The Art of the Cocktail with Pietro Collina
Perfection requires a mixture of practice, patience, and dedication – even then, it’s rare. But you know it when you see it when you feel it, or in the case of renowned mixologist Pietro Collina, when you taste it.
“Most of my ideas for cocktails are usually conversations that I have with chefs, sommeliers, or bar people and it’s just one small idea or ingredient that sets off a stream of inspiration,” says Collina, who was recently named as one of the top mixologists of 2016.
Born in Rome, Italy, Collina would hop back-and-forth between Europe and the United States growing up. Infatuated with cooking, he attended the Culinary Institute of America hoping to one day become a world-class chef, but fate would have none of that.
“Growing up in an Italian household I was always surrounded by food,” Collina says, adding that it was his initial drive to attend the Culinary Institute of America. “But my last two years [at school], I got really into wine.”
Hungry to learn more about the wine he attained a position at Eleven Madison Park, a 3-star Michelin restaurant in New York, after graduating and quickly became a certified sommelier. He rose through the ranks and became heavily involved in the beverage program, expanding his knowledge far beyond wine.
“It was kind of all-encompassing,” he remembers. “It wasn’t just about the wine. It was about the wine, the beer, the cider, the sake, the cocktails and everything … we spent a lot of time doing the entire circumference of beverage.”
The final push to get him behind the bar was simple.
“Every time I looked over at the bar, they always looked like they were having fun,” recalls Collina. “Going into a 3-Michelin star experience, it can be stuffy and a lot of people can be nervous when they walk in. A bar is a place that you can be comfortable.”
He decided to combine everything he had learned from the culinary side into his new venture, quizzing famed chefs on what flavors they thought would pair well. He had an advantage and was able to use his experience in both worlds to create his own, unique style.
“I got to take two of my worlds and fuse them to fulfill what my dream was,” he says.
After a 6-month hiatus doing charity work in Kenya and Southeast Asia he was called back to help open up The NoMad. He agreed with one condition.
“I just want to be a bartender,” Collina told them. “After my traveling through South Asia and Africa I just started studying cocktails. In all my free time I was just reading about the history of cocktails.”
He had no official experience. But had done plenty of homework frequenting many of the best bars in NYC, drinking, and becoming “an educated consumer.” He also recalls his days at Madison Park forcing him to compete with some of the best in the world, only making him better.
“You had this really beautiful collection of people who are interested in learning more and progressing,” he says. “It’s not about your day-to-day tasks. Before our shift started at 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock or whatever, we’d be there from noon studying together, every day, helping each other out as we tried to pursue our passion.”
Now, most nights, he can be found at The NoMad managing the bar, ensuring perfection among a skilled crew serving up more than hundreds of cocktails each evening.
“We destroy it,” Collina says regarding a busy night. “These are complicated drinks. But we’ve found a way to maximize how to make the drinks most efficiently … it’s actually pretty incredible.”
He says he’s always more than happy to hop behind the bar and whip something up for plenty of regulars that ask, specifically, for his deft touch.
When he’s not concocting elaborate cocktails to imbibe, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two French bulldogs. He has also recently become involved in another side of the industry as well, taking top honors in multiple competitions. Only 29-years old, he doesn’t let all of the success cloud his judgment or vision for the future. Instead, he remains humble, quick to credit an abundance of people for his rise through the ranks to become one of the best mixologists around.
“Everything I do, it’s never about awards,” he admits. “It’s always about progress. I get very bored if I’m not constantly trying to achieve something or make something better … That’s what continues to motivate me.”
The NoMad Bar
10 W 28th St,
New York, NY 1000
Written by Blake Pinto
Photographs by Raymond Patrick