Needing money to pay for art school, Jason Kosmas found work at The Old Bay in New Brunswick, NJ. At the time considered the largest “small blues house” on the North East Coast, the Old Bay served up Cajun cuisine with Creole cocktails. "I was hired originally as a bar back. The bartenders were mostly grad students working their way through college. They would have me make all the drinks so they could study.”
Jason quickly became a bartender just as the vodka scene broke open. The martini was on the rise, and Jason became more and more an enthusiast of the cocktail. Realizing that mixology was lost in a college town, Jason followed his passion for drink-making to Manhattan in 1998. He was first hired at the famed Tavern on the Green in Central Park where he disciplined himself in the subtle art of classic mixology. He next moved on to work at one of New York's most innovative cocktail bars, Pravda located on the edge of Soho. The trendy cocktail lounge was the perfect compliment for Jason's classic approach toward mixology. He combined traditional technique with exotic ingredients to shape a new path in cocktail making.
In October of 1999 he received 1st Place in the Independent Cocktail Awards sponsored by Food and Wine Magazine. After two years in the trenches, he was promoted to Bar Manager at Pravda. Jason molded his position to that of a "cocktail chef." He researched ingredients that were previously foreign to the bar and incorporated them into Pravda's cocktail menu. In July of 2001 Pravda was recognized by Timeout as the "Best Martini Bar" in New York City. Even while Jason managed Pravda, he still worked regularly behind the bar.
"I enjoy mixing cocktails. It is ever changing and exciting. You must keep your finger on the pulse to stay ahead of what's going on.” After 3½ years, Jason retired from managing to form Cocktail Conceptions, a beverage consulting company that has worked with restaurants such as Schiller’s Liquor Bar and companies such as Absolute Vodka.
In late 2004, Jason became principle bartender and co-owner of Employees Only, a retro-classic speakeasy in the West Village specializing in deftly mixed cocktails with old-school flair.
Interview with Chef Jason Kosmas of Employees Only - New York, NY
CYD KLEIN: Cocktail creation is a fairly modern concept, but just as fashion changes with the times, so do preferences for cocktails. What are some current trends you’ve seen in the cocktail market?
JASON KOSMAS: Actually, the first cocktail book was printed over 120 years ago, but it is true that what people drink has evolved over time. I think what we are witnessing today is a return to the classic method of cocktail creation. Bars and restaurants are abandoning the sour-mix mentality; squeezing their own fresh juices, using better quality ingredients, and paying attention to the care that goes into mixing. This coincides with the Martini-craze that we have seen for the last 10 years or so. I have recently seen some great cocktails made with gin and Champagne appearing on menus.
CK: What goes into creating a new cocktail? How long does it take you to create a new cocktail?
JK: Creating a cocktail frequently begins with a discovery of a new ingredient. It could be a new spirit or a seasonal item that I want to play and experiment with. After tasting this key ingredient I usually have a good idea of how to mix with it and what proportions to use. Although, sometimes it does happen that the drink needs to be tweaked here and there.
CK: What makes a great aphrodisiac cocktail?
JK: A Champagne Cocktail paired with strawberries would have to be the most sensual aphrodisiac I could think of. I once was commissioned to make a variation of such a drink for Perrier-Jouet. The cocktail consisted only of a strawberry that had been dipped in caramelized sugar accented with lemon zest and vanilla beans. When you drop the strawberry into the champagne, the sugar coating dissolves imparting a subtle hint of flavor.
CK: Are you ever inspired by old recipes for new drinks?
JK: All the time. There is a wealth of beautiful cocktails out there that are delicious, balanced and sophisticated. I like to play with variations of these drinks (such as the Calvados Sidecar) and relate them to today’s drinker.
CK: How did you get into mixology?
JK: When I was in college, I worked as a barback at a Louisianan/Cajun restaurant. They had all kinds of southern style cocktails such as Hurricanes, Swamp Waters and Mint Juleps. The service bar was hidden from public view. Most of the bartenders were grad-students and needed to study, so they taught me how to mix all these drinks allowing them time to cram for exams. I was fascinated by the countless possibilities available to me.
CK: Do you think absinthe should be legalized in the US? Why?
JK: I would love to see absinthe back in the US market. I have tried real absinthe alone and in cocktails and it is quite different than Pernod or Richard.
CK: What would you consider the classic cocktail?
JK: I would have to say the Sazarac, which was created around 1860 by Amédée Peychaud. He invented his own brand of bitters and added them to cognac in a glass seasoned with absinthe.