At Robert et Fils, an intimate French restaurant in Chicago, the open kitchen morphs into the bar, in full view of diners in the 20 seats. Since beverage director David Mor stands behind the kitchen counter close to the sous chef and pastry chef, inspiration travels quickly.
That inspiration drives Mor’s zero-waste bar program.
“Bartenders and pastry chefs are closely aligned,” Mor said. “I’m a firm believer in repurposing ingredients from her side of the kitchen.”
This summer, Pastry Chef Cati Molnar created an apricot tart for the dessert menu and the bartender grabbed some of the discards for a seasonal cocktail. “I don’t use the most flavorful or beautiful part of the fruit; just the pit and the pulp attached to it,” he said. He combines that with lemon and lime husks macerated with sugar, rhum agricole and white vermouth for a cocktail he calls “Dangerous Liaison.” It’s based on Ti Punch, a drink served in the Caribbean.
Mor also crafts syrups from compressed pineapple cores, clementine peels and almost any imperfect fruit or vegetable that is on hand. To save time, he will freeze and vacuum seal the pieces to use later. Or preserve them in salt for a fermented result.
“It’s also wasteful for the restaurant if I spend too much time making each cocktail,” he said.
Mor also recycles scraps from the savory side of the tiny kitchen. He created the Envy Trip using gem lettuce left over from the restaurant’s Salade Verte. He blends the unwanted leaves with cane sugar, water and malic acid to create a syrup, then combines that with Lillet, sherry, a bitter liqueur called Suze, pastis and sparkling water.
Coffee cocktails are one of Mor’s favorites, he said, and he uses spent coffee grounds to infuse flavor into spirits and other liquids. Another summer drink on the menu is the Coffee Tonique—“like a gin and tonic but with Campari,” Mor said.
These chef-driven cocktails are complex, but Mor’s focus on zero waste and advance prep keeps the price down to $14 a drink. “French restaurants have a reputation for being pretentious and pricey, but our goal is to make the cocktails and the food accessible,” he said.
Robert et Fils’ beverage menu offers five cocktails and three non-alcoholic drinks each night. The spirit-free cocktails (don’t call them mocktails!) are just as complex and waste-conscious.
“I spend more time crafting these than the alcoholic drinks,” Mor said. The Gillian, for example, uses imperfect clementines that have been packed in salt to preserve and ferment them. They are then used to infuse flavor into a honey syrup, which is then mixed with dandelion root tea. The non-alcoholic cocktails sell for $10.
Now that summer is drawing to a close, Mor is experimenting with seasonal fall drinks. Kumquats, roasted squash and brown butter are some of the ingredients he’s borrowing from the food menu.
Robert et Fils also developed a robust cocktails-to-go program during the pandemic, and Mor plans to continue it with a slight change. “I’m planning a cocktail club subscription model, where customers get a monthly set of bottled cocktails to pick up,” he said.
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