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Steve Calabro

While this feature usually spotlights how one of Melissa’s professional chef clients would prepare and present fresh seasonal ingredients on a plate, this month’s fresh produce components are being served in a glass, rather than under glass - martini, goblet and tall cocktail glasses, to be specific.

Steve Calabro, resident mixologist at the Red O Restaurant in Los Angeles, carefully crafts his inspired drink list so that it complements the full-flavored Mexican dishes on the eatery’s menu created by famed chef Rick Bayless. In fact, Steve’s produce orders resemble that of any of Melissa’s other foodservice customers; an assortment of fruits and vegetables that one would assume are destined for the restaurant’s kitchen, not the Red O’s very uniquely appointed décor. Customers can enjoy Steve’s inventive libations while gently swaying in hand-made leather swings or sit under the canopy of a palm tree at a bar made from boulders next to a pool of floating candles. The mood is relaxed and drinks are more like tapas or side dishes, to be savored with each sip.

One of the benefits of writing this feature is getting to cook each chef recipe and learn new culinary techniques in the process, not to mention enjoying the flavorful results. Preparing Steve’s four drink formulas was certainly more complex than merely combining jiggers of alcohols and a lot more fun! Since I was serving all four recipes to a small group of friends at once, I did have to spend a few hours in the kitchen prepping the ingredients as I would any dish recipe.

The tasting went great for the purposes of gathering first-hand experience for this article, however the reader should learn by my amateur mistakes. That is, practice-practice-practice before going public. Admittedly, I was a bit too inspired by Steve’s introductory note that accompanied his drink submissions: "These recipes are designed for people at home to make bar quality cocktails that are a little more advanced than the boring vodka cranberry nonsense. With the correct tools, which are easily available at many home stores, these drinks can be prepared easily and make the host look like a "mixologist."

That sure sounded like fun, so I bought all the ingredients and invited a small group so I had some people to "host" for a tasting. So the guests arrived and I immediately realized that this was going to be a bit different than just pouring all a glass of wine! In fact, it was a bit more frantic than I had envisioned. While trying to serve successive mixed drink recipes to my guests all at once was, in theory, similar to timing parts of a cooked meal coming together, glass management is very different than plate management. Bartending is a profession; mixology is a culinary art that takes practice.

So, while my guests were discussing the characteristics and preferences of each drink, this novice mixologist spent most of the evening in the kitchen scurrying around trying to measure, pour, muddle, smash, dry shake and shake a few too many ingredients, liquors and techniques all in the same serving without at least a dress rehearsal! If the truth be known, I felt a bit overwhelmed doing my version of the famed scene of “Lucy in the candy factory” as the evening wore on! Lesson one: practice before taking these drinks on the road.

As stated earlier in this article, Steve’s libations are meant to be savored. Learning to make them with confidence and serve them with calmness will set up that mood. I have since enjoyed each separately, serving for one, on four successive evenings. No doubt, both the flavors and the enjoyment of those flavors were much improved compared to my initial group serving. Ha, in this case, drinking alone was a good thing!

Another basic lesson learned during this whole experience was that the art of mixology, especially for a beginner, should be approached like baking. Steve’s flavors depend upon the proper ratio of each ingredient in a glass to the whole for its balance. The measurement of each component, liquids and solids, are critical. During the writing of this feature I had to fight against the natural inclination of referring to Chef Steve as he is certainly a culinary master at pairing the flavors of fresh produce with those of distilled liquids into delicious presentations that are definitely -- just in a glass. Blueberries, fresh ginger and bourbon! Balsamic, strawberries and rum! Passion fruit and brandy! A honeydew melon and Serrano pepper margarita! My table could not decide on a favorite and my vote in the aforementioned private "practicing sessions" flip-flopped each night in favor of the featured drink of that evening. Perhaps, with more research!

Once introduced to this world of fresh produce adult libations I am confident that you are going to want to try more. Chef Steve’s website Bartending Bootcamp is a wonderful video "cookbook" of drink recipes and techniques; many combine fresh ingredients with some of the world’s finest liquors and liqueurs. With all due respect to the "G" rated smoothie, here’s a collection of adult only refreshments, using healthy fruits and veggies that even contribute to one’s minimum daily nutritional requirements, with a kick. Great fun!

Recipe I
Bourbon with Fresh Ginger and Blueberry
Serves 1

1 teaspoon Fresh Ginger, peeled and diced
5 Blueberries
½ ounce Lemon Juice
¼ ounce simple syrup
3 ounces Buffalo Trace or Knob Creek bourbon.

In a mixing glass muddle ginger and blueberries. Add liquids and shake with ice. Strain into a martini glass; add a piece of ginger and blueberry on a pick for garnish.

Recipe II
Strawberry Mojito with White Balsamic Reduction
Serves 1

3 ripe Strawberries
5 Mint Leaves
½ ounce Lime Juice
1 cup white Balsamic Vinegar Reduction (1 cup balsamic, 1 cup simple syrup, reduce by half)
Ten Cane or another Cane Rum (not Bacardi)
Soda water

Muddle (not destroy!) strawberries and mint in mixing glass. Add lime, balsamic reduction, rum and ice. Shake like crazy! Serve in a large tumbler glass with a soda water float.

Recipe III Honeydew, Cucumber and Serrano Margarita
Serves 1

¼ cup Honeydew Melon, diced
4 slices Cucumber, sliced very thin
3 slices Serrano Pepper, sliced very thin
1 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
1 ounce Simple Syrup
3 ounces White Tequila

In a mixing glass destroy the honeydew, cucumber and Serrano. Add liquid ingredients and ice. Shake like crazy! Pour into goblet with ice and serve.

Recipe IV
Pisco Brandy with Passion Fruit and Pineapple
Serve 1

1 Fresh Passion Fruit
1 ounce Pineapple Juice
½ ounce Fresh Lemon Juice
½ ounce Aperol (grapefruit flavored Amaro liqueur)
2 ounces Pisco (Peruvian brandy)

Scoop out one-half of a Passion Fruit - seeds and all - in a mixing glass. Add remaining ingredients and dry shake vigorously for a full 10 seconds. (Dry shake means no ice in the mix and shake very, very hard to get the mix frothy and creamy). Add ice and lightly shake again just to mix. Serve with orchid or other flower garnish in a tall cocktail glass.
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