Renowned mixologist Orson Salicetti began his career in the food industry working in both the front and back of his mother’s restaurant in Caracas, Venezuela. After moving to New York City to continue in the restaurant business, he began to seriously consider focusing on cocktails after working as a bartender at several establishments, including the Betsy Ross Hotel in South Beach and Apothéke in New York City. Now, after years as an accomplished bartender, Orson is known for cocktails that stimulate the senses, create emotions, and are memorable. With the opening of Lumos earlier this spring, Orson became not only the first baijiu bartender in New York City, but impressively, in the United States. In this episode of LUCKYINSIDER, we delve into the mind of this shining star in mixology:
LUCKYRICE: Lumos will be New York City’s first cocktail bar devoted to baijiu – why focus on this traditional Chinese spirit?
Orson Salicetti: Baijiu is the world’s most consumed liquor. I am constantly researching and anticipating the next “trendy” thing and most bars that I have developed have unique concepts. Lumos specializes in baijiu and presents it in a modern way that showcases not only the liquor itself, but also Chinese history and culture. The vision behind the bar is a passion for spirits and to do something unique and special using baijiu, as it has never been used before to make cocktails.
LUCKYRICE: What differentiates the aromas of baijiu from its Asian counterparts, sake and soju?
Orson: Baijiu is a high-proof spirit whereas sake, shochu and soju are not. Japanese shochu (25%), Korean soju (20-45%) have a mild aroma more akin to vodka. Baijiu has a stronger fragrance that can range from a floral smell to a saucy, more savory smell.
LUCKYRICE: Baijiu definitely has an acquired taste but there are so many variations and price points – how does it stack up to, say, whiskies, which Western palates are much more accustomed to?
Orson: Baijiu is made in 5 steps: preparation of ingredients, preparation of Qu (similar to the mashing of whisky), saccharinfication, fermentation, destination and aging. Baijiu is aged in huge ceramic jars while whiskey is aged in barrels and gets the barrels’ flavor and color. Loow grades of Baijiu are inexpensive but higher grades, which are often aged for many years, can be very heavy on the wallet.
LUCKYRICE: For newbies that have never had baijiu, what’s the best way for them to get introduced?
Orson: There are a few Baijius created to introduce Western palates to this liquor. For example, HKB (43% ABV) has a soft aroma and is a great place to start. At Lumos, we have more 40 different Baijius infused with natural flavors.
LUCKYRICE: What’s one cocktail on the menu guests can’t leave without trying?
Orson: My personal favorite is our Sesame Colada, made with baijiu, mangosteen, white sesame paste, and caramelized pineapple.