Get to know a bartender: Frankie Solarik of BarChef
Frankie Solarik is best known as Toronto's ambassador to molecular mixology, an offshoot of the modernist approach to haute cuisine developed and made famous by chefs like Ferran Adria at his world renown restaurant located in rural Catalonia, El Bulli.
This modern approach to cocktails — as with food — uses technology to transform familiar flavours into wildly imaginative concoctions — think black truffle snow, coconut foam or mojito ravioli. Solarik takes cocktails out of the oppressive confines of the glass, deconstructs them and rebuilds them into something totally new.
In person, he is much more approachable and affable than his cocktail menu might suggest. He talks fast and in short, broken sentences that reflect his own creative process. He's constantly texting himself with new drink ideas, taking inspiration from everything from a bottle of cologne to a piece of music. He's a man who takes what he does very seriously; he views himself as an artist whose medium just happens to be behind the bar, but finds it no less expressive than a paintbrush.
His bar, BarChef, was voted one of the top 7 new bars in the world by Food & Wine magazine. I caught up with him there to talk about his roots, the industry and some of his favourite places to unwind.
How did you get into the industry?
My first bartending gig was actually in a cigar bar in London Ontario when I was about 17 or 18 years old. It was an older clientele that would come in, they would talk about the nuances of different tobaccos and the particular flavour profiles of either dark wrap or light wrap cigars, paired along with scotches or cognacs or ports.
For me it was really gnarly, as a 17-year-old kid I just thought shit tasted good or shit tasted bad. So when I heard all these guys talking about crazy complex flavour profiles I was stoked, that's what really started it for me, I found it really interesting.
What makes the perfect cocktail?
The perfect cocktail is composed with balance in mind and with the utmost importance placed on respecting the initial component that started the creative process. For example, gin, truffle, cacao etc.
What's your favourite album to spin at BarChef?
We drop a huge mixture of stuff at BarChef, from Louis Armstrong to Led Zepplin. Pre service I love listening to classical music at the bar during set up.
What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you?
I was actually a member of the Canadian Junior National Climbing Team and lived in Europe for a while training professionally to become a pro climber.
What makes a good customer?
In my personal opinion there's a reason it's called the hospitality industry. At Barchef I strive to be as hospitable to all my guests as I can. In my opinion all customers are good customers apart from some of the agro ones who just want their damn vodka redbull, in which case I try and explain that I'm just in the midst of plating a cocktail and will be with them as soon as I can.
What is the proper etiquette for ordering a drink at a busy bar?
Just be polite, working behind the bar our main intention is to get to you as soon as possible, eye contact helps as well, we'll get there as soon as we can.
Where do you go for a drink when you're not working?
I like the Hideout, it's that, "finish work and go do some shots" kind of place; you know what I mean? It's a nice relaxing spot; you can just go and not worry about how you're dressed and just have a good time.
Also, Origin is a great spot. I love Claudio's cuisine so it's a really inspirational place for me. I get ideas you know, from specific components of a particular dish. And so then I rush back and try to work something out in terms of a drink. I love the ambiance, it's really good food presented in a completely unpretentious way and I love that — that's our whole thing here too, we're a bar first, before anything else.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Gin or Vodka? Gin
Light or Dark? Dark
Sweet or Dry? Dry
With a twist or olives? Twist
Lemon or Lime? Lemon
Tonic or Soda? Tonic
Labatt or Molson? Neither
Photos by Jesse Milns