Candy Cap Magic

Geist - - Features - Jo­ce­lyn Kuang

One evening I went for drinks at the Fair­mont Pa­cific Rim in Van­cou­ver with a few friends. The restau­rant in the ho­tel, Botanist, had opened a few months ear­lier. The din­ing room was full so we sat in the Cham­pagne Lounge, the wait­ing area. Ev­ery­thing in the lounge—chairs, cush­ions and cur­tains draped over the walls—was a light pink colour.

One of my friends used to work at Botanist and in­sisted we try two cock­tails called What the Flower and Candy Cap Magic. She said “the qual­ity of prod­uct was ex­cel­lent.” “Prod­uct” mean­ing food and drinks. She told us restau­rants in ho­tels of­fer com­pli­men­tary food and drink as a way to make up for any slip-ups, or when a guest knows the staff. The ho­tels make money so it’s not a prob­lem for the restau­rants to do so; a few friends had told me that restau­rants in ho­tels tend to break even.

My friend who has worked at both fine-din­ing es­tab­lish­ments in ho­tels and in stand-alone restau­rants said the staff at the lat­ter want to meet the needs of the guests be­fore there are any slip-ups that re­sult in com­pli­men­tary food and drink. “There isn’t a drive to meet and ex­ceed the ex­pec­ta­tions of the guests,” she said about her job at the ho­tel restau­rant. My friend said she left the ho­tel restau­rant to go back to work­ing in a stand-alone restau­rant. An out­sider like my­self wouldn’t and didn’t no­tice a lack of drive at ei­ther kind of restau­rant; they both pro­vide ex­cel­lent ser­vice and “prod­uct.”

The friend sit­ting next to me told us one of his VIP guests once wanted chop­sticks to use for his meal and there were no chop­sticks avail­able or around at the restau­rant, so my friend had to ar­range for chop­sticks to be brought over from an­other restau­rant nearby.

Our waiter, dressed head to toe in black, walked over with our cock­tails, two glasses of What the Flower and a third, gin-based cocktail in a siz­able glass, and placed them on cloth coast­ers. Shortly af­ter­wards, he came back with a glass lan­tern about a foot tall. He cupped the bot­tom with one hand and held the han­dle at the top with the other. As he low­ered the drink onto the ta­ble, fog from dry ice seeped out from the bot­tom of the glass lan­tern.

The lan­tern took up most of our tiny ta­ble. In­side, the Candy Cap Magic cocktail sat on a bed of dirt and moss that didn’t look real. The waiter reached for the latch and opened the lan­tern, and more fog oozed out. The

waiter said some­thing about the mush­rooms in the cocktail be­ing hard to find and some­thing about in­fused rye.

My friend lifted the glass, sniffed and sipped the drink, then passed it to the next per­son. Across from me my friends sniffed and sipped. They ex­changed words and glances and passed the drink to me. I mim­icked the drink­ing pro­to­col they had es­tab­lished: sniff, sip, pass.

When we had all had a sip, the waiter was still talk­ing about the drink. I didn’t have the slight­est clue what he’d said. A glance around the ta­ble showed none of my friends were lis­ten­ing ei­ther. I looked at him and nod­ded my head to show I heard him talk­ing. He car­ried on telling us about the dirt, moss and fog be­ing part of re-cre­at­ing the en­vi­ron­ment where the mush­rooms could be found. Af­ter a cou­ple min­utes he com­pleted his ex­pla­na­tion of the drink, nod­ded his head slightly, said “En­joy,” and left.

“The flavour lingers for a while,” said a friend.

“You can re­ally taste the maple,” said an­other friend.

“The prod­uct is ex­cel­lent,” said the friend who used to work there, and told us this was one of three “ex­pe­ri­en­tial cock­tails” from the menu.

Where was the mush­room?

I went to the bath­room as we got ready to leave. When I re­turned, the friend who used to work at Botanist, and who knew the head chef, told me she’d paid for our bill and we were get­ting com­pli­men­tary food. So we sat back down and or­dered an­other round of drinks.

When the food ar­rived, one of the waiters said he would bring over cut­lery. A few min­utes later, a wait­ress walked by and asked if we needed cut­lery, and we said some­one told us they were bring­ing it over. Af­ter a few more min­utes, we de­cided to eat with our hands.

The waiter who had promised us cut­lery came over to check in on us. My friend teased him about the cut­lery, or rather the lack of cut­lery. We fin­ished our drinks and re­quested the bill. The waiter told us not to worry, we didn’t get cut­lery so the last round was on them.

A week went by and I still had “ex­pe­ri­en­tial cocktail” on my mind: was this an in­dus­try term? Was there a whole genre of “ex­pe­ri­en­tial cock­tails?” What made an “ex­pe­ri­en­tial cocktail” an “ex­pe­ri­en­tial cocktail”?

An “ex­pe­ri­en­tial cocktail” is one that is based on ex­pe­ri­ence—from cre­ation to con­sump­tion, the pre­sen­ta­tion, the story—it all con­trib­utes to the drinker’s ex­pe­ri­ence of the cocktail. There is no check­list for what an “ex­pe­ri­en­tial cocktail” is, other than: does it pro­vide an ex­pe­ri­ence?

I asked a few friends who work at restau­rants whether they had heard this term be­fore, and they said they hadn’t. One who worked in a fine-din­ing restau­rant told me they had sim­i­lar ex­trav­a­gant cock­tails that take twenty min­utes to make, but she had not heard of “ex­pe­ri­en­tial cock­tails.” She told me the staff had to de­scribe their menu to guests as a “jour­ney” and say things like “Our menu takes you on a jour­ney through the Cana­dian Rock­ies. It tells a story of West­ern Canada,” and so on.

I found out more on­line about Candy Cap Magic: on the menu it fell in a cat­e­gory called “From the Cocktail Lab” and cost $28. A photo on the web­site showed the cocktail in the glass lan­tern with a branch, moss and a clus­ter of white mush­rooms.

About a week later, I was once again hav­ing drinks with one of the friends who had shared the “ex­pe­ri­en­tial cocktail.” I men­tioned that it was odd the waiter went on and on about the mush­rooms in Candy Cap Magic but that I hadn’t been able to taste any mush­rooms. He gave me a con­fused look, “Candy cap is the mush­room,” he said. “It’s sup­posed to taste like maple.” Jo­ce­lyn Kuang is the op­er­a­tions man­ager at Geist. She lives in Van­cou­ver.

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