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Interview: Bartender Troy Sidle Eats Gelato And Finds Cocktail Inspiration In Italy

By Paul Leddy in Food on Jun 8, 2013 6:00PM

Troy Sidle from Pouring Ribbons

When Troy Sidle was working at Violet Hour from 2007-2009, we're pretty sure that he never imagined he would one day be a member of one of the more influential cocktail bar consulting companies in North America, become a partner at one of the best new bars in New York City or be asked by an ice cream company to go to Italy to be inspired. Yet, all of these things have come true for the talented bartender.

Recently, Sidle took part in a unique program put on by Häagen-Dazs called L'artista Della Serie (The Artist Series). It is a program that provides “immersion into Italian culture and craftsmanship, for a group of hand-selected artists who will document their experiences and create art to symbolize their perfect Italian moment and a selected Häagen-Dazs gelato flavor.”

Sidle was joined by the following artists from different fields: Suzanna Choffel (musician), Tim McFadden, (glass blower), Kelsea Slade (handbag maker), Loren Hope (jewelry maker), Christina Tosi (Momofuku Milk Bar Chef and Owner), and Tracey Clark (photographer).

We sat down with Sidle to hear about the program, the inspired cocktails he made using Häagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato, and the differences he sees between the Chicago and New York cocktail scene.

Chicagoist: What is the Artist Series about, what was the background to the program?

TS: The idea was pretty shocking, in a great way. When they called me up and they said, “hey, we want to send you to Italy and eat a bunch of gelato and we will give you spending money.” I was like, “where’s the catch, this sounds pretty incredible.” In the middle of the trip, and even in retrospect, it became really poignant (that) this rather large company, with a rather large distribution across the world with their ice cream, wanted these artisanal craftsmen to go and be inspired by Italy. It made sense in a way. I understood my role. My role was a small-business owner. I produce things on a niche scale. I’m not a mass-produced talent, if you will. I have this thing that I do in my one bar in New York. The same ideas behind what we do at Pouring Ribbons and what we do at Alchemy Consulting is the same as what inspires the whole line of gelato from Häagen-Dazs, which is (the) highest quality, don’t sacrifice anything, put out the best product you can.

Chicagoist: What was it like being with the other artists?

TS: I was the only bartender, but we each had a unique view what Italy had to offer. We went to different cities for each of us to be inspired by what that city does best in Italian culture. So in Bologna, it was a high-scale culinary city. That was really for Christina and me to really focus on what is going on in Italian [cuisine]. In fact, that is where the gelato museum and university is. At the Vatican, where we started the trip, there was this amazing amount of art that is collected by the Vatican and a lot of it included just amazing glassware. That’s one of the things that Tim was really intrigued by. In fact, one of the things where there was a lot of crossbreeding of ideas was when Tim was explaining to me how a certain glass was made it just hit me “why wouldn’t we collaborate?” I make the cocktails that go in glasses, wouldn’t it be cool if he did glassware that went with a particular cocktail that I created? So we did that as well. It was a great opportunity, with very little agenda on Häagen-Dazs part - they really didn’t restrict us or give us anything other than “just get together and see the sights and have a great time. Come back and produce something inspired by each one of these gelato lines.” It was a great way to get a lot of ideas exchanged across different mediums that wouldn’t normally be set up that way.

Chicagoist: It sounds like you had different gelatos to choose from. Why did you choose the Limoncello?

TS: Well, they assigned them to us. Mine just made sense because it is Limoncello and it’s what you would find behind the bar, especially in Italy. That one just made sense. From my perspective, what I could do with it, we work with spirits, lemon and cream quite a bit behind a bar. We do so much with that behind the bar anyway.

Chicagoist: The main ingredients of the Limoncello Gelato are vodka, lemon, and cream. I noticed a lot of your cocktails use those same ingredients. How did you approach the drink making? Did you use the ingredients to enhance those flavors? How did that work?

TS: You are familiar with the Ramos Gin Fizz?

Chicagoist: Yes.

TS: One of the gelatos in Bologna we made was a lemon-sage gelato with fresh lemon juice and some sage-simple syrup and we just got to make it right then and there. Why not make a Sage Ramos? Those are all of the ingredients of a Ramos Gin Fizz: the lemon, cream, the simple syrup, but instead of the orange flower water for the aromatic, why not make this with just Italian herbs. It was tricky at first, but I was able to get the same head that you expect from a Ramos. It was just a very Italian, but still classic-style cocktail.

Chicagoist: But, you didn’t need to shake it for 10 minutes.

TS: (laughs). Well, at Pouring Ribbons we have been able to isolate all the variables and we have figured out how to make a Ramos in 30 seconds.

Chicagoist: Freddie Sarkis from Sable has almost made that his “signature” drink and he has it down to a science as well.

TS: He whittled it down and then we did a couple things on top of it and even recently in the last week or so, we have figured one more thing we can do. His approach questioning why we need to shake it for so long has definitely changed the game for Ramos.

Troy making the In The Moment Cocktail

In the Moment Cocktail
2 oz. melted Häagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato
1.5 oz vodka
.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
5 sage leaves
½ sliced lemon

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and add plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a tall Collins glass and top with soda. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Chicagoist: Tell me about the background of the “Skies are Clearing” Cocktail made with Aperol.

TS: We were in Rome and we were all having lunch at a place that had gelato. They had a pretty good selection of Amaros so I ordered a bunch of different (ones) to try. The nice thing about an Amaro in Italian culture is that after a heavy meal, which might include a gelato at the end, that little bit of something bitter helps your digestive system with processing all that food you just ate. So, in a cocktail we are used to using bitters like Aperol, Campari, Peychaud's, and Angostura. It just made sense. When we do training programs for bartenders, in order to introduce the idea of the flavor of bitters, we will often scoop out vanilla ice cream and dash out on the bitters on top of it. That way you have a canvas in order to understand the bitters. It was just a natural progression from Aperol to the gelato like that. With this drink specifically, one of the beautiful things about gelato is the texture. It’s the creamy mouth-feel that is just super smooth. That is one of things that makes gelato unique. With this particular cocktail, I didn’t want to always just to throw the gelato into a shaker tin and destroy that texture and shake it up into another drink. I really wanted to showcase that beautiful texture that is there from Häagen-Dazs. Why not make a float of it, which is where the idea for an Aperol float comes from.

Skies are Clearing Cocktail
.75 oz. Aperol
1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
.25 oz. fresh lemon juice
.25 oz. simple syrup
1 scoop Häagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato

Combine liquid in a shaker. No ice is needed. Pour into 5 oz. beveled rocks glass and top with 1 small scoop of Häagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato. Garnish with lime, cinnamon and ground pistachio immediately. Serve with a small wooden spoon.

Chicagoist: To someone who has never been to Pouring Ribbons, how do you describe the bar to people?

TS: It’s a reaction to the idea of a speakeasy that is out there. We are trying to be the anti-speakeasy. We have a sign. We have lights in our huge arched window saying we are here. We aren’t being hidden. When you come up, the style of dress the bartenders and servers wear is colorful. It’s a brighter bar; it’s not candlelit. You don’t get hushed. There is no dress code. There are no rules. But, the cocktails are still great and (we) try to pay attention to all things quality when it comes to the cocktails. We are not trying to be the early 1800’s or 1900’s: hidden, flapper-dressed, sepia-toned, mustachioed bartender scene anymore. We wanted to modernize it.

Chicagoist: But, isn’t the type of bar that you are trying not to be the ones that Alchemy started, like Violet Hour?

TS: Absolutely. That’s the root that we come from. We come from the idea that we need to pay homage to this time when this craft was something real. To plug Häagen-Dazs again, I know the same idea of let’s go back to the roots, let’s go back to the quality. When I was hearing the girl from Häagen-Dazs talking about the history of the company that resonated with us so much. We have to go back and pay homage to when it was done right. I know that because of that, it seems like Pegu Club really tried to put you back into that time frame. Let’s change the music; let’s work you back into the time. Now, everyone gets that. We dropped the sour mix and we aren’t making Appletini’s anymore, we had fun with this. But, there is no reason to stick to that timeframe.

Chicagoist: You left Violet Hour in 2009, and moved to New York. What are the differences between the two cities in the cocktail world?

TS: That’s a good question and it’s something we grappled with quite a bit. There has been a lot of change since 2007 when I started at Violet Hour. In 2007, there was a small number of that style of cocktail bars. I think Drawing Room and Violet Hour were kind of holding court and then the Whistler popped up. So, when you have that talent dispersed it really changed the nature. Now, there are so many people that are communicating and are such great friends between both cities that those lines, in a good way, are blurring. It is really hard to distinguish a Chicago-style cocktail from a New York style. That speaks to the camaraderie that exists right now. I am in constant communication with a handful of bartenders in Chicago.

Chicagoist: Speaking of that, you were at Drumbar recently to serve Pouring Ribbons cocktails. How was that experience and are you planning on doing it again?

It was fantastic. Craig Schoettler, who is in charge of that program and developed the first round of ideas at The Aviary, is a really good friend of mine. He and I bartered cooking lessons for cocktail lessons for about six months. So, I can roast a pretty mean chicken. He, of course, is running bar programs. So, that was great being behind the same bar as him. We are close friends and we do constantly share ideas. That was just a great night and I hope to do it again soon.