Interview: Mattia Verduci, bar manager

Mattia Verduci grew up just outside of Milan under the white caps of Monte Rosa. He’s been coming to work summer seasons in Ibiza for five years, the last three of which have been spent working at El Chiringuito where he started out as a waiter and worked his way up to become an innovative and passionate bar manager. In this role he has delved deep into the ever-expanding world of bespoke liquor and mixology. Here we take a deep sip of what makes Mattia tick.

How did you evolve into a cocktail expert?

Last year I started to make some changes to the El Chiringuito cocktail list. I started to work with high quality local and seasonal produce to match the philosophy of the kitchen. I created new cocktails specifically for the menu, which fitted with the food we were serving. Every year things become more refined and as I gave the cocktails more attention, I realised I loved it.

How did you develop the cocktail menu?

First we divided the list into three parts – classics, El Chiringuito Specials and mini cocktails – they’re not very alcoholic but really flavoursome, like a liquid dessert. We make sure all the fresh produce used in the bar is seasonal and locally sourced wherever possible, just like the kitchen. We always use top shelf alcohol – always the very best we can find so the flavours we are presenting are deep, complex, never sharp or cheaply produced. We started to take notice of all the small details from the ice we use to the shakers. All the purees are made in-house and they’re cooked – not just thrown into a blender but cooked down to an essence. We also always have a cocktail of the day, something that reflects the season and the island. For example at the moment we have an orange ginger mojito that is super fresh and summery.

Has this experience inspired you to learn more about the industry?

I’m doing a Masters in Barcelona to become a qualified sommelier. Once a week I go there to attend classes then come back to work. I love it. I’m just about to start the second and final year. I’ve learned so much there. I’ve met so many people in the profession who have helped me gain more knowledge. It’s really opened my mind and made my work even more interesting than it already was. I’m very satisfied.

What do you think about pairing cocktails with dishes in the same way as wine?

It’s under the same roof – matching food with wine has been happening for hundreds of years and now matching food with cocktails is something new and exciting. Our menu is Mediterranean, so you can match a drink to the dishes without it having to be wine – though it depends on the client of course. I can say our margarita goes really well with the octopus and the English Spritz is perfect with any of our salads or lighter dishes. We love to prepare a menu matched with drinks. Anyone can ask us to do it and it would be a delight. Pairing is something I am studying a lot at the moment – how flavours meld between food and drink, how they can complement each other.

What trends are you seeing in the cocktail world?

There are all these small distilleries creating limited runs of top quality liquors. Their seasons are short but the results are excellent. People are starting to understand that a cocktail must be made well. We’re seeing it come through in mixers as well. The flavour of the mixer is just as important as the quality of the liquor. Tonic water is a good example, it’s so important. Gin is Spain’s most consumed liquor and when you have good tonic water, the classic Gin and Tonic is totally transformed. We use Jerry Thomas bitters, which is made in Germany. It’s really fragrant, with lots of citrus, and it transforms the drink. People are starting to take more notice of these details and seek out small producers of quality.

What are some of the most popular cocktails on the list?

The English Spritz is a favourite. It’s a mix between and English and Italian spritz topped with cava and fruit; it’s really pretty and even more enjoyable to drink. The classics of course are always popular: Piña Colada, Bloody Mary… Our Wine Cobbler is also delicious – it’s made with quinoa vodka and verdejo. And of course we’re really well known for our Coconut and Chili Mojito. I love coming up with new cocktails all the time. Recently I was surprised at how popular a Mexican carrot and orange tequila was.

What do you love most about working at El Chiringuito?

The team. Behind the bars we have eight people to cover cocktails, the main bar and then the juice bar. We prepare a lot of juices, made fresh to order every day. I’ve got a great team. In my first year as bar manager I tried my best to be a leader for them, to create good relationships. It’s easy here because if you have the passion and the ideas Olivia [Fleury, El Chiringuito owner] will help you. She loves it when people help her to grow the business and she’s really supportive. Everyone here is into the details. That’s what makes El Chiringuito so good.

If you could go anywhere in the world today, to any bar, where would you go?

For purely professional reasons? I would go to Dubai and see what they are doing there. And I would go to Artesian in London – they’ve been the winner of best bar award for four years. I’d love to go check it out, see their style and ambience. But honestly, I wouldn’t change El Chiringuito for anything. I loved the energy here from the very first day, the style they have and the lifestyle in Ibiza. It really suits me; it’s where I feel most free.