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you grew up working in your mother’s okonomiyaki restaurant in tokyo, how has that effected your relationship with cocktails?
KG: spending time at my mother’s restaurant gave me an appreciation of good food and drinks. i wasn’t thinking about a career, i was just helping out my mother. as i got older, i met full-time bartenders and they opened my eyes. why not me? why can’t i do that? it was a challenge.
how have you seen the genre of cocktails grow over the years?
KG: in 2005, there were only a handful of institutions doing cocktails. now, there are so many places. even restaurants are beginning to incorporate cocktails into their beverage programs. there has also been a change in our customers. my first year at pegu club, the weekend crowd still requested vodka + cranberry juice. now everyone wants to try something new; the customer’s palate is expanding as well. now when someone comes to pegu club, they get it, they want to try something we make. the vodka cranberry crowd is willing to experiment.
you tend to make classic cocktails with a twist. is it important that your cocktails have a classic or historical foundation?
KG: we definitely start with the fundamentals. that’s the most important. it’s like building a house, you need a strong foundation. you have to understand why this cocktail is made a certain way; there’s a reason behind it. then you can dress it up. i’ve seen new, outside the box techniques and i embrace them. but, if the drink is all about that, i don’t think it’s going to stick around. customers won’t order it a second time if it’s all show.
pegu club opened in 2005 and is still relevent in the emerging cocktail scene. how do you continue to evolve? or is it about sticking to the fundamentals?
KG: we still try to focus on the fundamentals. it’s important to stick with what we believe although we embrace the new technique at the same time, because at the end of the day, if it’s not good, it’s not good. it doesn’t matter even if it’s the trendiest thing. the only drinks we places on our menu are drinks we feel confident about. our team does tasting and tweaking with audrey saunders until we all feel satisfied. it can take over 50 times. we don’t whip out cocktails to put on the menu. that’s not how we do our business. customers are not guinea pigs. our customers are very educated and they can see the difference. there are so many choices in new york and they come back to pegu, because there’s a standard and attention to detail.
how does the concept of a new drink start? is it a spirit? a combination of flavors?
KG: an idea can come from pretty much anything: an introduction to a new spirit or brand, a city or country i visit, a flavor i try or a dish i liked. i think about how i can incorporate it into a beverage. then i start with a classic cocktail and build from there.
what drinks are you bringing to má pêche? what classic cocktails are they derived from?
KG: first is the greenmarket melon ball - gin, cantaloupe, calpico, lemon, pastis. it’s a tribute to a more classic melon ball, made with fresh cantaloupe instead of melon liqueur. then i’m making a far east side - sake, st. germain, yuzu pepper, shiso, tequila. it’s a play on the southside. finally, i’ll make a kenta - menta cooler, my version of a mint julip with whiskey, southern comfort, ferent branca menta, and peppermint tea.
i’m sure people ask you where you like to drink, but where to do you like to eat in new york?
KG: i like going to brighton beach in brooklyn for pickled vegetables and herring at local markets. i also enjoy flushing, queens for roast duck and noodles.
visit kenta at má pêche on 9/20 for one night only cocktails creations | more info