Interview with Chef Jim Romdall of Vessel - Seattle

March, 2009

Heather Sperling: How did you get into mixology? What was your first job in the industry?
Jim Romdall: I was a cook at Godfather’s Pizza when I was 16 for $5.05 an hour and free pizza! I did the college bar thing for over three years. Then I moved to LA and jumped into the fine dining scene for another three years. Down there I became the bar manager at Granita in Malibu. Two years ago I didn't really know anything about cocktails. When I moved back to Seattle I dove into the cocktail world at Vessel, and I haven’t looked back… It instantly became a passion.

HS: What is your favorite mixology resource?
JR: The Gentleman’s Companion by Charles H. Baker. No other book captures the stories surrounding the cocktails so well.

HS: What is your favorite tool?
JR: My twisted steel WMF bar spoon, I just can’t use others anymore.

HS: What is your favorite cocktail to drink and to make?
JR: It changes day by day! Right now, I’d say I like to drink a nice simple Old Fashioned. As for making, it’s usually whatever is new and on my mind, but I always like taking the time to make people a proper Ramos Gin Fizz.

HS: What ingredient or spirit do you feel is underappreciated or underutilized?
JR: Rye! Although it’s making a big comeback, it’s still not where it should be—it should be a staple behind every bar. Rye can stand up to other sweet ingredients. And a rye Manhattan is always worlds better than a bourbon Manhattan.

HS: Do you have anyone you’d consider a mentor?
JR: Jamie Boudreau definitely taught me a lot of what I know about cocktails.

HS: Where will we find you in five years?
JR: I'll probably still be here in some respect. There's talk of another bar venture. A friend and I want to start a truffle farm. And that will be the agricultural base to build a distillery.

HS: What would you make?
JR: I'd like to make a few eclectic liquors. I want to make and market my own bitters. We make our own bitters and tinctures here, and I want to refine them and make a couple products. There are so many herbal, bitter liquors coming out of Italy. Most of what people are distilling here are vodka and gin because they're un-aged. I'd like to make a whiskey, but I'd really like to make some fun liquors that showcase Washington. I'd like to make a crabapple liquor that doesn't taste like a jolly rancher. We've been experimenting with onions...it's odd, but that's Washington! Apples and onions.

HS: What is your cocktail philosophy?
JR: I love flavors and I love new things. I did a lot of pairing at the restaurant. I love finding a new ingredient and using that in a cocktail…taking a flavor and bringing it out in a cocktail, while staying true to classic cocktails.

HS: What is the Seattle bartending scene like?
JR: Seattle's bartender scene has really exploded. We're really open. We have the state-run liquor obstacle—the state liquor control board is a challenge. One of the main obstacles is trying to get product. We really work together on that front. It's really nice to be part of such a tight-knit community.

HS: Is there a technique you’re especially excited about right now?
JR: We've been going carbonation crazy. We have two carbonated drinks on the menu right now.