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A Q&A with Zoe Burgess, Flavour Expert & Author of “The Cocktail Cabinet”
Zoe Burgess is a flavor expert, book author, and owner of Atelier Pip, a drinks consultancy in the UK. She has a long career in the hospitality industry, collaborating with sensory scientists and creating innovative cocktail menus for Heston Blumenthal and other clients, driven by the goal of pushing the boundaries of sensory and flavor-led sectors to provide a memorable drinking experience for consumers.
With her recent book “The Cocktail Cabinet: The art, science and pleasure of mixing the perfect drink” she aims to empower you with some knowledge about cocktails (no skill level is required, just curiosity), sharing plenty of opportunities to explore your own preferences in order to make better cocktails for yourself as well as your guests when hosting at home – in a fun, colorful, and approachable way.
Zoe, tell us a little about your background.
I started in the flavour world by chance, graduating from art collage and working for a small artisanal chocolate company. That was over 15 years ago and it was during that role I discovered cocktails and how they can be powerful tools to create flavour experiences.
I joined Drink Factory, a unique development kitchen, where I became head of research and development and had the opportunity to create cocktails for some of London’s top cocktail bars as well as work with a diverse range of clients such as the Dinner by Heston team and professor Charles Spence. I later co-founded Untitled bar and explored a number of more abstract flavour experiences in that space; such as the taste of Snow – a cocktail designed to capture the moment we experience a snowflake melting on the tongue and made from distillations of clay and enoki mushrooms.
Moving on from there, I founded my consultancy company Atelier Pip and this is where I focus my work now. It’s been an amazing few years working with various clients with different drink and venue concept development needs. I still work with Heston Blumenthal’s creative team, much of that work will come to light in early 2023, and I have had the pleasure of helping clients such as SOMA Soho and Be-oom tea rooms find a path and style with their cocktail offerings. I also wrote a book too!
What first got you interested in cocktails?
I’ve always had a passion for flavour. There was a moment when I had my first well made cocktail that I realised they’re a unique format for layering flavours. It felt quite mysterious to me, as if each cocktail was a unique magic trick that was presented to a guest. I saw the potential to create a unique experience or memory for guests. So I wanted to know the secrets to the tricks and create moments that people enjoy.
How did you come up with the idea of The Cocktail Cabinet and what makes it different from other cocktail guides?
The idea for The Cocktail Cabinet came when I realised there was the potential for cocktail rituals to change in the home. One of the best parts of visiting a cocktail bar is the exchange of knowledge between the guest and bartender, and from that conversation a personalised cocktail is created. Only by getting to know a guest, hearing the types of cocktails they like (long, short, straight-up), what their preferred taste is (such as sweet, sour or bitter), or how they might take their martini or Manhattan, can a unique and memorable drink be created – especially when it comes to different takes on classic cocktails.
I wanted my book to empower the reader with some of this knowledge. You’ll first learn why cocktails work (ie. their perfect structure), and then you’ll have plenty of opportunities to explore your own preferences in order to make better cocktails for yourself as well as your guests when hosting at home. My book is full of practical tips in that respect.
The Cocktail Cabinet is a reliable and accessible companion to cocktail-making, no matter the knowledge, skill or budget. Who would you say the readership is and why do you think the book resonates with them?
The reader could be anyone who is interested in cocktails or flavour over all. No skill level is required, just curiosity. Liquid is a great foundation to explore the full spectrum of flavour and my book breaks this down for readers in a fun, colourful and approachable way.
I really wanted the book to be logical, so that no matter what your existing knowledge of cocktails is, you could understand it.
Cocktails are about enjoyment, but what your book demonstrates is that the more you understand what you’re drinking, the more you will enjoy not only that drink but the whole world of delicious options that understanding opens up. What are the main aspects to consider about a cocktail?
I often think that we take for granted the things we like; we don’t usually think about what it is that we connect with and what’s driving us to like and enjoy that particular thing. It’s often easier to describe what we don’t like as that makes such a strong impression on us. With The Cocktail Cabinet, I was keen to take readers on a cocktail journey of discovering more about their likes, which I hope will open up a route to trying new things and appreciating them.
In your opinion, what makes the perfect cocktail and what’s your favorite one?
My favourite changes all the time! At the moment it’s a whisky highball as it’s light, fresh and precise. I like to adapt the flavour with a touch of flavoured vinegar depending on my mood – I’m currently in a yuzu and ginger space. Honey, cherry blossom, shiso and plum also work.
Where do you mostly find inspiration for new cocktails?
This constantly evolves but I think it’s my overall, and consistent, curiosity. Sometimes I’m actively seeking a solution to a problem so I’m very aware of what I’m reading, looking at, and eating or drinking. Other times, an idea just comes to me very randomly and naturally, it might be a soundtrack to a film, the point of view of an artist or a place and moment in time that brings a new question which I have a desire to explore.
We live in a world where everything moves fast and people’s attention has dropped significantly. A physical book forces us to slow down and enjoy the moment. What’s your take on it and how do you see the future of books and paper?
My Sunday morning ritual is dedicating time to a book, to me it’s very important. I think people love rituals and books can become a great asset in that respect.
Where people can find out more about The Cocktail Cabinet and where can they buy it?
I share more of my thoughts and ideas on my Instagram page @atelier_pip, I like to use it as a bit of a notepad or a mood board for sharing thoughts and ideas.
The Cocktail Cabinet is available from Amazon and all good bookshops such as WHSmith, Waterstones, Foyle’s, Amazon, Hive, Blackwell’s, Bookshop.org and Wordery. Digital eBook versions can also be downloaded through Apple, Google, Kindle, Kobo, and ebooks.com.
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