September 2010

Art of Deception

Lucas Paya crafts his spirited alchemy into a refreshing trope
by JOD KAFTAN /photograph by BARTHOLOMEW COOKE / portrait by ALEX HOERNER

Lucas Paya is inspired by traditions, which is ironic, considering his tendency to break ground in his beverage-science presentations. Take Valentine’s Day, for which he created a distinct romantic conceit—women enjoyed a rose-water cocktail with a fresh-cut flower and a chocolate, while men got a shot of Del Maguey Tobala mezcal. “For the lady, all sophistication—and for the guy, all roughness. I like to bring people closer.”

Paya, beverage director for José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup—which includes Bazaar at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills—clearly embraces the esoteric, relishing culinary processes like spherification (liquid transformed into a facsimile of a common spherical food—olive, grape or cherry, perhaps, with intensified flavors). And ever since his days at the renowned El Bulli, the Spanish native has been called a master of the “molecular.”

Flattering though it may be, the term molecular actually irks him. Rather, Paya says of the gastronomic endeavors of ThinkFood, “It’s really just creativity—a new way, defined by what you have available in the kitchen.”

His approach to cocktails is just as innovative. Paya’s drinks transcend their forms and taste as exquisite as they look. He enjoys deconstructing traditional libations and reformatting the ingredients—for instance, a mojito made with a cloud of grain sugar spun from a cotton-candy machine.

Fortunately for us, the mixologist was inspired to a little surrealism by some sherry and gold dust. The result is Spanish Golden Ale, made exclusively for LA and available through September at Bazaar.

Surreal? Well, for one thing, there’s no ale. “I wanted to fool around,” Paya says, “to make something that looked like a beer but wasn’t.” The trompe l’oeil factor aside, one sip reveals a complex mix of chocolate bitters, sherry, citrus and gin, leaving a nutty, bittersweet surprise on the palate. Think of it as yet another trophy in the year of the Spaniard, perfect companion to Pau Gasol and Spanish soccer.

1½ ounces Hidalgo Napoleon Amontillado sherry
½ ounce Martin Millers gin
2 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate bitters
2 pinches gold dust
3–4 ounces Fever-Tree tonic water
Lemon Air*

In a pint glass, combine sherry, gin, bitters and gold dust. Add ice, shake and strain into a 9-ounce chilled pilsner glass. Add tonic water, stir gently and top with Lemon Air.

*Lemon Air
Combine 1 cup filtered fresh lemon juice, 2 cups water and 3 grams Sucro in a hand blender. Mix until a froth is created. Scoop off the froth and use to top the Spanish Golden Ale—it adds aroma, texture and flavor to the “beer.”