September 2016 Bartender of the Month: Laura Bellucci
Name: Laura Bellucci
About the Bartender:Laura Bellucci grew up in Massachusetts. Born to a colorful Italian gynecologist with roots in Long Island and a sweet, Midwestern pastor's daughter, her upbringing was a lively mixture of marinara sauce, excited yelling, and sneaking out of church early. Her grandmother, father, and mother all had a powerful influence in her love of the culinary world, teaching her every recipe in their lexicon as soon as she was tall enough to stand on a step stool.
Laura graduated Emerson College in 2011, but favored the fast-paced, kinetic world of the service industry over internships in her field. She stuck around Flash’s, but finally grew fed up with the gritty gray soup of New England winter. After a 50-day road trip to 15 different cities, she chose the inspiration and wonder she had discovered in the city of New Orleans.
She started working at Victory bar, crafting drinks with an equal focus on balanced recipes and fresh ingredients and learning to tailor each drink to the imbiber’s tastes. Later, she joined the Booty's Street Food team, exploring international ingredients to surprise and intrigue the palate. She was then offered a bar management position at Apolline, where she directed a bar program based on excellent service and elegant libations, served up beside some of Magazine Street's best reviewed food in an intimate, fine dining atmosphere. Still craving the boisterous character of a “downtown,” she sought out SoBou, and her adventures in the French Quarter truly began. She has come to roost at this quirky, modern Creole saloon, exploring and experimenting in an environment that fosters sophisticated yet unpretentious creativity.
With a literary backbone and a flare for the culinary, what Laura loves to do, above all else, is create; and this applies to every aspect of life - from cocktails, to poems, to menus, to new relationships, to a surprising and memorable guest experience.
Why did you become a bartender?
I had been working part-time as a server and bartender while I was in college, because it was a perfect foil to the intensely internal world of writing, literature, and publishing. After I graduated I just couldn't stop. I was addicted to the lively, social aspects of the job even before I got into the intensely crafty stuff.
What made you want to work at SoBou?
I always loved the vibe and the "Creole Saloon" aspect of SoBou, as well as the quirky food. The space is beautiful and it was the first place I ever witnessed bartenders carving ice. Before SoBou, I had been running a program at Apolline that I adored, but I was the only bartender on, and I made the move to SoBou for the chance to be inspired and motivated by working with other creative people (a bigger bar with more bartenders on per shift). I never imagined I would also get to work with amazing chefs, and delve into their wealth of culinary knowledge.
What are some fun flavors you’re working with?
Through Tales of The Cocktail, when I get to be more crazy, I was working with Greek yogurt and cucumber in a Ramos Gin Fizz variation called the Stamos Gin fizz, and an amazing smoked rhubarb syrup. On the menu we have all kinds of savory flavors, from Thai chili sauce, to curry-infused caramel, to furikake seasoning. I tend to gravitate towards gin as a base spirit in the summer heat.
What are some of the unique spirits and ingredients you’re playing with?
I love spicy rye whiskeys, like Redemption, and working smoke into cocktails in unexpected ways. I get to use all kinds of fun ingredients from the kitchen - from grilled peaches, to balsamic vinegar, to pepper jelly, to Cheerios. Last year I made a cocout-chicory horchata for Tales of the Toddy. Lately I've been messing with Macchu Pisco, St. Georges Green Chile Vodka, Novo Fogo Tanager, Bols Natural Yoghurt Liqueur, Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum, and Cynar. Everything by Art in the Age.
What are you doing different from the norm in your beverages?
I like to play to the savory side of cocktails whenever possible. I experiment constantly with infusions. I am in the kitchen a lot, making apricot jam and all kinds of quick shrubs. I love taking very intense spirits, like Chartreuse and Fernet, and using them in dasher bottles like bitters, to spice up a buck or a martini.
What do you feel is the next hot trend in mixology?
I think pisco is going to get even more popular, and I think that bartenders are going to start working with vodka more instead of shunning that category altogether. Kitschy garnishes are trendy. The tiki tradition of serving drinks in hollowed out fruit will probably transition into something cool for the fall.
What’s in the mixing glass or shaker for your customers?
We do a pretty even split between simple, beautiful classics, and bizarre, playful originals. We do a great Sazerac called the Taylor Bird that is half rye and half cognac, but one of my favorite classic revivals is the Arsenic and Old Lace, which is a Gin, Absinthe, Cocchi, and crème de violet martini. The Parakeet Nordine – gin, pamlemousse rose, Chartreuse, tiki bitters, and lime – is the crowd favorite by far.
What are you sipping on and why?
I am usually sipping a Negroni, because they are perfect for all occasions. Fino Sherry sours are incredible. The B-Line at Kingfish. The espresso at El Libre. The Daquirovka at Doris. In the dead heat of summer, the frozen French 75 at Superior Seafood. The So Phocking Good at Victory Bar. Sour beers at Avenue Pub.
What are you dancing to while tending bar?
A lot of New Orleans brass and blues at SoBou… The live jazz at our burlesque brunches puts us all in a swanky, sauntery little mood.
What are some quirks and quotes you are known for?
I feel like I'm widely regarded as a goofball.
What is the proper technique for making boozy popsicles?
Using cream and fresh fruit puree gives them body and makes them hold their forms. I’ve had the most success with peaches and cream and mango lassi flavors. Avoid too much sugar or too much alcohol.
Where do you get the inspiration for the cocktails you create?
I get a lot of my cocktail inspiration from culinary combinations, and what's fresh in the kitchen. I subscribe to a lot of cooking magazines. It also helps to be dating an incredible bartender – we bounce ideas off each other all the time. Sometimes we play a cocktail version of Chopped with whatever we find in peoples’ fridges.
Tell us about your book club promotion. It sounds like something we’d like!
I think as writers it is so inspiring when we have a chance to come together and talk. Literature seems to get lost in the shuffle of everyday life, trying to fit in socializing, working, staying healthy, having fun and keeping up with the general chaos of living in New Orleans. We stare at our phone screens all the time, easily excuse reading a novel or poem away with, "I don't have time for that..." This is why I think the literary roundtable is important; it gives us writers and readers that little kick in the pants to keep learning and discussing and processing and appreciating the beauty of the written word, all over cocktails!
I do the boozy book club every third Thursday at SoBou, and I try to create a beverage based around each piece we read. That's where the Sidecar Named Desire came from. I announce the book on my Twitter and Instagram (Happyg0laura). It's free, it starts at 6:00, and we all just hang out and talk about the piece. The sample cocktails always loosen everyone up and it's a great time
What’s your take on beer in the bar industry?
I think beer will always have a place in craft bars because it is a refreshing break from the complexity of the cocktail world. At SoBou we have beer taps featuring local brews on the tables in our beer garden, so you can literally pour your own while ordering cocktails from the bar. Plus, there are so many amazing small and local breweries, the beer world is literally exploding with styles and flavors. They're so complex and interesting that it just adds another exciting layer to a balanced bar list.
As for putting beer in cocktails, I favor shandies and fruit-infused beer for that. We have a drink called the Bergamonty Python that's Earl Grey tequila with campari and Steigl (an Austrian grapefruit radler).