Interview with Chef Duggan McDonnell of Frisson - San Francisco

October, 2005

Amy Tarr: What drew you to restaurants and in particular, to mixology?
Duggan McDonnell: I was poor and wanted to eat! I took a job as an elevator operator at Space Needle in Seattle because I knew they’d feed me on the job! As far as mixology goes, the love for beverage has always been there. I try to make it go away, but it doesn’t. It’s sort of a neurosis more than a passion sometimes!

AT: Who’s your mixology mentor?
DMD: Paul Brown – he’s a lifetime bartender at Wild Ginger in Seattle. He encouraged the development of my mixology and beverage palate. He’s an old-school guy who knew how to put different components together.

AT: What are some current trends you’ve seen in the cocktail market?
DMD: I don’t follow trends.

AT: What goes into creating a new cocktail? How long does it take to create a new cocktail?
DMD: You have to approach making a new cocktail with an open mind; make lists of what works and what doesn’t as you experiment. Sometimes inspiration comes in a moment, and you work everything out in your head. Sometimes it takes weeks of trial and error, weeks of mixing and shaking.

AT: Tell about your fascination with essential oils in your cocktails.
DMD: I got interested in them for healing and aromatherapy, like most people. Then I discovered that you can use them in cocktails. It allows you to create very focused, intense flavors in a cocktail. This may just be a phase. I’m open to that. I treat my bar like a kitchen. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work to it. My guests really love the unique flavors and experiences I give them.

AT: What is your favorite cocktail to make? To drink?
DMD:To make, the Sidecar. It’s a classic cocktail that also appeals to the contemporary palate. You can use all different kinds of brandies, with or without a sugared rim. You can serve it up or on the rocks. To drink, currently the mojito is the sexiest drink on the planet. You get a couple mojitos in people, and they just want to get it on. It’s an aphrodisiac.

AT: Where do you see yourself in five years?
DMD: A variety of entrepreneurial experiences. Restaurant ownership, beverage consultation, cocktail book writing – these are all extensions of what I’m doing now. I’m also in the writing program and USF – my emphasis is fiction.

AT: Anything else you’d like to add?
DMD: The great American cocktail is always being reinvented. Drinking is a great art. So is the art of creating new cocktails, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.