Should Food And Drink Preparers Sample What They’re About To Serve You?

don’t know about you, but, personally, I like a chef who tastes my food—and I’m not super-particular about whether he uses his finger or one of the sanitary spoons in his pocket. Of course, I’m a professional diner and, worse, a former cook. Long ago, I lost all semblance of personal boundaries.

Barman Phil Brady

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Still, it caught my eye when I sat at the hearth-warmed bar of Zak Pelaccio’s Fish & Game in Hudson, New York, and watched as his delightful beverage manager, Kat Dunn, concocted my bespoke drink. Of all the medicine bottles, tinctures, and atomizers at her fingertips, nothing intrigued me more than her lab-issue pipette. Pipettes, as everyone remembers from college chemistry, were those thin glass straws that you used to snake down the mouths of test tubes. When you pop your finger over the top of the pipette, you create a vacuum that prevents the liquid from running out of its tapered bottom. At Kat’s bar, her 10-inch pipette stood with its tapered end in rinsing liquid. Frequently, she’d pop the pipette into a partially made cocktail, then tip her head back and pour a barrel-load of the drink onto her tongue. Invariably, upon tasting, Kat would flap her hands as she considered her next step—and then she’d turn to ascend the library ladder to hunt for some ornately labeled, 19th-century elixir hidden away on the top shelf.

Recently, I sat at the bar of the newest iteration of Polpettina in Larchmont and I watched as the mesmerizingly inked barman, Phil Brady, sampled the drinks he made. Instead of Kat’s pipette, Brady was using disposable straws, but the principle was the same: No drink escaped Brady’s hands without a dutiful, yet inconspicuous, sip. It’s no wonder Brady was being careful—cocktails are a new venture for Polpettina; its original Eastchester location was restricted to selling only beer and wine. Polpettina’s cocktail list is still evolving (thanks to not one, but two, consultants) and it’s actually quite ambitious; cocktails at Polpettina involved monolithic, hand-chiseled ice cubes, and aromatic sprays discharged in the general vicinity of drinkers. On the night that I visited, Brady was serving gin-quince Old-Fashioneds (gin, quince, Angostura bitters) and a Hemingway Daiquiri (white rum, grapefruit, lime, maraschino liqueur). Clearly, too many drops in either direction could spell disaster. Yet the drinks all hit laser-perfect points on the flavor spectrum—leaving me perfectly content to share my drinks with my friendly neighborhood barman.    

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