Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Campari America Spirited Interview Series - Bob Peters

My next series of Campari America interviews focuses on bartenders who live outside of major cities, talented creatives who are killing it in their local markets.  First up, Bob Peters.

Bob Peters is the head bartender at The Punch Room located on the top level of the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, North Carolina, and he is bringing serious cocktail game to the Queen City.  I discovered Bob Peters through Instagram - he has mastered social media as a means to promote his bar and to share his drinks with the world.  He is now an Instagram powerhouse with over 35k followers.  I must admit, I have studied his posts carefully, often needing to wipe the drool off of my phone afterwards (and I don't think I am alone). 

Last month I was fortunate to be able to visit him at The Punch Room, and he showed me his rooftop garden where he harvests fresh herbs, honey, and garnishes for his drinks, and made me a few of his favorite cocktails from the summer menu.  It is undeniable - Peters is making sophisticated cocktails that could hang in any major cocktail city -cocktails that are delightfully whimsical and light-hearted in nature.  He often creates cocktails around childhood memories, finding inspiration from visceral moments of pure happiness.

Gastronomista: Bob, you are the head bartender at the Punch Room in Charlotte, how did you land such an prestigious position?  What has changed for you since you have been there?

Bob Peters: Before I started at the Punch Room, I was the head bartender at an amazing sushi restaurant Pisces Sushi Bar & Lounge here in Charlotte, NC.  While I was there we were able to accomplish some amazing things with the bar program, including some national recognition.  When you can pull off accomplishments like that, it can open some pretty substantial doors.  In my case The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte came knocking with the Punch Room project.  I couldn’t turn down the opportunity of a lifetime.  It is such a honor to work for a company with such a rich history of impeccable service and incomparable quality. 

Gastronomista: What bars do you frequent in Charlotte?  Are there any innovative cocktail programs that excite you?

Peters: I love all my local watering holes, however Soul Gastrolounge, Heist, The Cotton Room, Dogwood Southern Table & Bar all have very exciting bar programs.  I love walking into these places just to see what they are up to, but having a drink is a huge bonus.

Gastronomista: If you were to visit any bar anywhere in the world, at any point in history, what bar would you visit?  Who would you have a drink with?

Peters: I think if I could sit at any bar in history I would sit at the Savoy Hotel in London about 85 years ago.  About that time Harry Craddock and Ada Coleman were two of the first rockstar bartenders who are actually still very influential on our cocktail culture today.  The cool thing is that they worked at the same place at same time behind the same bar. Being able to watch them work together and interact would be so incredibly amazing, like listening to Bach & Beethoven on the same stage in concert. If I could pick anyone to take with me, I might like to sit there and have cocktail or three with Miles Davis. Could you ever have a cooler wing man than Miles Davis?  I can’t imagine anything more enjoyable than sipping a Corpse Reviver #2 or a Hanky Panky made by the people that created them, or chatting about jazz with Miles Davis!  Yeah, that’s cool.

Gastronomista: Bitters and Amaro are a booming trend, how have you seen this trend affect your bar menu and the preference of your customers?

Peters: I love the fact that bitters and Amaro are trendy right now. I think it is interesting and refreshing to work bitter into mix. The typical American palate leans toward salty and sweet, but with a little patience, bitter is a flavor that people can learn to enjoy.  Recently, I’ve seen more and more people that are familiar with requesting bitter liqueurs.  I personally enjoy using bittering agents in cocktail recipes because of how well they balance sweetness so effectively while adding depth at the same time.  I can’t help but to have several cocktails with some form of Amaro in each and every cocktail list that I create at the Punch Room.

Re-arranged Pisco Sour - Pisco, Lemon, Lime, St. Germain Egg Foam

Gastronomista: What other Mixologists inspire you and why?

Peters: I am typically inspired by chefs.  I love how really successful chefs have an incredibly strong point of view.  Their commitment to the experience they want to share with their guest is incredible.  I’m inspired by the energy that chefs pour onto a plate.  I love the passion that you can see in someone’s eyes as they are working.  That singular focus that blocks out everything else in the world, while trying to make sure that whatever they are working on, however minute, is nothing short of perfect. I am inspired by the boundless knowledge of food and flavors. I am inspired by love.  I am inspired by people that understand that they can never really master their craft but are willing to die trying.

Strange Brew - Smooth Ambler Bourbon, Hazelnut Milk, Double Brewed Coffee Ice Cube
Gastronomista: I love the Strange Brew cocktail made with bourbon, ice coffee, and hazelnut milk at the Punch Room - what exciting flavor combinations are you working on? What ingredients are exciting you right now?

Peters: Right now in North Carolina there are so many beautiful fruits that are in season, and they are all very exciting to me.  We are now in the hottest parts of the summer so I find myself being drawn to watermelon right now.   There is nothing better than an ice cold slice of watermelon when it is 100 degrees outside.  I can remember eating watermelon as a kid thinking that it was the most perfect fruit for the summer because it cooled you off and quenched your thirst at the same time.  On my current summer cocktail menu I have a Cardinal gin, watermelon, salted basil cocktail that I’m kind of obsessed with. It is garnished with a pickled watermelon rind "ribbon" that pushes the cocktail over the top of delicious.

Gastronomista: The presentation of your drinks is always so beautiful - do you have any tips on how to style and serve beautiful drinks?

Peters: I think presentation is very important.  Just like food, people eat (or drink) with their eyes first, so the visual appeal of a drink affects the guest’s enjoyment of a cocktail.  My opinion on garnishing is super simple.  1. Everything must be edible.  2. Less is more.  There is nothing more beautiful than simplicity.

Gastronomista: Campari America is sponsoring this series on up and coming Mixologists.  Can you recommend a great recipe with some of their products?

Crazy Russ - Photo Courtesy of The Punch Room

Crazy Russ
Created by Bob Peters

2 oz of Russell's Reserve
1/2 oz of Campari
1 1/2 oz of NODA Brewery’s Coco Loco Porter (Coco Nib Porter)

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail coupe. Garnish with an expressed orange rind.

For more follow Bob Peters on Instagram: @Bob_Peters

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