Pastry Chef Richard Leach on Tiki Today
Tiki and its drink relatives are on fire in New York, but there’s an added twist to the menu created for the recently opened The Hurricane Club. Here, the tropical cocktail menu was overseen by Richard Leach, pastry chef and the latest in a line of culinarians who’ve moved into the cocktail world. Named pastry chef of the year in 1997 by the James Beard Foundation and twice named among the 10 best pastry chefs in America by Chocolatier Magazine, Leach has worked in such New York kitchens as Aureole, Lespinasse, Symphony Café, La Côte Basque and Park Avenue Spring. Now, Leach has brought his talents to the high-flying, exotic, Polynesian-style restaurant and lounge from restaurateur Michael Stillman and chef Craig Koketsu. Leach has created and designed more than 40 tropical inspired cocktails, including frozen drinks made with pisco, fresh-crushed sugarcane offerings and massive sharable drinks.
NCB Mix: Pastry chefs like yourself are increasingly getting involved in drink creation — what's the attraction?
Richard Leach: I know for myself that I was looking for a new challenge beyond pastry. I have been making the seasonal cocktail mixes at Park Avenue for the last few years and when asked if I was interested in creating cocktails for The Hurricane Club, I thought, “Great! That might be a new avenue for me.”
NCB Mix: Are there similarities between pastry and mixology that make it an easy transition?
Leach: There are some similar ingredients as far as using fruit and spices and then there are also some savory aspects with the herbs and spicy, hot ingredients. Maybe pastry chefs adapt well because of all the measuring we do — I guess we are used to it.
NCB Mix: Given all this, what were the special challenges in making the menu for The Hurricane Club?
Leach: I started out and tried to stick to tropical ingredients with Polynesian and Asian accents. The biggest challenge was to make each one of them attractive looking without being a nightmare to produce.
NCB Mix: The Hurricane Club menu you created is part of a sudden wave of interest in Tiki drinks, especially in New York. What's the attraction?
Leach: The idea behind the Tiki space is that we think people need a vacation destination in the city. I guess a few people had the same thinking, that people want to go out and forget their day.
NCB Mix: What's special about your Hurricane Club drinks; what separates them from traditional Tiki?
Leach: Our drinks are not based on traditional Tiki recipes. They use similar ingredients and have a tropical look, but we make our own bitters, triple sec, grenadine and juice our own sugarcane.
NCB Mix: Now that the menu is in place and the drinks being made nightly, are you finding some things work better than others, or that you've had to tweak the menu?
Leach: We are constantly tweaking and adjusting to make service smoother. It is new to me, so we are learning as we go.
NCB Mix: What's your favorite cocktail right now?
Leach: My favorite is actually not very tropical but spicy. It has vodka and a mango chutney-apple cider base.