Luca Cinalli is a respected bartender who has consulted, mixed, and invented new drinks all over the world. He worked at London’s prestigious Oriole for over three years, and then went on to set up on his own; designing menus and creating new cocktails for renowned drinkeries worldwide!
When did that Eureka moment happen when you realized your mission is to be a bartender?I feel I am a waiter/bartender as I’ve spent so much time on the floor waiting. When I was working on the bar that was when I found out it was for me - I make it myself and serve it myself - doing both is what I really like. You can also see the table from where you are serving, which is great, you get to see the reactions firsthand. I don’t want to deliver something I’m not involved in, so bringing food from the kitchen as a waiter, that I hadn’t produced, that wasn’t really up my street. Once I started working in bars about 17 years ago in London, I felt like I had found freedom.
I feel like I’m still a student and it’s great to learn new things.
What are the TOP 5 skills every bartender should have?The top five skills for me… those would be speed, efficiency, communication, understanding (psychological understanding) eg don’t judge people, have some patience and understanding. If there is a misunderstanding I always try to work things out, it is a people’s job through and through. Understanding is a must with customers. And then lastly, self-training. There’s a lot of new people coming into the industry; I feel like I’m still a student and it’s great to learn new things. You can put deadlines on yourself for daily, weekly, or yearly learning. That’s how to progress too.
Which cocktail is the biggest pain in the ass to make, pardon our French?Bloody Mary, because I think anyone can make his own, but to do a complicated Bloody Mary with stock reduction etc, sometimes they are just too over-complicated. There are some recipes where people use raw tomatoes, and I just don’t think it’s the best. As an Italian I always try to make it as simply as possible. Nowadays I have a signature one that I make: a Champagne Mary with a clean consommé, Brandy Vermouth, cacao butter, it’s a yellow White Wine colour, and tastes great because it is so simple.
I don’t even shake the Daiquiri, I just make it with crushed ice.
And which cocktail is served in your version of heaven?A Daiquiri for me would be heaven, just perfect with lime sugar and Rum. The classic recipe. I call it like a sauce - the right balance of caster sugar and fresh lime juice that gives a fresh zingy texture. I don’t even shake the Daiquiri, I just make it with crushed ice. Ideal! Using a milkshake blender is wonderful for this.
I really enjoy a Tom Collins.
Which drink or cocktail would you say is way underrated? (And a tricky followup: Which one is the most overrated?)I really enjoy a Tom Collins. Everybody can make it, but you don’t see it as much as you would think. If a customer asks me for it I adjust it slightly with a fino Sherry. That’s definitely the one I would say. And then overrated perhaps… Maybe a Viuex Carre, it’s okay but I wouldn’t say it’s outstanding.
Beer! A nice IPA… or if it was a Spirit then I would have a single malt Whisky.
You come home, slide into something comfortable, and throw yourself on the couch. What's in your glass?
What are the five essential ingredients every booze lover should have in their home bar?There’s an easy five for me - angostura bitter, Campari, sweet Vermouth, maraschino and chartreuse.
Don’t judge people, have some patience and understanding.
Which booze is the most versatile?That’s Gin everytime.
Is there a favorite life hack you learned at your job?Well it’s not a life hack as such, but definitely important in this industry... controlling what you drink. I’ve never been a massive drinker, but I have definitely learnt control over the years; I’m all about training my palate. Another tip would be around planning your day, week or month and then sticking to that plan!
What's the craziest anecdote you're willing to share with us?Sincerely, there’s nothing that comes to mind - perhaps I’ve always been a good boy behind the bar!
What are your passions outside the world of Spirits?I absolutely love foraging. I have a really well planned calendar and have to harvest at the right moment. Spending time doing this, and going to the coast and gardening really relaxes me.
What would you be doing if you weren't a bartender?I would be a policeman!
I absolutely love foraging.