We sat down with Christian “Suzu” Suzuki-Orellana to chat about his work, the matsuri, and his cocktail for Puttin’ on the Spritz, the Darkened Summer Moon!
S&S: What is your creative process typically like during recipe formulation?
SUZU: I try to re-create memories or flavors that I remember from past experiences. I have a journal that’s full of ideas and scribbles, but that’s followed up with lots of overthinking, frustration, tears, coffee breaks, distractions, re-inspiration, and then my final product. Overthinking is probably the biggest hurdle during my creative process.
S&S: Is there a technique or ingredient you’re currently fascinated with?
SUZU: Sesame has been so much fun to work with. I think most people would assume that sesame is limited to a syrup—but my interpretation of sesame ingredients has ranged from sesame brines to sesame oils and to sesame milks. It’s such a fascinating and diverse ingredient!
S&S: Your Darkened Summer Moon spritz is tailor-made for the season. What are some of your favorite spring- and summertime traditions and activities?
SUZU: If I were back in Japan, my favorite tradition and activity would be to participate in the Sanja Matsuri. This is a famous festival in the Asakusa district of Tokyo that lasts three days, honoring the the Sensoji Temple. This is Tokyo’s largest and wildest festival. The highlight of the festival is the carrying of the mikoshi, a portable shrine that’s carried throughout the district. There are taiko drums, dancing, lots of beer and sake—I’ve been lucky to be a part of this three different times.
S&S: Does the name Darkened Summer Moon have any particular meaning or resonance?
SUZU: Darkened Summer Moon to me means that it’s almost the end of a matsuri. There are thousands of summer festivals all throughout Japan but one thing they all have in common is probably the food and snacks served. One of the reasons why this cocktail uses crushed ice is because it somewhat resembles shaved ice or kakigori, which you would grab at the end of the night when it gets dark outside.
S&S: In your experience, how does the matsuri in Japan compare to summer fairs or similar events here in the US?
SUZU: Matsuri season in Japan is more of a seasonal and community lifestyle rather than a single event. There is so much going on all over the place and with each festival, there is a local community that supports it. One afternoon you can be participating in nagashi sōmen, a summer festival game where the point is to try to grab and eat as many sōmen noodles flowing down a bamboo slide. Maybe the next night you’ll be eating yakisoba and shaved ice underneath the fireworks by a nearby river.
S&S: Are there any food pairings that you’d recommend to go with the Darkened Summer Moon?
SUZU: Savory Japanese festival food! Yakisoba (noodle stir fry), okonomiyaki (savory pancake), takoyaki (fried octopus dough balls), and yakitori (skewered chicken).
S&S: Any other major Japanese cultural or culinary influences in your cocktail repertoire?
SUZU: Oh yeah! My grandmother owned a cocktail bar called Kagano Bar in Tokyo back in the 1950s and ’60s, which at that time was really rare for a woman in Japan to be in a bar, let alone owning one. She had to close the bar to focus on motherhood. My goal in life is to re-open the bar. I’ve been developing a menu of about 40 cocktails, all using Japanese ingredients and with a story referencing Japanese folklore or my childhood. I’m hoping to launch a series of pop-ups soon where I can showcase a few of those cocktails at a time.
S&S: Having grown up in the restaurant and bar business, are there any specific memories from your family’s cocktail bar that you still carry with you?
SUZU: From ages 11 to 18 my grandparents would fly me back to Tokyo to learn more about Japanese food, hospitality, service, and management. One of my favorite memories was my grandfather teaching me about sake and hospitality. We had this giant water heater where you would place a sake tokkuri (ceramic sake flask) in the hot water to heat it. It’s essentially an old school sous vide. My grandfather would train me to memorize everyone’s sake choice and temperature preference without any hesitation.
S&S: Do you have any advice for our subscribers on the components of a good spritz?
SUZU: Yes! There’s no wrong way of spritzing. I used heritage and memories to create mine—have fun with it!
S&S: What do you hope people’s reactions will be when they try your spritz?
SUZU: “Let’s go to Japan!”
S&S: What music would you say captures the feel of the Darkened Summer Moon?
SUZU: My Japanese summer anthems: “Natsu Matsuri” by Jitterin Jinn or Number Girl’s “Num Ami Dabutz.”
S&S: What are some more of your favorite ways to use St~Germain?
SUZU: I love using St~Germain with earthy and savory ingredients. This isn’t my first time using sesame to pair with St~Germain.
S&S: What’s the weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted?
SUZU: Ooof, I tried making a dirty martini variation using fresh uni. Maybe . . . one day, I’ll revisit that.
S&S: How about the best drink you’ve ever had?
SUZU: I think my first Scotch highball in Japan. It was the first time that made me understand the importance of texture in beverages—which is why I love a good spritz!