Welcome to Up and Comers, a look at New Orleans hottest up and coming bartenders. Earlier this month, Eater asked some of our city's top bartenders for their suggestions on the best young crop of mixologists in town. All Cocktail Week long, Eater will be spotlighting the best of the bunch. Up now, Tiki Tolteca's Maxton Kennedy.
Maxton Kennedy honed his chops as a server at fine dining staples including K-Pauls and Arnaud's before actually jumping behind the bar alongside his buddy Hadi Ktiri and Chris Hannah at the French 75 Bar. Now he's an ambassador for all things rum at Tiki Tolteca, where he dazzles clientele including fellow rumlord/Cane & Table's Nick Detrich who nominated him for the Up & Comers. He is one of the nicest guys around, which is one of many reasons why Tiki Tolteca continues to impress (they recently swept up Food & Wine's Best New Bar award, for, like, the entire nation).
What ingredients and flavors in cocktails are you obsessed with right now?
I have a pretty big love affair with rum right now. I think rum is gaining popularity very fast. It's recognized as the original American spirit, and there's just so many different kinds. I feel like i'm learning a new rum almost every single day. I'm also a really seasonal oriented person, so now I'm getting into more fall flavors like pumpkin and cinnamon. I really love the flavor of pomegranate. It requires so much work, but it's really rewarding to incorporate it into drinks. Also, more unique citrus flavors, guava and passionfruit. Stuff like that.
What cocktail books have influenced you the most?
Most recently, biggest influence in the past couple years has been Amy Stewart's The Drunken Botanist. It combines the two things that I love. I've always been into horticulture and when that book came out, I had to grab it, like, wow drinks and plants in the same book? I still pull it out every once in a while, or if I need inspiration. I've been reading Potions of the Caribbean. Between that and And A Bottle Of Rum by Wayne Curtis, I feel like they've been really influential. I'm really into history. I'm not so much about books of recipes, but that's why I really like those books. They're huge history lessons.
What do you see as the next trend in cocktails in New Orleans?
This could go for New Orleans and the rest of the country. A few years ago it seems like consumers and bartenders were obsessed with 'let's see how many ingredients and how complicated we can make this cocktail but still make it taste good.' But now, everyone is starting to bring it back to the basics. The quality of product we have to work with right now is so good. There's so many products on the market now that are so good, we should just let the product shine. Bartenders are kind of enablers. Our job is to let people have these tasty, delicious things, and if there's too much going on in the drink, it just kind of gets cloudy.
Best hangover remedy in three words?
Shot. Espresso. Pellegrino.