Eric Simpkins: Q & A With Troisâ€™ Mixologist
by Hope S. Philbrick
After working as a bartender for eight years, Eric Simpkins came to realize that he’d found a career and not just a job. So, he enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York to prepare for serious work. But a funny thing happened after graduation. Simpkins found he was able to put his training to use not just in a kitchen, but back behind the bar.
While in New York, Simpkins honed his skills at Pegu Club and also worked with several renowned bartenders, including Audrey Saunders, who is a protÃ©gÃ© of the “King of Cocktails,” Dale DeGroff. Now at Trois, Simpkins makes what he calls “seri ous cocktails.” Others agree: Last year, Simpkins was named a “Rising Star Bar Chef” by StarChefs.com.
Restaurant Forum: What sets the bar at Trois apart?
Eric Simpkins: Our commitment to the cocktail and the fact that we treat cocktails as essentially another dish. We see cocktails as another dining component with recipes to be followed for consistency using all fresh, seasonal ingredients. You can expect a cocktail that’s high quality, freshly made, precisely made and consistently made every time you come to Trois. In addition, the bartenders making these cocktails and the servers serving them are educated and informed about spirits and cocktails, including the history of cocktails and American drinking, so it’s not just a product you’re getting, but informed service.
RF: What’s your favorite spirit to work with?
ES: Either gin or rye whiskey. They both have a lot of character and backbone to them. When you mix them, that character acts as a foundation to build flavors upon; they don’t get completely lost in the cocktail but give the drink a backbone and character. It’s like working with a good stock.
RF: With so many vodka brands out there, what considerations go into which ones to carry?
ES: I always look for clarity. While I do want it to be a smooth product, at the same time I don’t want it to be stripped of all of its flavor. I want to know that I’m drinking vodka, and it’s got to taste like vodka. You should taste some graininess or rye flavor when you drink it straight.
RF: What are the latest cocktail trends?
ES: I’ve been seeing a lot of infusions. People are infusing their own syrups. I’m also seeing more seasonality, especially on the West Coast. There’s a growing commitment to using fresh ingredients that you may get from a farmer’s market or directly from farmers themselves because restaurants are working directly with farmers a bit more. We’re also seeing more exotic ingredients imported, like yuzu, which is an exotic Asian citrus fruit juice. And the pomegranate is very popular.
RF: How does Atlanta’s cocktail scene compare to that of other cities that you’ve worked in or traveled to?
ES: I’d say it’s definitely keeping up. It’s growing at about the same rate as other smaller cities like Seattle. The only U.S. cities I can think of that really have something more are New York and San Francisco. We’ve definitely caught the “cocktail culture” bug, but it’s building a customer base to support that.
RF: What can restaurateurs do to draw and foster that base?
ES: Commit to quality and use fresh ingredients. Also, treat the cocktail as another component that needs to come out with consistent quality, that’s thought out and tested before it goes out. When customers get used to that sort of quality, hopefully they’ll stop settling for all this mass-produced sweet and sour swill. â–