Samui Wining & Dining
All Mixed Up

Joseph Boroski takes cocktails to a whole new level at the Red Snapper Restaurant & Bar.


3Joseph Boroski is not a bartender. But he does spend his time mixing cocktails. Not just the usual cocktails you’ll find in every recipe book and behind every bar, but scintillating new creations, often subtle, sometimes outrageous. He is to cocktails what Heston Blumenthal is to food. He’s the guru of the mixologists’ world and has become an international celebrity, travelling everywhere to seek out exotic fruits and herbs, experimenting and refining his art. And he’s often called upon to pass on his secrets, stopping off all over the globe, in his role as ‘mixultant’, to train and enlighten his protégées.


Joseph has visited Samui on numerous occasions, leaving his distinctive mixes at some of the island’s top venues. And one of these is the very relaxed Red Snapper Bar & Grill in the central part of Chaweng Beach Road, where you’ll be able to enjoy a menu of his creations. He’s an intriguing man, his influence is enormous and we were keen to find out more about him.


RDW: Where were you born?

JB: In Connecticut, New England, America.


RDW: You’ve made an international name for yourself, how did this all begin?

JB: More or less by accident. While I was in my final year of high school, I took a job travelling around selling and delivering wines and spirits. At the time I wasn’t bothered about what I was selling; my boss let me drive around in his open-top sports car. That was the attraction!


RDW: So how did your interest in cocktails develop?

JB: Well, most of the time I was simply selling whisky and bourbon, but I found that I could sell more, particularly the less popular liquors like gin, say, or Cointreau, if I demonstrated how to mix simple cocktails. This got me interested in cocktails in general and it didn’t take long before I had learned to make quite a wide range. I worked my way through university with evening jobs as a bartender. One of these was in the cocktail lounge of a big hotel and that was where I began to experiment with ideas of my own.


RDW: But you’re a mixologist, not simply a cocktail-maker; what’s the difference?

JB: Actually the term ‘mixologist’ isn’t a modern thing at all. It first appeared in 1856 in a gentlemen’s magazine called Knickerbocker. Cocktails were rarely seen in those days and one writer got very excited about them. He tried to get the mood across by using convoluted language and instead of writing something like ‘bar-keeper’ or even ‘mixer of tipples’ he came out with ‘a mixologist of tipulars’. And for a very long period of time the terms ‘mixologist’ and ‘cocktail barman’ were interchangeable and meant the same thing. It was even applied to ordinary bartenders.


RDW: So what does a mixologist do different to an ordinary cocktail bar-tender?

JB: A cocktail bar-tender works from clearly-defined recipes and usually only ever gets to make 30 or maybe 40 of these. Now and then, you’ll come across a guy who’s more involved and makes up a couple of his own. But a mixologist is like an artist and every picture he paints is on a blank canvas and of a different subject, with every one being original and new. A mixologist is forever looking out for new and different ingredients; mostly fruit, but sometimes infusions of herbs and spices, too, such as peppermint, aniseed, cloves or even chilies. I usually use essential oils as they are far more consistent. These are concentrated and need to be added in very precise amounts, using a test tube and pipette. When you see a mixologist at work it usually draws a bit of a crowd as he’s surrounded by scientific equipment, works precisely and takes his time


RDW: What sort of fruits or herbs do you like to use?

JB: I’ve used lots of different things, including roast or ground seeds; papaya seeds have a distinctive flavour, more so than the fruit itself. I like the more extreme flavours, such as durian, for instance, but that’s so invasive that it has to be used carefully. I find that it’s better to use crushed dried durian because of this. Rambutan is a favourite because of its sweetness. And ginger, galangal, lemon-grass and ginseng have very defined flavours. I use all sorts of Chinese herbs and pharmacy stuff that don’t even have English names. I have to taste and smell each one and visualise what liquors it will blend with, and then go and experiment with them. I play around with common local ingredients that people have likely never used in a similar way; an Indonesian leaf called pohpohan, basil seeds, grilled watermelon or fresh aloe leaf. I also use some common ingredients that aren’t usually found behind the bar: green bell-peppers, dates, even lollipops and a few types of store-bought candies. Most of the time I use things that people don’t even think of putting in a drink.


RDW: Is this what brought you to Asia?

JB: Yes, indeed. The region is crammed with weird fruits, herbs and spices which you don’t get to see in America. I’ve been to India and the Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. But I kept coming back to Thailand, Bangkok in particular, because I like it so much; it’s just so intense! I’m now based in Bangkok and have an apartment there. I visit Samui a lot because it’s entirely the opposite and after a while in the ‘Big Mango’ I need to unwind.


RDW: Can you give me some examples that are typical of your cocktails?

JB: How about ‘BB-Me’? It’s made with vodka, cranberry and orange marmalade mixed with crushed ice, specked with cranberry gelée and finished with a carbon dioxide rosemary fog. Or maybe Kim Jong-Il? This is ‘detonatable’! Korean rice souju infused with ginseng and with orange liqueur and lemon juice. My cocktails are undoubtedly a part of me. And I want every single person that tries one of my creations to feel that.


RDW: Finally, how seriously do you take the job of training others to follow in your footsteps?

JB: I do this job because I love it with a passion. And that translates into the training I do. Because what’s the point if the person behind the bar making your cocktail doesn’t put any love into it? What’s the point if those shaking the shaker do it half-heartedly? There’s no point at all if it doesn’t get delivered properly, and that’s my mission in life.


Rob De Wet


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