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A tripod, a stool and a side hustle

Many years ago I was at the Contemporary Art Museum for an exhibition with a friend and as we perused he said to me, “the thing about a classic piece like the Venus de Milo is you can look at it and reduce the work down to a banal statement like ‘that's pretty’. Whereas when art becomes more abstract, the work needs to be studied and questioned since it cannot be reduced the same way an aesthetically pleasing peace can be.” Whether it was that evening or another, at some point my friend told me about his “tripod” for evaluating work. When looking at something you should ask yourself about its

  1. Craft: What is it made of? How is made? What is the quality of craftsmanship?

  2. Concept: Why is the artist making it? What are the questions they are asking? What is the idea, theme or theory?

  3. Context: What social circumstances did or might have influenced their work? Who else is making work similar? What are the historical or contemporary factors?

Dave’s tripod metaphor empowered me as a lay-person in a way I had not felt before. As an outsider looking in, art can be intimidating or hard to understand and therefore, easy to ignore or downplay. My favorite lost outsider example comes from my college accounting class in college, in which I got a C-. I remember one day my professor asking, “does anyone have any questions?” And my thought was, “I’m so lost I don’t even know what to ask and because I am so lost, I’m worried any question I ask could make me look like an idiot in front of my classmates.” So I stayed silent.

Dave’s tripod gave me a handful of grounded / intelligent questions to ask myself, a friend or gallery docent when attempting to better understand art. Too often subjects, settings and themes are made mysterious or complex rather than given any attempt to make it more approachable. Keeping the art metaphor going, “is the blurb for this painting written to make the curator and artist look smart or to be accessible to the patron?" Research shows when an email is written at a third-grave-level, people are more likely to respond to it. I dare say this might translate to other fields where we want people to engage. This isn’t about taking away from what is being done but instead about musing, if someone tried could they engage with this art/craft or is it solely for trained professionals? I love the line from the book Front of the House that says, “guests will suffer in silence”. This quote is about restaurants but I believe applies to nearly every field.

I opened with the tripod story to tell you about another three-legged metaphor and this one is for cocktails. It comes from the renowned NYC bar Death & Co, which says there are three elements to consider when it comes to cocktails

  1. Core: the primary flavor component of a drink. The core can be one ingredient or many. For example, in an old-fashioned the core is whiskey while in a gin martini it is both gin and vermouth

  2. Balance: While the core is the heart, each cocktail is balanced by ingredients that enhance the drinkability of the core by adding sweetness (a liqueur, sugar or fortified wine), acidity (often citrus) or both.

  3. Seasoning: Ingredients that complement or contrast the core, adding intrigue and dimension (e.g. bitters, a garnish)

Over the past decade I have acquired both book and applied cocktail knowledge. It is my intent to use these three elements along with a few recipes and hands on experience to make this craft more accessible for others. This is my way of announcing the launch of The Manhattan Cocktail Project. Its primary objective is to provide #CocktailConfidence to you, the imbiber. So much energy and resources are poured into (pun intended) the industry these days but it largely centers around ingredients, recipes, accessories and presentation of the beverage. I conceived of this program on my own but have leverage numerous friends, family and industry workers.

Cocktail confidence is about having a metaphorical compass in the field, which helps you navigate this fast-growing and delicious world. While the journey is just beginning, you can keep up with developments on my website or follow me on Instagram @manhattancocktailproj.

Would you like to help out? I am planning to do soft launch classes in late August and early September, which I’m predicting will last about two hours, imparting you with a few recipe fundamentals, help you discover the elements you prefer more and how to better taste a drink. Finally, it will give you the chance to work on some basic drink-building techniques. I expect full price classes to run somewhere in the $60-$70 range but would like to offer it to early adopters for $25.

My website will eventually have the ability to take reservations but right now is bare bones. If you’re interested, contact me at

To bold cocktails and new beginnings.

“The only reason for food and drink is to have better conversation”

Chef Francis Mallman

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