Darryl Haus on cocktail culture

Darryl Haus on cocktail culture

Teaching mixology at Conestoga College combined with his role as owner-operator at Grand Trunk Saloon and the newly opened Grand Surf Lounge in downtown Kitchener seems the perfect mix for Darryl Haus.

The chef and restaurateur, long a part of the food community in Waterloo Region, is sharing his knowledge with Conestoga culinary students in the state-of-the-art labs at the College’s new Waterloo facility.

Yet, a lot of what Haus teaches and talks about is plain old-school common sense about using your imagination, respecting basic ingredients and focussing on technique.

“The curriculum pointed to many things to address, but there is so much else to talk about and that’s what’s really interesting about the subject.”

— Darryl Haus

“We’re teaching about base spirits and how to make flavours and infusions. That’s the base at the beginning of your career,” says Haus, who is new to teaching culinary in the academic setting. “I have to say that at this point in my career, I love this experience and being a part of it.”

Darryl Haus loves cocktails–and teaching the theory and techniques (Photo/Keith Muller).

What is it about mixing a drink?
“My background is cooking, but I’ve found that when I started creating and mixing drinks, I realized that there was a lot more to it than putting ingredients into a glass,” Haus says.

What he shares with his students is the historic part of the craft and the ritual of it. “We start talking about all of that, along with the phenomenon of Prohibition, and students see that with everything we do behind the bar, there’s a ton of history.”

Cocktail creation at Wilks’ Bar, Langdon Hall (Photo/Langdon Hall).

When he talks about it, you can sense he has a newly found interest in the pedagogy of it — and the skill of running a classroom: Haus was skeptical about being able to fill the three of hours of time at first but says he that concern quickly fell away. “The curriculum pointed to many things to address, but there is so much else to talk about and that’s what’s really interesting about the subject.”

Mixology as anthropology?
The fundamentals of mixology are taking ingredients, putting them into a glass and shaking or stirring or swizzling or blending them. But Haus is quick to point out that when you delve into it, students learn the “why” of the process and not just the “how.” They learn “where does this technique or name come from and who invented it and when,” he says.

Good ingredients, good techniques (Photo/WREats).

That includes teaching students how spirits were different pre-Prohibition compared to after Prohibition. “Before 1920, spirits were a craft. When Prohibition hits, you start getting bath tub gin and white lightning. It was cheap and quick to produce.”

Haus sees mixology and cocktail culture as a significant part of larger human culture: it is a study in anthropology. “That aspect of what I teach is a lot more interesting to students than showing them cost-controls and getting them excited about a Excel spreadsheet,” he adds with a laugh.

Mixology as a culinary art form
Haus, both in his teaching at the College and in the role his restaurants play in Waterloo Region, stresses how much of a revival mixology has experienced as a culinary art form. Not so long ago, a restaurant would have had beer, wine and a few good gins – and maybe a five-year old Angostura, he says.

That has changed. Though he’s quick to point out that there’s a gap in education, training and basic understanding, it’s what the instruction at Conestoga is filling. “It’s still hard to find mixologists,” he says. “It’s easy to find beer jockeys and people who can fit into night clubs and churn out rye-and-cokes, but it’s much harder to find people who have the knowledge of a chef and the dedication with a much smaller palette of ingredients and a wide range of techniques.”

In terms of where the industry is going, the students Haus is working with now will become the future mixologists who will have this knowledge base and the culinary sensibility.

Can a restaurant survive without a vibrant cocktail program?
If you spend any time at all in a decent restaurant, you’ll realize that people have come to expect a solid bar program: there’s little doubt that any upscale-casual food venue pretty much needs a vibrant cocktail culture — perhaps more than ever.

“Can a restaurant survive without one? That’s a good question,” Haus says putting on his restaurateur hat. “Do people go for the food? Or do they go for the experience?” At Grand Trunk Saloon and Grand Surf Lounge, the full food and cocktail experience is paramount, he points; they work together to form a whole.

“It’s not just a secondary thing” (Photo/Keith Muller).

“It’s not just a secondary thing. That’s where we are today. But go back ten years to any significant restaurant in the region, and I would guess cocktails and the beverage program were probably a secondary thought,” he says.

As for his favourite warming beverage for this frosty, glacial time of the year, Haus selects a classic — and a polarizing one (to use a cold pun).

“That would be rum and egg nog,” Haus says with a wry grin. “I sipped one recently during the holidays and hadn’t had one for a very long time. It’s nostalgia. I thought, ‘You’re happy, and it’s the holidays,’ but remember drinking it as a kid and absolutely hating it?”

For Haus, that’s a personal — anthropological — perspective of the beverage

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