Culinary Questions with Kathy Casey

Kathy CaseyVeteran culinarian Kathy Casey is well known for developing innovative food and drink recipes for bars and restaurants from her home base of Seattle as well as her lively presentations at many industry events. Fun, festive and inspired, Casey’s recipes have long focused on fresh ingredients and beautiful presentation. We sought her out for a preview of her Tales of the Cocktail seminar, part of the Nightclub & Bar Professional Series. Check out Kathy Casey Food Studios – Liquid Kitchen at or on Twitter, @kathycaseychef.

NCB Mix: What will you try to accomplish in your TOTC seminar “Creative Cocktails and the Power of Brainstorming?”

Kathy Casey: We’re going to show how different demands require different approaches to creating cocktails. For instance, I’m going to show three different cocktails and talk about how they were created, because there are very different segments to developing cocktails, depending on your guidelines.

NCB Mix: How do you mean?

KC: Well, take the first cocktail we’ll discuss, the Planter’s Punch Berry Cup, which was created for the Tales Planter’s Punch contest. There were definitely guidelines for the competition, so I’ll show how I followed them, and how I made the drink fit the locale — it was a competition based in the Big Easy, so I used Peychaud’s Bitters in the final recipe, for instance.

NCB Mix: What other guidelines are important?

KC: Well, the second drink I’ll talk about is the Bollywood, which I created for the Chameleon Club at the Fairmont [Bab Al Bahr] in Abu Dhabi. It’s inspired by international travel, different cultures and local flavor — the sort of drink you do if you can do anything you want. They drink a lot of gin out there, so I used Tanqueray No. 10, fresh mint, fresh pineapple and lime juices and a light curry syrup I made with the local curry, shaken and topped with a coconut rose foam and sprinkled with edible gold flakes. It’s dry but sweet in a way local tastes require and has the golden sparkle of the nightclub; it’s the favorite cocktail I’ve made.

The third drink, the Southern Persuasion, focuses on collaboration, especially when you’re working with specific products. In this case, it’s Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine, which is a bit sweet and has a lot of herbal flavors. I worked with my executive chef Cameo McRoberts here, and we started brainstorming as a group and focused on the South. That lead us to peaches, and I thought rye flavors go well with peaches and so added ri(1) to the mix. Cameo had made some cherry bounce last summer from an old Southern recipe, using fresh cherries, sugar and high proof vodka. I thought the drink would need some bitters, and I have my own golden era bitters, but I wanted to get some Aperol in there — how would that fit in? I remembered my grandma used to can peaches and she’d take the pits, crack them and add the bitter seed in her canned peaches. So we took some Aperol, my bitters and peach pits and made old fashioned Aperol-based peach bitters.

Of course, there’s a little cyanide in those peach pits, so you have to be careful, but it just goes to show there is nothing new — my grandma did it, but how many people use those ingredients now?

NCB Mix: From where do you get your inspirations?

KC: Family history, regions and locations, even just feelings — from words like “homespun.” International travel is very influential to me. For instance, the fact that liquor is restricted in many Arab countries I’ve worked in has forced my creativity in a different direction. It gets really hot there, and it’s not a surprise that people are into really icy drinks. I went to a restaurant once there and they had what I called a blenderista — she had three blenders going at once with different mixes. One drink was so interesting: a blended avocado drink on the bottom layer, an apricot and red date blend in the next layer and it was topped off with a rose mix. And you don’t swirl it all together; you put in a straw and sip different flavor levels – very cool.

I also saw everyone there drinking this green drink, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Turned out to be fresh lemonade and mint blended with ice, and it worked great, like a blended Mojito. So I’m thinking about these innovations. 

NCB Mix: Have any advice for bartenders who want to build a business on drink consulting?

KC: Learn how to really write a recipe. I see a lot of people creating cocktails and the recipes that come out aren’t balanced and don’t work. It’s the same as with food — are you really measuring and writing down each step? A concise recipe is really important. If you’re not the one making it, somebody else has to know exactly what you did to recreate it. Take “a dash.” To you that might be one thing, a heavy dash, but it might be a light “pouf” of a dash to me — they are variable and you need to measure the amount.

NCB Mix: Creative cocktails seem to have almost exhausted the fruit category. What’s next?

KC: I’m really big on spices, like cardamom or toasted coriander seed. Fennel is very interesting; it grows wild along the fence at our studios, and we have a giant fennel harvest each year. We use the pollen and the seeds, everything. We also have a beekeeper who built a hive for us. [The bees] love the fennel, and now I’m exploring the influences of honey.

NCB Mix: Your favorite cocktail right now?

KC: It’s probably the Bollywood (see above). I also recently did a rendition of the Clover Club using fresh raspberries instead of raspberry syrup, shaken and served with a little raspberry foam on top and sprinkled with edible gold for a little bling, and I really like that.