Earlier this spring when Michael and I shared our fantastic experience at Palmetto Bluff on Map & Menu, we were floored when Todd Phillips, the outlet manager, sommelier, and the creator of the cocktails we raved about in this post, reached out to us! He kindly offered his expertise on cocktail creation or pairings if we ever needed any advice. Of course, this got us thinking about beginning a Q&A series with all of the inspiring people with whom we’ve connected since beginning Map & Menu. We’re thrilled to introduce this new series for the blog with Todd Phillips, the very person who prompted the idea for such a feature.
Describe what you do.
First and foremost, my job is all about guest service. Everything we do, from creating cocktails, our wine dinner series, food and wine pairings, talking with guests in the dining room is centered on making the moment for our guests. Creating specialty cocktails is one outlet that allows us to make that moment.
How did you get into your career?
When I was a child, my parents would have wine with dinner. I was always curious as to what it was and why it was always drank with dinner. When I was in college, I worked in restaurants putting myself through music school. I had several mentors along the way that were sommeliers and the thought that food and wine are symbiotic eventually became a mantra for me. When I was 23 I became the manager of a 4 Diamond restaurant and bar. One of my responsibilities was to maintain the bar menu. I was tired of seeing the same cocktails or variations of them in restaurants. I wanted to approach cocktails from the same stand point a chef would approach creating a dish.
What do you like the most about working at Palmetto Bluff?
The most fulfilling part of my job is the guests. Working at such a prestigious property is incredible in itself, but it really boils down to that moment when a guest shakes your hand and thanks you for making their day. That’s when I know that it’s not just dinner and that we create memories that they will tell their friends about for years.
Do you have any basic tips or pointers for creating new cocktails?
The most important thing is to have fun and not over think things. Sometimes the simplest things are the best. A simple way to start is to go to the juice isle of a grocery store. See what flavor combinations are the latest in the juice world. Raspberry-Lemonade, Green Tea and Pomegranate? Vodka is the easiest liquor to start with, since it has a very mild taste. Get a bottle of Vodka, fresh raspberries, and some fresh lemons. Try muddling up the raspberries with some lemons and sugar. Add some vodka and top with soda water. To go a step further, try to think of herbs or spices that could work. Maybe add some mint to the muddling process.
What guidelines do you follow when thinking about drink & food pairings?
Some classic ideas on pairings are if it grows together, it goes together. Take shellfish and Albariño from Spain. Albariño grows near the northeast coast of Spain and goes great with shellfish. Another great idea is to think of weight before flavors. If it is a heavy meal, get a more full bodied wine and vice versa. Once you have the weight matched up, start to match up the flavors.
How do the seasons and seasonal availabilities play into your cocktail creations?
I try to use local ingredients, so the seasons definitely dictate what we are using. Also, as we move into the warmer seasons, we tend to add lighter, more refreshing cocktails. In the winter, we switch to warmer drinks and more Bourbon driven drinks that warm you up. One of my favorites in the winter is a Lexington Avenue Latte. Either on the stove or with an espresso wand, heat Chai Tea Concentrate with Condensed milk (easy on the milk). Add a Rye Whiskey like Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon. We serve it on cool nights at our food & wine festival, Music to Your Mouth, in November. Warms the body and soul.
Where are your favorite places to eat and/or drink in the area?
Hands down, my favorite is Leoci’s in Savannah. Chef Leoci uses ultra fresh local ingredients and all his pasta and charcuterie are made in house. You can tell that there is a lot of love that goes into his food
If you could go, eat, drink, or stay anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I love humble/low key places. I think Spain would be my place of choice, probably in the Mencia region. Some of the best food in the world is coming out of Spain and there is so much wine in Spain that is up and coming.
Thank you, Todd, for not only taking the time to share a bit about yourself, but also for inspiring us to begin this series. Our time at Palmetto Bluff was certainly made up of the ‘moments’ you speak of – memories that will stay with us for a very long time – and we still to this day, rave about the cocktails we had while staying there!