Cheers to a cocktail class
WHEN I picture a chef's kitchen garden, I think of neatly planted rows of leafy greens; a productive patch to be envious of, especially considering I have no green thumb whatsoever.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find something altogether different during my tour of the QT Gold Coast's rooftop garden with Group Executive Chef Justin Zammit.
Lining the edges of a sprawling outdoor space next to the QT's conference rooms, this garden looks a bit wild.
But it's that way by design.
Companion planting helps dozens of plants ranging from herbs such as Thai basil, rosemary and lemongrass to nasturtium and edible flowers to thrive with minimal upkeep in the salty sea air.
Justin fills a large metal bowl with clippings, some of which will form fresh salads for that night's dinner at the QT's famous Bazaar Marketplace Restaurant.
I do my best to sample as many of Bazaar's dishes as possible, with a good helping of the freshly picked salad of course, and I am treated to a custom-made sour berry cocktail from the resident bartender. I really thought I'd stump him by saying I liked berries and cinnamon, but somehow he pulls off the flavour combination.
It's a preview of what I learn the next afternoon at my mixology class at the QT's Stingray Lounge, where making cocktails is an art for Ami St Claire.
The general manager of the Stingray Lounge, who has returned home to Queensland after working behind the bar and competing in cocktail completions in the UK, Ami also loves using the QT's rooftop garden's fresh herbs and fruits to create beautifully complex concoctions.
After a welcome drink is made - I choose a classic martini - Ami takes me through a quick history of cocktails.
As she shows me in my hour-long lesson, there's much more to a great cocktail than alcohol, mixer and a splash of cordial.
Any impressive drink, she tells me, needs a sweet element, a sour or bitter element, a herbaceous element and, of course, the alcohol.
Herbs aren't something I'd ever considered when making cocktails at home.
The only bitter elements I've ever encountered were Angostura Bitters and the generic sour mix you can buy at the bottle-o.
Like an alchemist riffling through her bottles, Ami has amassed a collection of dozens of bitters and European liqueurs such as Luxardo.
But she's also not afraid to incorporate things such as sorbets and even sherbet, that fizzy sugar from your childhood.
She walks me through her Cambodian Cooler, which pairs gin with lime, basil, sugar syrup and pineapple juice.
It's zesty and refreshing, the perfect summer drink, and the basil adds another dimension to the flavour profile.
We then turn our attention to the espresso martini, which is so popular with Australians there are rumours it was invented here (others say it's a London invention).
Ami lets me jazz it up and I pick chilli and chocolate.
She uses a chocolate liqueur, which isn't that surprising, but the chilli element comes from "hellfire” bitters made from the Habanero shrub.
Ami then adds a final flourish, producing a blow torch from under the counter to set fire to a cinnamon stick.
She then fastens the smouldering stick to the edge of the glass and the aroma of cinnamon perfumes every sip.
I won't look at my herb pots the same way again; cheers to that.
The writer was a guest of the QT Gold Coast.