Vicia bar manager Phil Ingram talks no-waste cocktails
In a garden, a certain symbiosis can be found between particular herbs and flowers, fruits and vegetables. In other words, “if it grows together, it goes together.” At Vicia, a similar attitude has yielded a food and drink environment unlike any other in St. Louis. Bar manager Phil Ingram built a program on the smart application of fresh ingredients in cocktails that pair perfectly with chef Michael Gallina’s award-winning, vegetable-forward food. Both bar and kitchen share a hyperlocal, seasonal approach that champions eliminating waste.
“I take most of my cues from what the kitchen does, ideally,” Ingram said. “We try to be a no-waste bar, so a lot of what I do is taking byproducts from the kitchen.” Many of the herbs found in Vicia’s food – basil, parsley, rosemary and thyme – routinely find their way into Ingram’s drinks. Plant stems and roots are used to make infusions and syrups that form the base of unique drinks. If the kitchen makes a custard with egg yolks, Ingram will use the egg whites to add texture to cocktails. If they’re doing a yogurt dish, he’ll find a use for whey. Recent drinks have included a Minted Old-Fashioned with Four Roses bourbon, chocolate mint syrup and bitters, and an echinacea cocktail with Plymouth gin, Pineau des Charentes aperitif, Aperol, echinacea, marigold and elderflower.
Most of what Ingram uses comes from Vicia’s garden, where they grow an arresting variety of herbs and flowers. “Everything on the menu right now is stuff we grow on site, even the echinacea,” he said. “We have orange mint, strawberry mint, chocolate mint. We have a couple different types of basil. The fig tree is starting to get some nice leaves. I actually use those fig leaves because they have sort of a coconut flavor.” Along with those fig leaves, Ingram said that some of his favorite things to grow and use are marigolds and hyssop, a shrub with mild anise flavor.
Because Vicia is so tied to the seasons, the ebb and flow of what’s able to grow and when, some of Ingram’s greatest cocktails are one-offs. Describing the best drink he’s made at Vicia, Ingram laughed. “Unfortunately, it’s something that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to recreate.” It’s one of the few downsides of being so dependent on something that’s ultimately out of your control. “Two falls ago, we got in a really good batch of squash, with a lot of nuance to their flavor,” he recalled. “I came up with a rum cocktail using squash juice. It took me consistently working at it for three weeks before getting it nailed down.”
The squash cocktail is a good example of the places bartenders can go when they follow the paths laid out for them by nature. Ingram put it a bit differently, musing that his work is about “taking something that sounds kind of weird and making it work.”
Vicia, 4260 Forest Park Ave., St. Louis, 314.553.9239, viciarestaurant.com
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