Seen either behind the bar or the martini trolley, our guest today is a man of action. In his white coat, Alessandro Palazzi will be sure to awe you with his surgical precision and nerves of steel.
He knows what he is doing and he’s been doing it for a very long time. There is no one who can make “martini-making” look as cool as Alessandro does at his home at Dukes Bar. He is a classic and the perfect guest for the launch of Season 4 of Lush Life.
To try your hand at making the Dukes Classic Martini! You can find the recipe here!
Who’s on tap next:
In the forthcoming episode, we explore one very Australian negroni and the man behind it! He’s taking the classic and reinventing it down under.
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How to Make a Classic Martini
“You can be classic and be modern!”
Alessandro and I began discussing how things had changed since the last time we spoke. Four years is a long time and, of course, things never remain the same. Ten years ago, Alessandro said he would have had no idea what a customer meant if they asked for a vegan cocktail. Now, especially with his daughter being vegan, he is sure to have the answer.
Sacred Spirits who makes the vermouth that goes into every Dukes Bar Classic Martini has always been vegan. Now, he can tell his vegan customers with confidence that they don’t need to worry. Dukes has the perfect cocktail for them.
Also, some guests have raised the issue that because the cocktails are classic, they can’t be modern at the same time. Alessandro puts these fears to rest. The ambience of Dukes Bar may be classic, with the bartenders’ white jackets, ties and short haircuts, but Dukes is always striving to be one step ahead.
An example is the revival of the classic Negroni. Originally there were only three ingredients: campari, gin and vermouth. Now, it can be made with mezcal, peated whisky, or even smoked.
Recently at a dinner on Islay, Scotland, Alessandro was presented with a bowl of chips (french fries) that were flavored with smoked peat. He pleaded with the owner to tell him the secret ingredient. Reluctantly, he spilled the beans! Now Alessandro uses it in his Negroni Torbato: a combination of Sacred Gin, Cynar, Aperol, a slice of Orange…and a spritz of peat-scented spray!
“Always remember the place you’re working”
Remaining relevant has also meant being open to trying new products, like a new gin from Kenya or India. People might think that gin is always from London, but Alessandro use gins from as far as Columbia, Germany, and even America all the time.
I asked Alessandro if he ever changes the ingredients of the Dukes Classic Martini. He explained that he always does. Sacred Vermouth, which was created for Dukes Bar, and Amalfi Lemons are a must, but the gin can be different depending on taste.
Still, there is a protocol when selecting any new product, whether it’s from Russia or the moon. First the team tries it. Once it is approved, then Alessandro asks loyal customers to let him “play with their liver.” Without showing them the bottle, he makes the classic gin martini substituting the new gin for their favorite. If it’s thumbs up, then that gin becomes one of the group.
“Who am I to criticize someone who wants a dirty martini”
How does he feel about playing around with the classic recipe? Some bartenders feel it is sacred. In the olden days, Dukes always used the same gin, without fail. Alessandro likes to break the rules. He remembers working in Paris when someone asked for a Champagne Cocktail. The Head Bartender shooed them away, telling the customer that he did not “decorate” champagne. Alessandro piped in, telling him that was the way it was done in London. His boss was quick to answer, that if he didn’t like it, he could go back to London.
He also was fighting with his peers about only drinking a Negroni before lunch and dinner. As it is his favorite cocktail, he wanted it any time, not just when the rules allowed.
Even one of his bartenders can be quite sticky about this, adamant that a martini is only made with gin. Alessandro has to keep telling him to leave it and give people what they want. Alessandro will make a martini with white truffle, with bottarga, or with blue cheese filled olives. He’s even working with a women in France who makes a distillation of olives to use in his dirty martini.
What would you want to do next? “Carry on making drinks”
When we met, Alessandro had been just given the Lifetime Achievement Award by Class magazine. He was adamant that the award is for the entire Dukes Bar team.
Saying that, for the past 45 years, he has never stopped working and an award will not change anything. Don’t worry, he’ll be behind that bar for at least another ten years.
“I will stop learning when they put me in the box under the Earth.”
These days, he gets more and more pleasure from talking to young bartenders at bar shows, during cocktail weeks, at master classes and judging competitions. He finds joy in describing the beauty he finds in his job and the profession as a whole, hoping to instill the same passion he has had for all these years. It always shocks him when they say they don’t want to be behind the bar forever. For him, it’s a vocation. He wants to be able to make drinks, serve people, and be in hospitality forever.
He also learns so much from them, especially about new products and new techniques. Recently, he wanted an Old Fashioned, but without whiskey. The bartender rustled him up one made with rum and peppermint bitters, instead of angostura. It was a revelation.
In the end, he says bartenders just copy each other, we don’t invent anything, we recreate it!