Creating Fall Cocktails with Belinda Chang and Julie Hillebrand at J&G
Ever wonder how new cocktails are created? On a recent Friday afternoon, I found out at J&G Steakhouse, where Belinda Chang, the six-month-new beverage director for Culinary Concepts Hospitality Group (a company in partnership with Starwood Hotels that uses menus created by Jean-Georges Vongerichten) had flown into town to shake and stir it up with J&G barkeep Julie Hillebrand. The goal? To create a handful of new cocktails that would deliciously reflect the fall season.
Courtesy of J&G Steakhouse Julie Hillebrand behind the bar at J&G
I was invited to sip cocktails and chime in on what I liked and what I didn't, which sounded like a perfect Friday afternoon activity, especially since I could call it working.
Besides, I was eager to meet Chang, a heavy hitter in the wine world whose resume includes stints at Charlie Trotter's, Fifth Floor and The Modern, where she helped her team win a James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service in 2011.
Clearly, teamwork is Chang's MO. "I don't want to do this top-down," she says, pointing out that she will be visiting J&G three or four times a year to work on the wine list, the cellar and the bar program, which she plans to tackle in collaboration with Hillebrand.
Apparently, Hillebrand is always running to J&G's kitchen to snag interesting ingredients such as lemongrass for her cocktails. Her culinary approach (not to mention her palate) have not gone unnoticed by Chang, who says that although "stand-alone bars are the temples of mixology," at the moment, "restaurant bars could and should be better," given all the kitchen ingredients at the bartender's disposal.
Courtesy of J&G Steakhouse
On this particular afternoon, the bar-top at J&G is loaded with bottled beers, citrus, apples, pears, spices, fresh herbs, house-made bitters and bar gadgets -- pretty much everything we need to get started.