The Five Questions: Rocky Yeh- Cocktail Visionary/Bon Vivant
December 15, 2010
I first heard Rocky’s name from my friend Ed Hamilton while judging the Ministry of Rum competition in San Francisco this past August. There was this palpable buzz in the room… “Was Rocky coming?” Who is the Rocky gentleman? Why is he so important in the cocktail world? Well, if the Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans is your idea of a some fun nights amongst friends, then you already know him and his cocktail weaving magic.
If you adore cocktails and know the difference between a Ramos Gin Fizz and a Gin & Tonic, his name may already be tattooed on your wrist. If not, Rocky Yeh is one of the pioneers in the new field of mixology. I thought with the holidays upon us, why not add to our holiday wish lists. How about asking for a round trip ticket to visit Rocky perform cocktail magic in his own element in Seattle?
Not a bad idea!
1. Where are you from? Where do you live now? Who instilled the love of mixology into your life? Are you influenced by anyone in particular in your craft? Who was your teacher?
I was born in Tainan, Taiwan and emigrated to the US when I was two and grew up in Southern California. I currently reside in Seattle. I first learned to really love the craft of a well-made cocktail as part of a mutual awakening with Keith Waldbauer co-owner of Liberty. He was working at the time behind the bar at Union and I was a regular. The biggest influences on me are Jim Romdall of Vessel, Andrew Bohrer of Mistral Kitchen, Murray Stenson, Kacy Fitch, and Ben Dougherty of Zig Zag. They have all shown me aspects of the craft and of service that are absolutely exemplary of our profession. More than anyone else though, Jim Romdall has been my mentor and taught me more than anyone else.
2. What is your favorite cocktail right now? Using which ingredients? Where do you like going for a well-crafted cocktail that’s not made by yourself (anywhere in the world of course is fine!)
My favorite cocktail at the moment, and this may change by the time I finish writing this, is a Sazerac made with a nice aged rhum. My go to ones right now for that are Zafra 21, Rhum JM VSOP, Rhum Clement Cuvee Homere (disclosure, I work for Clement and JM), Ron Barcelo Imperial, and Vizcaya 21. Right now, my favorite bars are, Vessel (where I work), Moshi Moshi, Mistral Kitchen, Zig Zag Café, and Sambar in Seattle; Anvil, Grand Prize, and Poison Girl in Houston; Smuggler’s Cove, Rickhouse, Alembic, and 15 Romolo in San Francisco; Irving St Kitchen, Teardrop Lounge, and Laurelhurst Market in Portland, Cana, Tasting Kitchen, and Varnish in LA; Sable, Drawing Room, and Bar Deville in Chicago; Dram, Counting Room, Prime Meats, Clover Club, and Painkiller in NY; Bar Keefer and George in Vancouver BC; Bourbon and Gibson in DC; Fino in Austin; and Cure, Coops, and French 75 in New Orleans.
3. What do you think of cocktail bitters? I’ve discovered dozens of different flavors recently, some of them quite exotic. How do you use bitters in building the perfect cocktail?
I think bitters are an essential ingredient to creating many cocktails. The proliferation of bitters lately has been great, letting me select just the right one for whatever application I need. Bitters, the flavor profile, the quality with which it is made, and their own internal balance are as integral to a cocktail that needs them as the choice of base spirit to a drink. Without the proper bitters giving you what you need you would be hard pressed to end up with the final cocktail that you’ve envisioned in your head.
4. Do you cook? What is your favorite after a hard night of drinking kind of meal? Do you have a hang-over remedy?
I love to cook but get to do it all too seldom anymore. After a hard night of drinking I’m looking for grease, salt, and big flavors. Whether that comes as a greasy spoon diner, Chinese, hot dogs, Mexican, or Korean, in the end I’m looking for something with substance and nothing at all subtle. Gravy, spice, cheese, and/or fried make up much of my late night food groups. When it comes to hangovers I look to a few things,Nuun tablets to start getting myself hydrated and then either a big greasy breakfast or a bowl of Pho. If I go the breakfast route chicken fried steak usually looms large in that direction. If I go the Pho route, the broth is must be especially heady with five spice and there has to be a lot of hot sauce available, the broth to noodle ratio is also paramount. There needs to only be a modicum of noodles, but there must be enough broth to float a small boat, with lots of fresh basil to tear and throw in.
5. Is there anything that you eat/drink that brings a tear to your eye when you eat/drink/or prepare it? Why?
Nothing necessarily brings a tear to my eye though there are some dishes and drinks that are especially near and dear to my heart. I love this Taiwanese dish, that has no real translation, but is composed of blood cubes, intestines, pickled mustard greens, leeks and comes in a bright red, spicy vinegary broth that is served bubbling and boiling on a table top brazier. It’s one of the few things that my dad and I both really love in terms of food. I also remember the very first time I made a successful béarnaise for cote du boeuf, that was definitely a good day cooking wise for me. On the cocktail side, the very first time I made a good Ramos Gin Fizz made me stupidly happy as I watch the meringue rise and form a cylinder topping the drink I really felt like I might know what I was doing for the first time.
Thanks Rocky. Next time you’re in NYC, please give me a holler, I’d like to tag along and take pictures. Ok, maybe tip a few as well.
Last week, my friends at Smashburger opened yet another store. They seek to dominate the burger market in NJ. What they do is pretty darned good. I find it hard to resist their cheese burger with the crispy fried onions on top. No, I don’t eat many of them but when I do, that special sauce and the crunchy onions alongside the “smashed” burger are pretty irresistible. Please remember, I love Elevation Burger as well as Smashburger… so I’m not coming out for either one. Because I’m friends with both companies.
But if you find yourself in New Providence, just go..
Springfield Ave. & Passaic St.
1260 Springfield Ave.
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. In 2010, Bobrow founded “Wild Table” for Wild River Review and serves as the master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition.
Bobrow has published three books on mixology and written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, Distiller, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and other periodicals. He writes the “On Whiskey” column for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly.
His first book Apothecary Cocktails, was published in September 2013; and immediately went into a second printing. In 2014, he published Whiskey Cocktails. He was born and raised in Morristown, NJ, on a Biodynamic farm.
Warren Bobrow in this Edition
COCKTAIL WHISPERER, Editor
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