I had the opportunity to interview Grey Goose Global Brand Ambassador Joe McCanta about a few topics in the world of food and drink at the recent Taste By Appointment event (you can read my recap here) at Saint Crispin in Melbourne. He’s a knowledgeable guy with a lot of global experience in the world of food and drink and I was keen to hear what he had to say.
What do you love most about your job? What exactly is it that a “global brand ambassador” does?
The thing I love most love about my job is being able to travel the world and explore different tastes and trends from different cultures.
What I do day to day tends to vary, but it’s usually involves training bartenders on how Grey Goose is made, helping create new drinks for the brand, leading drinks service at special events, and of course – answering media interviews!
You’ve been to some of the best bars and restaurants around the world. What are a few of your favourites and why?
I always look for bars that are both innovative for their creative drinks choices and renowned for putting their guests first. Some of my favourite bars are; the Artesian at The Langham Hotel in London; White Lyan (also in London); and some classic bars like Schumann’s in Munich or Broken Shaker in Miami.
When it comes to dining, I look for restaurants that respect the quality of the ingredients they use. Some of my favourites include Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Mugaritz in Spain and Dabbous in London.
You’ve made drinks for a lot of celebrities over the years. Do you have a memorable tale to share?
Too many to share, but a couple stand outs: as I’m a jazz musician, the fact that I was able to create a bespoke cocktail for Tony Bennett was pretty amazing.
I recently met Angelina Jolie at the Oscars. I was asked to make a series of drinks representing the film season and Angelina spent a significant amount of time talking to me about these cocktails. She wanted to know everything – the ingredients I used, the flavour combination, and the inspiration behind them. It was a memorable chat.
Craft beer has really taken off around the world in recent years, and I’ve noticed that restaurants around the world have started to take their beer lists, and beer/food matching seriously.
While many restaurants have impressive spirit collections, the matching of spirits and food is not something that I’ve seen too often. Why do you think this is? Do you see this changing?
There is a huge opportunity for beautifully crafted spirits to hold a place on the menu – I’m seeing this happening more and more, particularly with simple dishes such as a cheese, or a plate of oysters. Spirits and cocktails give us an entirely different colour palette to play with and, in the case of our naturally flavoured vodkas, they can be beautiful served neat and paired with food.
The trick is, cocktail/spirit food pairing needs to be done in the right way. There are so many more elements to consider, so it’s important to have an in-depth understanding of taste and flavour.
Craft spirits have been taking off in recent years, with relative newcomers like Sipsmith Gin and Koniks Tail Vodka really making a name for themselves. What do you think this trend means for traditional high-end brands like Grey Goose?
I can only speak for Grey Goose, but I actually think it’s a great thing for us. These newcomers – small-batch, boutique spirits – have shone a spotlight on elements such as the origin of the ingredients and the distillation process. There is a knock-on effect within the category – everyone has started to care about how their spirits are crafted.
Grey Goose has always operated with a craft mindset – we continue to source all of our ingredients, and our Maitre de Chai (the creator of Grey Goose), Francois Thibault, still tastes every single batch that is produced.
You’ve spent some time exploring flavour with scientists at the University of Reading. Can you tell me more?
Yes of course, Grey Goose has always been passionate about taste and we jumped at the chance when we had the opportunity to partner with the University of Reading’s Taste Institute.
Together we developed a series of experiments to research and ultimately help people understand how they taste and what influences how they taste.
We looked at the senses and how aroma, sound and sight all work to affect taste.
What’s your current “go-to” cocktail?
It really depends on the time of day and the occasion.
For a first drink of the evening I like to start with a Grey Goose martini with a grapefruit twist.
However if it’s a bright summer afternoon and you are lounging around the pool, I’d opt for a French Negroni. This is simplicity at its best. It is also incredibly easy to prepare with Grey Goose L’Orange, Noilly Prat French Vermouth, and Amer Picon a French bitters.
In terms of occasions, we’ve also started to see a new trend emerging in Europe. At weddings Europeans are now enjoying our Grey Goose Le Fizz as a first drink on arrival instead of champagne, which I love.
If you could be eating and drinking anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
Oooh good question, I think I would have to choose the French Mediterranean, because of the simplicity of its ingredients and how the chef’s work with them in this part of the work is always awe-inspiring.