme, infused with dry ice?
His talents also inspire me to try new concepts for our restaurant group. For example, I remember when I saw the basement of Jaleo in Chicago, and I knew I could do something special there with the help of Miguel. I thought we could create a cool, quiet bar with the best pork from Spain (jamón ibérico and more!), and the most amazing cocktails. And I think we did pretty well…this is Pigtail, a speakeasy serving amazing drinks and tapas. His cocktails there are wild and brilliant.
One of my favorite creations of his is a riff on the Gintonic, a cocktail I love (I’ll be sharing a recipe and all my thoughts on gintonics with you on Wednesday!). Miguel’s Vacuum Gin & Tonic is made right in front of your eyes with a vacuum infusion of juniper, spices and herbs, plus tonic water. It’s refreshing and full of aromatics, like walking through a beautiful garden.
Miguel even made a whole series of cocktails made with jamón…! The Negroni Cristal is a combination of Gin Mare (one of my favorite Spanish gins), blanc vermouth, and Luxardo Bitter Bianco that’s been infused with the nutty and sweet fat of the Ibérico pig, and the Consomé Cocktail combines pork consomé with palo cortado and amontillado sherries, with an egg white foam on top. It sounds crazy, right? But it’s completely delicious, you really need to try it. Without Miguel, I am not sure I would have had the vision to make Pigtail come alive…and certainly could not have dreamed up a cocktail with pork broth in it!
Miguel began his bartending career in Madrid, making fancy drinks at clubs and restaurants many years before the “craft cocktail” was a thing. I met him when he had moved to the Dominican Republic to run the cocktail program at Paradisus Palma Real by Meliá in Punta Cana, and I immediately felt like I had met a kindred spirit—someone who loved to create, and innovate, and dream up ideas beyond what anyone had seen before. Soon after that meeting in 2015, I offered Miguel a job leading the bar program for ThinkFoodGroup. He’s been with us ever since.
Miguel loves to create cocktails the way I look at food…he’s always thinking about the region and the geography and the story of a place. For Zaytinya he worked closely with chef Michael Costa to first explore the flavors and aromas of the region. Costa brought out bowls of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices, and together they talked, and smelled, and tasted ingredients to begin to explore what goes together, what’s too intense, makes the right flavor and aroma profile for the cocktails.
Zaytinya’s Caleidoscope is a great example…it’s a unique and savory cocktail made from Batavia Arrack (an Indonesian spirit made from sugar cane and fermented red rice), lemon, roasted sweet pepper, smokey urfa pepper (a Turkish chili), and wild Greek Great Mountain chamomile tea. It’s a drink that brings in so much of the story of the regions we are cooking from. And it represents a real collaboration between the bar and the kitchen. It takes a village to make our menus.
In every cocktail he creates I think Miguel is helping us to share a place, a story, to make the table longer so that people can come together, to talk to each other, to enjoy our differences, to celebrate our diversity. It’s all about how food — and drinks — connects us.
I hope you have a chance to go to one of our restaurants to try Miguel’s cocktails and say hello to whoever’s behind the bar mixing them!
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I will be at Jaleo in Orlando on Thursday. Any recommendations? Thank you.
This all makes me very thirsty!