Cod-infused gin gives a different slant to a Bloody Mary, a Martini is spiced up with Mexican worms, while vodka on the rocks is literally on the rocks, perhaps with some vermouth-infused black Mongolian stones. Well-loved Italian ingredients such as baccalà (salted cod), eggplant, balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese and mascarpone are not what you normally think of putting into a cocktail, yet this forward-thinking Italian bartender has no qualms about turning tonight’s dinner into a drink.
Hailing from Florence, where the bartender worked at some of the Renaissance city’s best bars, Cristina Bini has been making headlines recently for her unusual cocktails, particularly her use of insects, but there’s much more to it than adding yuck-factor with some spicy Mexican worms or crispy scorpions to your drink.
Here’s the result of a little chat with Cristina Bini:
ED: What is your personal absolute favorite cocktail, the one you like to order when you go out?
CB: Without a doubt the classic Cocktail Martini.
ED: A lot of your drinks are in fact interesting variations on the classics. How long have you been experimenting with unusual ingredients in cocktails?
CB: I think I began straight away [since becoming a bartender], the fact that I’m also a painter has always boosted my creative side, even in making drinks.
ED: What inspired you to first begin using ingredients that you don’t normally see in cocktails?
CB: You only need to think of the fact that in nature you find so many interesting ingredients to use, why limit myself to the same old fruit? Nature offers us so much more.
ED: Very true, but what it is about insects that urged you to try to include them in your drinks?
CB: I’ve been studying insects for more than two years. The University of Mexico has catalogued more than 1,700 edible species of insects. In the world more than 1,400 different species of insects that are eaten have all the nutritional value that humans need; it’s amazing to discover just how complete they are [nutritionally], and all without disturbing or doing any damage to the planet.
ED: What do you have planned next on the menu?
CB: I have started making Martinis with smoked bark. Each type of bark from different trees (olive, oak, pine, for example) have their own personalities and aromas. I simply prepare them, smoke them and place them in the glass with some reduced China Martini and am playing with creating dishes that look like you’re supposed to eat them; in a way they are tromp’loeil drinks.
ED: And do you find it easier to please New Yorkers or Florentines with your unusual cocktails?
New Yorkers are more curious, immediately they already love experimenting. But with a Florentine, you have to spark their interest, then lead them in…
New Yorkers are now able to get a taste of these creations at the Tribeca bar where Cristina now works her magic, White & Church.