Star-Tenders: Matt Cooke
Joe Leary and Photographer Charles Zuckerman present ‘Startenders’; a PrevailPrevail.com exclusive. ‘Startenders’ features Vancouver's next generation of talented star bartenders; each one provided with a spirit from the Corby portfolio as selected by Absolut Brand Ambassador Jacob Sweetapple to challenge and inspire the bartenders to create an amazing original cocktail. Cheers!
Having only spent about three years thus far in the Vancouver bartending scene, Matt Cooke admits to a rather abrupt departure from his initial career path.
“Actually my background is Chemical Engineering,” he says.
“I left that about three and a half years ago and started working at Rogue on Broadway; opening that place as a bartender in 2012 and being a working bartender there; pouring beer and learning the ropes and meeting people through the industry there I eventually got hired on at Tableau Bar and Bistro”.
That would take him through the next year and change before a switch to Odd Society Spirits; setting up their tasting room before taking over as Bar Manager at Homer Street Café.
These days you can find Matt creating his fanciful cocktails as Bar Manager at the newly-opened Ancora Waterfront Dining & Patio.
“I’m trying to incorporate flavours that are coming out the kitchen into the bar program; and being inspired by what they’re doing in the kitchen; certainly some Asian influence, and a lot of Peruvian flavours and spices and peppers, all the while encapsulating the West Coast as well.
Armed with a bottle of Havana Club 7 Year Rum, Matt Cooke presented us with the Chicha Libre.
Rapid Fire with Matt Cooke
Favourite alcoholic beverage:
Well made dark spirits: Ron Millonario XO from Peru, El Tesoro Reposado tequila, Laphroaig Quarter Cask, and my bottle of 1983 Chateau de Laubade armagnac. A small pour of a nice amaro or grappa after dinner is also one of my favourite things.
Some of the hot spots you like to frequent:
I wouldn't say I'm a frequenter of any establishments around town; there are too many places on my 'must try' list. That being said, some of my recent favourites include: AnnaLena, La Quercia, and The Mackenzie Room. On my 'must try' are Mission Kits, Torafuku and Bodega on Main.
Biggest tip you ever received:
Don't go into retail. And while not the biggest monetarily, I once got a 1429% tip on a beer (that's $100 on a $7 bill).
Must have garnishes behind the bar:
While not a traditional garnish, an eye dropper bottle of Angostura bitters for our Pisco Sours at Ancora, it makes for beautiful designs in the frothy top of the drink. Otherwise I'm a traditionalist: lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit for zesting, pimento stuffed olives, pickled onions, and good quality brandied cherries. We're currently developing a house Caesar recipe, which will be adorned with some sort of seafood…. stay tuned!
Difficult spirit to 'cocktail up':
Vodka is a challenge in the sense that to highlight the spirit the other ingredients need to be subtle. Vodka can easily be overwhelmed by other flavours, but there are some great vodkas in the market that deserve to be the showcase, finding that balance is key.
What's the easiest?
I like working with tequila; it can be subbed into classics that use whisky, gin, or rum and will bring a unique twist. Guests are often timid to try tequila cocktails as well, so impressing them with a well made agave beverage is always rewarding.
Will craft beer cocktails become a big deal:
I don't think so, not to say they don't have a place, but they'll never be what a well made Old Fashioned or Negroni is. However, I do think that beer-forward establishments can get away with cleverly made beer cocktails that offer a twist to their usual menu offerings while staying on theme. Cocktail bars utilizing the bitter, dry, malty, or fruity character of a beer in a cocktail is smart as well – but in this sense only an ounce or less is needed and therefore doesn't really constitute a 'beer cocktail'. I prefer my pint unadorned by the extra booze.
Who influenced you early on as a bartender:
Initially, my parents. My sister's and I were trained early on how to make a great margarita, and I knew how to make a proper martini before I graduated high school! But what really got me excited about what was happening in Vancouver was David Wolowidnyks win as Bombay Sapphire's Most Imaginative Bartender back in 2012. I had just joined the bartending community and was having fun experimenting with Lillet and flavoured vodkas. His win opened my eyes to what was happening in Vancouver and made me want to be a part of it. Shout outs also to Kevin Brownlee for teaching me to properly cut lemon wedges, and JS Dupuis for encouraging me to shake harder.
*chicha morada: In a large pot, add 4L water, 15oz dried purple corn, 1 cinnamon stick, 1tsp whole cloves, and the core and skin of one pineapple. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from heat, cool, strain, and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
**demerara syrup: Add 2 cups demerara sugar to 1 cup of hot water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Cool, store in the fridge.
All Photos by Charles Zuckermann