When Casa Gangotena’s bar launched a new signature cocktail menu at the beginning of September, the challenge was not just to come up with a pleasing range of drinks, but to create a complete concept that was both perfectly aligned with the hotel’s philosophy and that would push the boundaries of Ecuadorian cocktail-making.
For this, Jossimar Lujan was enlisted, a Peruvian from the historic city of Arequipa who has been elbow deep in the art, science and magic of cocktails since he was 15 years old.
Working in conjunction with Elizabeth Arévalo and Cristian Moscoso, members of the cocktail team, Jossimar began to work around the idea that the new menu had to be 100 percent Ecuadorian, take into account the restaurant’s concept of Cocina Mestiza and infuse regional products with cutting edge techniques.
He named the final result ‘Homenaje’, the Spanish word for ‘homage’.
“I decided on ‘Homenaje’ because my professional career as a creator of restaurant concepts really started here, and this was one of my first concepts. So it’s ‘Homenaje’ for personal reasons. And it coincides with the concept of the hotel, and of the restaurant menu. It’s an homage to Ecuadorian ingredients,” he explains.
One of the key ingredients particularly honoured in the concept is caña, the Ecuadorian version of aguardiente that is drunk at traditional festivities, and which has unfairly fallen out of fashion among Ecuadorians in favour of international spirits like gin and vodka.
“We are the first bar to make premium cocktails with caña,” he says. “We really want to promote caña. It’s a really good national product. As a foreigner, I say that Ecuadorians should be proud. It’s a mega product.”
In order to create a truly Ecuadorian menu, Jossimar scoured the country for unusual ingredients and iconic flavours.
“I had to investigate a lot for this concept, and go to a lot of markets. Truly, the markets are where everything happens. I’d go and talk to all the people, getting to know local chefs,” he says.
On his travels he discovered tangerines from Patate and pears from Tungurahua, raspberries and two entirely different kinds of blackberries, which all feature on the menu.
Furthermore, the bar team has undertaken to create all of their ingredients (aside from the alcohols) from scratch, from the syrups and reductions, to a clarification of serrano ham and melon, boiled together and filtered for 48 hours.
“Everything is 100 percent natural and homemade. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it to have these unique products,” he says.
The overall effect is complex journey through the flavours, ingredients and traditions of Ecuador, brought up to date with the latest techniques, and a fair amount of industrial-looking toys, including a smoke machine, giant balls of ice, and a specially designed perfume dispenser.
“People come here to have an experience, not to drink 10 cocktails,” says Jossimar. “The idea is to drink what you want, but come and enjoy the experience of our menu. It’s like an entire dish in one drink.”
Jossimar talks us through some of the options, and the concepts behind them.
“The flower is given an aroma that hits you before you take a sip. Like alchemy, it is the perfect balance of liquids.”
“This cocktail is served in a cup moulded to look like a lion, which we had especially made for this drink. It was inspired by the lions depicted on the outside of Casa Gangotena, which are known as its “guardians”. It is based on pineapple-infused rum and contains a clarification of serrano ham and melon.”