In Three-Course Meal, we usually interview local chefs over the course of three days. This week, we branch out a little. Check in tomorrow for more from our local cocktail ninja.
Sly Cosmopoulos, 39, is the corporate mixologist for Republic National Distributing Company, a large liquor distributor. She's in charge of drink development, which basically means she flies around and drinks and looks for emerging trends in drink-making. Pretty much the coolest job in America.
Her niche is creating signature cocktails and beverage menus with an eye toward current and future trends. Her cocktails have been featured in magazines, newspapers and national TV spots. Locally you can find her concoctions at a variety of bars and restaurants, including Sambuca and Iron Cactus.
Cosmopoulos was raised in Dallas and majored in psychology at the Unversity of North Texas. She gets her mixing inspiration from music, and Massive Attack is her go-to CD. She can't live without a can opener. And when it comes to relaxing, she'd rather not do without wine.
For today's segment, we asked Cosmopoulos about the art of mixing.
Do you think it's important that people know how to do their own mixing? Why or why not? People should know the basics about how to mix a cocktail. They should be able to request what they like at a restaurant/bar, as well as shake it up at home. It is more important that they are in tune with their taste buds as well as be open for variation. Of course, this being my profession, I would want the consumer to rely on me to bring trends and various fresh cocktails that they would not be able to think of or make on their own. It should be a unique experience and the cocktail should compliment the food. My creations should be the bow on the package.
Are there any drinks/alcohols/etc. that you refuse to work with or to drink? Every product/spirit has its own personality. I enjoy working with a more complex spirit, something that challenges me just as much as shaking with a common mass-market brand. My job is to create new and exciting cocktails, which means I should always leave my door open for all types of spirits, mixers, and complimentary ingredients. I have to create dinks that appeal to EVERYONE - which means there is a place for all types of spirits along with their unique flavor and selling point. Sometimes you have to put your dislikes to the side and make it work.
How did you become interested in becoming a mixologist? I have bartended since I can't even remember. I still remember my first bar job - I won't say [where] - but the first day I stepped behind the bar it was home. But what is a mixologist? Is it just a person that studies the history of the cocktail or a person that shakes a cocktail? It is essential that I know the history of the cocktail in order to create a new generation of cocktails. I remember the first time I came home with alcohol on my breath. (Yes, I was underage.) My Mom grounded me, but as she was yelling at me for drinking I looked at her and said one day this will make me a living. Dreams do come true.
[Editor's note: We said the same thing growing up. That's how we ended up journalists.]
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How did you get this job? And how do we get it? I was the beverage manager for Blue Mesa Grill. I was very fortunate to work for a great concept where I could let my creative juices flow and not only manage the restaurants but create the cocktails and manage the bars. I had the experience from both sides of the fence. I was able to create relationships with various suppliers and showcase my talent. I was in the right place at the right time with the right talent.
What are your feelings about food related television shows and how they have affected the industry? I think they are great! Whether it is a cooking competition or a cooking show, it really educates the viewer on flavor trends, how to mix various ingredients, as well as small "how to do" things. I have seen a few mixology shows starting to show up and that just shows the progress of mixology. In the past bartending was just a job that was looked upon as fast cash and no long-term future, but that has changed.
What do you wish people knew about the art of mixology? One word - integrity. A true mixologist maintains the integrity of the drink. Every drink should be made with passion and with true commitment. You can always tell a cocktail made by someone that just does not care.
One of my favorite words is sprezzatura -- which is an Italian word that captures the act of hiding conscious effort. It is a lot more complex than people think - but it is our job to make it look easy. That is a word I live by.