Interview with Mixologist John Kinder of mk – Chicago, IL

May 19

Heather Sperling: What drew you to restaurants and in particular, to mixology?
John Kinder: When I was in the public relations industry, I read Dale DeGroff and Gary Regan’s books and I thought: “that’s it.” I want to take care of people and create and do service. I’m proud to say that I bartend professionally. That’s how it was before prohibition. And it’s really coming back.

HS: What style of mixology do you practice? Do you use any specific or unusual techniques?
JK: At MK we like using classic and contemporary tasting techniques together, in savory, pastry, and at the bar. We have sous vide apparatus right next to a hardwood grill, and we have fun with that combination.

HS: Where would you most like to go for culinary travel?
JK: I’d go to France by way of London. They’re doing a lot of cool stuff from what I’ve seen with a very thoughtful approach to food and drink. When prohibition hit, all the top bartenders went to London.

HS: Do you have any thoughts on the pairing of cocktails with food?
JK: What I like about cocktails with food is that you can tweak a little bit here and there, whether it’s body, acid or sweetness. It’s very malleable.

HS: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
JK: Rosewater, vanilla, and lavender. During winter I did a clove grapefruit sour. I’m also currently smoking blood oranges – we’re smoking a lot of things in house.

HS: What is your favorite drink to make?
JK: I like making these Pear Fumes. I like the tincture thing at the end that a lot of people aren’t used to. I like when people give me questionable looks when I’m making a drink.

HS: What is your favorite drink to drink?
JK: I like a dry Manhattan with orange bitters, but I mostly drink French farmhouse ale when I go out.

HS: What is your philosophy on mixology?
JK: I take recent and classic drinks and update them with fresh and seasonal components. I also use savory tools in the bar setting.

HS: What are some current trends you’ve seen in the cocktail market? How have trends changed?
JK: I see a lot of molecular mixology going on. I’ve been working with agar-agar to make chestnut syrup with dark rum in the shape of a sphere. I use rooibos red tea with cinnamon and cloves to make hot toddies. The tea liquefies the chestnut-rum sphere and it becomes very thick and warming. I see a lot of watermelon, mint, and passion fruit. Mojitos are dying down, and I see a lot more champagne stuff. I’m using wine in a cocktail on my current list.

HS: What goes into creating a new cocktail? How long does it take to create a new cocktail?
JK: I have most of my basic recipes down, and I adjust them as I see fit. The menu changes on a weekly basis, or every few weeks.

HS: What inspires you when creating a new drink?
JK: Usually inspirations come in the form of the farmers’ market in summer, cocktail books, and recipes that guests send me. One customer sent me pictures of a drink from China to make on his return.

HS: What organizations do you belong to?
JK: I’m historian for the Illinois chapter of the US Bartenders Guild.

\HS: What languages do you speak?
JK: A little Italian and a bit of Thai.

HS: What would you be doing if you weren’t a mixologist?
JK: I’d be a cheese maker in France. I do have a cheese drink in mind – I want to pickle French hazelnuts and use the pickling juice in a cocktail to pair with cheese.

HS: Which person in history would you most like to go for drinks with?
JK: I’d go with Thomas Jefferson. He was a Renaissance man of the time, and a totally fascinating person.

HS: What is your long term goal?
JK: To own my own place that serves bar and food while spending enough time with family and friends. I want to live and work overseas. I think we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves with mixology because there are hundreds of classic cocktails that we’re ignoring. I want to work overseas and learn the classics. I think there’s more out there to learn before I make my statement.