While a great deal of thought is put into the food and beverage component of meetings, most of the effort tends to be focused on the food. The beverage part of the equation is often left on autopilot. To give the other half of F&B its due, Successful Meetings reached out to 35-year-old Junior Merino, aka “The Liquid Chef,” a world-renowned mixologist, to discuss his career and get his insight into what the most popular beverage trends will be for the coming year. Merino started his company, also called The Liquid Chef, in 2002, specializing in cocktail consulting.
Latin flavors will be spicing up the cocktail industry, says Merino. He expects Pisco, a colorless or amber-hued grape brandy produced in Peru and Chile, to continue to gain in popularity, as will rye whiskey.
“Kitchen techniques are going to be used behind the bar. Grilling fruit, baking, and toasting spices will grow in popularity,” says Merino. Bitters are making a comeback and many mixologists will increasingly make their own from scratch, he adds. A chef, sommelier, and mixologist, Merino has built his career on mestizaje, the blending of diverse flavors.
Kitchen Skills Transferred to the Bar
Born and raised on a family ranch in Puebla, Mexico, Merino learned from his parents as a young boy how to prepare dishes featuring local and indigenous ingredients. He followed one of his older brothers to the United States at the age of 15 and joined him at The Boulevard Caf in New York, progressing from busboy to line cook to bartender, eventually becoming beverage manager. The wine list Merino created at the restaurant, his first ever, won an award of excellence from Wine Spectator. Within months, he was initiated into the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Guild of Sommeliers.
It was during a stint at MoMA’s fine-dining restaurant The Modern where Merino created the cocktail, “Coming Up Roses,” now one of his signatures and the first-place winner in The International Bar Show’s cocktail competition. It is not uncommon for one of Merino’s original cocktails to balance up to 10 ingredients. Many of his drinks feature agave nectar, the native Mexican plant used to make tequila, as he likes that it is low in glycemic levels, calories, and carbohydrates.
Merino says his schooling in graphic design has helped him as a mixologist as it has helped raise his awareness of how colors interact. “I combine all of the senses,” he says. “The sound of the shaker, the visual impact, the aroma, and finally the taste.”
Today, Merino heads up his consulting company, has Molecular Bars on Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice ships, a mixology school, and a location in the Mexican pavilion at Disney World’s Epcot theme park.
Merino is in talks with a chain of resorts in Cancun and the Riviera Maya about opening a bar in each. His first book, featuring a few of his more than 3,000 original cocktails, is slated for a 2013 release.
Merino, as well as his Liquid Team, are available to make cocktails for private events, and Merino is a popular speaker for groups that are interested in learning about making the perfect drink, want a spirits tasting, or a cocktail-pairing dinner.