Soap Bark Foamer Preparation from Austin's Roosevelt Room
Recipes with Cantaloupe and Corn from Paper Plane in San Jose

Many Tips from Nicholas Box of Acorn in Vancouver

Static1.squarespace-1The following missive comes from Nicholas Box of The Acorn restaurant in Vancouver.

This post has tons of information in it, so if you followed a link here you might have to scroll a bit to find the particular section where it's mentioned. 


"I run the bar at The Acorn restaurant in Vancouver - that is up until the great closure of many many businesses. We are a 44-seat  vegetarian restaurant focused on local ingredients. Now citrus isn't very local, but at least we can still order in organic. I'm a believer in getting organic when possible, especially if the plant matter that would otherwise touch pesticides/etc is to be ingested. 


Buying Juice Rather than Juicing In-House

We buy juice from a local juice company that cold presses.  We buy lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit from them - and the reason why is that I usually work 10 hour shifts on the bar already on top of admin, so adding the extra hour or so for juicing is not very ideal for my mental health, and the bar is only one person tending each dinner service.

We do get in whole fruits (same four) for other purposes. Here's a short list of what I make with them asides from garnish:

  • lemon cordial
  • lime oleo saccharum 
  • grapefruit oleo saccharum
  • tonic syrup
  • ginger syrup

Generally my approach is that we will use the zest/peels as necessary first, then juice the fruits and use that juice in a drink, then dehydrate the scraps, tips, seeds, husks, and any other component. I dehydrate everything because it can be stored in the cupboard for a week plus, so I don't need to use up the fresh scraps right away, thus cutting down on my prep time overall. I use a commercial dehydrator. 

The kitchen even gives me their lemon scraps from when they prep lemon wedges for dishes. Most days the lemon and lime are kept separate, and the rest mixed. My intention is to move from lemon cordial to a Four-Alive cordial and just mix them all and use as necessary - this is a decision based on lack of storage.


Lemon Cordial Recipe with Dehydrated Citrus

I've found that the lemon cordial makes a killer lemonade and is great in any cocktails that would call for lemon juice and sugar (swapping in cordial for sugar). [The lemonade is lemon juice plus this cordial plus water.] I was originally using Jeffrey Morgenthaler's recipe.

My go to recipe for cordial has so far been

  • 500g dehydrated citrus
  • 500g sugar 
  • 100mL fresh juice
  • 500mL water
  • Warm and stir until dissolved, rest to cool, then strain - keeping it a little bitter.

This is all a pretty new campaign for me...all this cordial business. But I'm liking the results a lot so far and know they'll get better with practice.


Lime Oleo Saccharum

As for lime zest, I find using a y-peeler with a very thin blade works just fine for me. I use that method to make an oleo saccharum, then dissolve with a strong black tea. It's certainly got a bitter edge, but remains the sweet component in a drink we had earlier this year: "Fascination Street: dry gin, lime oleo, black tea, lime juice, sparkling wine" made like a French 75.

Lime Oleo Saccharum recipe was by weight:

  • 1 part lime peels
  • 2 parts sugar
  • Muddle frequently til very wet.

Freeze Your Fruit Syrups

I have used the freezer for fruit based syrups many times. They work as long as you fully thaw them and shake em up well before use.


Score Your Citrus Before Dehydrating for Free Zest

Our brunch menu offers fresh OJ and grapefruit juice, and we use dehydrated half-wheels (or moons as I like to call em) as garnish. I usually steal a few channel knife passes of the skins before slicing up the moons, keeping those for house bitters or other syrups/cordials. Plus, the moons then have a little fun edge edge instead of just boring old smooth edges - everyone's seen that before. I'm into this flavouring or colouring idea, and will for sure try something out when work resumes.


Citrus Alternatives

As for other citrus substitutes, we've played around with a few things for sure:
- citric acid in a sparkling wine cocktail was fun, though I'd guess clarified citrus would give better flavour results
- Seabuckthorn is a local berry that has a punchy tartness, and made its way into a few drinks over the years, instead of citrus
- try a classic recipe with citrus juice that you wanna try more spirit forward? drop the citrus juice, use some zest while shaking it, or stir with an expressed twist in the glass instead, maybe a touch of citric acid solution as necessary.


Pineapple Pulp Fruit Leather

I cut the skin and core and fronds away, ran the fruit through a centrifugal juicer (juice used for whatever else), and collected the pulp (still very moist).

Mixed that with sugar in a 4:1 ratio. Spread the mix thinly (about 2-3mm or 1/8 inch?) over the dehydrator sheets.

Low and slow til the mix is dry to the touch.

Cut into desired shapes - I used a long spear (long and narrow triangle, like a pineapple frond) and garnish a drink (lay across top of glass).


Apple Pulp Infusion to Make Liqueur

Apple pulp recently found a use at homemade project. Sliced apple, cores discarded, ran through the masticating juicer and pulp collected.

I soaked the pulp with 90+ % abv spirit (vodka) and distilled water.

100g apple pulp
150g overproof
150g water

Rested in a mason jar for 25 days. Strained through a coffee filter.

I used it in a blended margarita instead of orange liqueur, with blanco tequila, agave syrup, fresh lime juice and lime was very tasty.

I think I could add some 'sugar' to the apple liquor and make it a lovely thing, but i'm still wrestling with which sweetener would be best. 


Beet Pulp to Flavor Chips and Salt/Sugar Garnish

Once we had a beet shrub in a cocktail at the restaurant. Beets were peeled and juiced (centrifugal) and the juice mixed with sugar, water, and vinegar.

I took the pulp, spread over sheets and dehydrated til bone dry, then crushed and blitzed (dry blender jar in the vitamix).

The powder was used to season kohlrabi chips - kohlrabi sliced via mandolin, rolled in simple syrup, dusted with beet pulp powder, and dehydrated. These were a fun snack-style garnish for the drink with the beet shrub.

I also used some beet pulp powder to blitz with sugar and a little salt to make a beet pixie dust. It's fun to rim a glass with or sprinkle on top of a sour.


Maraschino Cherry Syrup in a Rosy Dawn Cocktail

One of my favourite recipes to make for someone looking for a gin/fruity/not-too-sweet drink: Rosy Dawn, original by Charles H Baker Jr.

Gin, curacao, lime, and cherry. I've messed around with a few styles of serving this, and definitely my favourites have all be with cherry syrup off the preserved cherries (rather than cherry brandy or liqueur).

45mL dry gin
10mL curacao
20mL lime juice
8mL cherry syrup

Shaken and served in a Nick & Nora glass (cocktail glass). It is also great as a long drink with soda.


The Economics of Homemade Maraschino Cherries

I've been "canning" my own boozy cherries for a few years using the recipe in Jeffrey Morgenthaler's Bar Book.  I followed it to a T, only using local organic cherries. They're huge, sweet, and deep red to almost black. I believe they're "Lapin" cherries. I usually buy a crate (as much as I can carry) at the farmer's market in late August, early September, when the farmers tell me that it's for sure the last week they'll have any. It takes a good amount of time invested to pull this off but once again, as the restaurant focus is local and fresh, it fits with our brand.

The cherries barely fit in the pitter, and pitting them all takes about 90 min. I'll make about 15-20x litre jars. Proper canning technique is used to ensure shelf stability. The cherries still taste fresh even after sitting more than a year in jars.

Does it save money? I doubt it, once you add the cost of labour in. But the benefit of saying to the guest "I suggest you try the cherry, we can them here once a year" and seeing smiles all around...worth it.

The only flaw with the recipe (I expect because of the huge cherries I'm using) is there's always an excess of "syrup" at the end. The extra jus always finds a way into some drink on the menu that we run until the excess has been depleted.


Vegan Foamer and Aquafaba Instead of Egg Whites

There's a local company, Ms. Betters, that makes a vegan botanical foamer, as well as many types of bitters. They won't say what's in it, other than botanicals that are in fact vegan. A dropper worth in place of egg whites froths up real nice, has a smooth foam texture, but I find it lacks a little in body. And a bottle that's been open a while gives off an unusual smell, I find.

But the product is awesome and I'm beyond thrilled to use it at the Acorn. We get a lot of vegans dining with us, and as we typically always have a sour of sorts on the menu, it's so great to give them an option and let them know we've got them covered for every aspect of their night out.

In the past, I also used something called Versa Whip. It's a white powder, available through some specialty suppliers, and I believe originally introduced to the market as a substitute for egg in vegan meringue. A small pinch in the shaker made things pretty froth up nicely.


I really like using chickpea water, but it's just not a product we thought worth using full time at our restaurant. If the kitchen ever decides to use chickpeas on the food menu, that will likely change. Previously, we did get in cans of chickpeas in the bar, strain the beans off, give the beans to the kitchen and basically they were forced to use em. They don't like when we do this sort of thing, so we stopped.

I find it smells less intensely or off-putting than egg whites (pro), provides a smoother texture (pro), keeps well (pro), is cheap as chips (pro), and doesn't offend the health inspector (pro). I don't love either name, chickpea water or aquafaba. Garbanzo juice doesn't sound too good either. But it's what I use at home.

I like the pint size/500mL deli containers to store aquafaba as they stack double in the fridge shelf in my bar. And the volume fits nicely into a squeeze bottle for use on the bar. I think it keeps about 10 days, but we'd go through it within the week so it's never a problem. Excess can be frozen for later use (this is what I do at home). 

I bet if you're cooking dried beans you could put the hot liquid into jars for "canning," seal them off and properly store them indefinitely.

When it comes to foam, though, I must add that I find a good hard shake with fresh citrus generates a lot of froth on it's own. My biggest use of egg whites has been the texture it adds to drinks, as well as the drying effect. Those are difficult to replicate.


Use Less Egg Whites for Different Drinks

If it's a pisco sour, yes, 1 entire egg white please. There's little to no body otherwise.

A bourbon sour will usually do with just a bit less...about 20-25 mL.

The last "sour" I put on the menu was with just 15mL of egg whites.

As with every ingredient in the cocktails, measuring for accuracy is my preferred technique. If you're using fresh egg whites (cracked by you or your team) get them all into a steel bowl and use a pairing knife to "whisk" them to break up the globs. This helps it flow better when you (spoiler alert) put it into a squeeze bottle. Make sure that lid fits because the last thing you want is to blast a bunch of egg whites all over the bar area. Label the date on that bottle while you're at it. And keep it cold cold cold to preserve freshness. Use up your whites within the week.


Use Leftover Nut Pulp from Making Orgeat

Homemade orgeat is great. It's a nice way to get full flavour and maximum freshness. It's certainly a lot of time and effort though. But the good news is in doing it yourself, you're left with nut pulp by product. Throw that into muffins or granola and you'll see how much flavour and fibre is left.

And for professional use, we tried using it to crust some candied nuts (other mixed nuts) for a bar snack, and also in ice cream. Culinary uses a plenty!


A Story of Sustainable Syrup

When I started at the Acorn, chef came to me to suggest I utilize our little herb garden more. From then on it's been a "here's a weird thing that you might like" coming from the kitchen to the bar and we get thinking on what to do next. The reasoning is certainly backed by sustainability in growing our own, taking care of the garden, picking and processing ourselves. And that's grown even more into "how much can we dare to use out of one plant" whether it comes from our garden, local foragers and farmers, or anywhere else. And what can we do with what others would normally toss?

At Acorn, I once had a drink on the menu using basil-lime granita as the garnish. The Archer had tequila, mezcal, chartreuse, "cherry brandy", and basil-lime grantita. As the granita melted into the drink, it went from fruity and smokey to bright and herbaceous.

Using Morgenthaler's recipe for lime cordial we added in the basil stems and any less than desirable leaves - for sure any tiny ones, and also green yet starting to wilt or wither. The stems were the key. There's so much flavour in there.

So it's lime zest, lime juice, basil leaf and stem, sugar and water and a little citric acid in a blender and loosely strained into 500mL deli-cups to freeze. It's nice to leave some green fleck in, from the lime zest and basil. To use, gently scrape with a force to create slushy ice. Scoop as necessary.

The Archer

  • 33mL Altos reposado tequila
  • 13mL Koch espadin mezcal
  • 13mL house cherry brandy (liquid from brandied cherries)
  • 10mL Chartreuse (green)
  • 30mL lime juice
  • 10mL simple syrup.

Shaken with ice and strained over fresh ice in an old-fashioned glass. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of granita over top and garnish with a fresh basil leaf. I liked to put the leaf laying wide across the top of the glass, creating a little reveal process for the guest to enjoy all by themselves.


A Cocktail to Use Up Old Lime Juice

I have previously used old lime juice (past a day) to mix with agave syrup and a little water to use in a Margarita riff. Actually a riff on Tommy's Margarita. And then doubly riffed again.

My Cousin Tommy, Twice Removed

  • 35mL Altos reposado tequila
  • 15mL Los Siete Misterios Doba-Yej mezcal
  • 5mL Cynar
  • 20mL lime juice
  • 20mL diluted agave (1:1).

Shake and dump into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

We found that day old lime juice didn't hurt this drink at all and immediately switched from using fresh lime here to only the old stuff. As the rest of the program had more fresh lime to go around, this one used up all the leftover juice from each day. Then we mixed the agave with the old lime and freed up a bottle spot in the bar mise-en-place.


Using a Local Herb Garden, Using a Planting Service, Rotating Harvest

We own a few garden beds in the yard of a home that the owners of the restaurant also own. Lots of herbs, a few greens, and even lemon-cucumbers have been grown there. For the bar use, it's mostly mint, basil, hyssop, lemonbalm, and edible flowers. We plant in the spring and use the garden stuff until it stops growing.

It's the only fresh herb and garnish flowers that I bring in for bar use while the season allows it. And we're always looking at ways to get the most of it.

We work with a local team of talented gardeners called Victory Gardens to help us plant it each year, and the kitchen team at Acorn has a roster for who is to take care of it each week. I feel lucky that they do this for us. Luckily they enjoy when I make them drinks post shift.

Because the garden is only two blocks away, us bartenders are able to stop there on our way in and pick what we need for the day (or two) and revisit as frequently as we need.

Tip: Cilantro planted in close proximity to another leafy green or herb could influence some of its own flavour. Be warned! 


Working With Kitchen Scraps

  • I recently got them to save me the lemon seeds, butts, and pith when they make wedges, and those scraps go into house lemon cordial.
  • I saved the cherry pits when I made brandied cherries and the kitchen used em to make vinegar.
  • Once they made some hot sauce or something with espelette peppers, and I caught them in the middle of prep - asked them to save me seeds and membranes and I made our "fuego" (hot chili tincture) just from that. 250mL of seeds and membrane was enough to infuse the heck out of half a bottle of everclear (neutral spirit) and top up with equal parts filtered water. It's hot, and about 5 drops will spice up any drink. 

As long as chef and me are seeing each other during prep, there's no byproduct or scrap that doesn't get a chance at becoming something great.


Bitters in an Atomizer Makes them Go Further

I like to put Angostura bitters in an atomizer to get a nice spray on top of a pisco sour, for example. It cuts down on the amount of bitters we go through I really like the even coating over the whole thing, and the speed of not dotting and drawing.


Reusable Glass Straws

A while ago we invested in a dozen glass straws. It's more than enough for us. They're available by request only (not offered). Guests using glass straws are encouraged to hang on their straw if they get another drink that would require one. We have to hand wash them, using the brush they came with. We bought them at a local shop (The Soap Dispensary) that brings in all kinds of reusable things.


Refillable Bottles for Still and House-Carbonated Water

 Filtered water is not necessary given the beautiful water on tap here in Vancouver. We have glass bottles with flip-top closure for both still and sparkling. Some large cider bottles (Sea Cider) were cleaned after selling the cider.

We have a small carbonation unit that fits under the ice well. 
Cons - initial set-up fee is costly; not quite as bubbly as I'd like for cocktails/hiballs
Pros - reduces waste (no partial cans left unused), reduces costs (no more buying club soda), less shipping and packaging used.

At another job we had Vivreau. Quality was great, but I have no idea the costs. That bar recently took out the system, so I'm guessing costs outweighed benefits.

Ginger Syrup Recipe for Ginger Beer

We have house ginger syrup and tonic syrup. Both syrups are topped with carbonated water and typically get a splash of fresh lemon/lime. Both work great for cocktails too so it's fun to have them around.

Ginger: juice ginger, for each 1L ginger juice add 400g cane sugar, zest (microplane) and juice of one lime, 2x dried bird's eye chillies, and one 10cm cinnamon stick.

Warm and stir til sugar is dissolved. Cool, then strain through fine mesh. Use about 30mL for a long drink.


House Tonic Recipe for Tonic Water 

This one's a bit of a process because as of this spring we started using dehydrated citrus scraps. They're collected and used as necessary, resulting in a syrup that is created by taste, not specifically a recipe. Here's a rough idea though.

Combine all in a pot: 1 stick lemongrass (ours comes from a farm an hour away), 1L loosely packed...dehydrated citrus scraps - grapefruit, lemon, lime - not so much the orange. Husks from hand juicing work great, and butts/pith/seed from wedges, also trim from twists.

Add, 500mL water, 3g salt (ours is from Vancouver Island), 5g dry cinchona bark, 5g citric acid, 300g organic cane sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Let cool, then strain through fine mesh. Use about 15mL for a short drink.


Added Benefit to Working with Local Farms/Providers 

Our restaurant certainly thrives on supporting our local community. As for the bar, we are proud to offer many BC products across our liquor, wine, and beer. For produce, whatever we can get locally is what we like to focus on. Even the salt comes from Vancouver Island. We do order in fresh juice from a neighbourhood juice shop. I have yet to talk with them about their scraps, but it's on the list as we all are looking to other ways to keep productive during this time.There's a small amount of "scraps" that we use within Acorn, but it's more kitchen related. For example, they work closely with a farm in Pemberton that provides us with a lot of root veg and heartier produce like melons, squash, and kale. This farm started to deliver us some whole plants (roots, stems, leaves, and flowers) as available, by request of our kitchen. They have been playing around with using every part of the plant for some time now. Having connection to a farmer who is willing to drop off the whole plant after harvest has been a great asset.


Building Relationships with Local Purveyors

Show up on site. Smile. Remember their names. It's like building relationships with regulars. Get to know and remember details like what their partners do, how old their kids are, where they lived last. A gift card goes a long way, or showing up with the end product (sample) of what you made with their supplies. Don't demand discounts, but do offer them a deal for their staff at your venue.


Reusing and Refillable Containers

(Returning bottles to distilleries and breweries for refills) is a bit tricky with the BC health regulations. One of our local brewers will collect the empties from his accounts, wash, sanitize, and refill. He'll even use reuse cardboard boxes in suitable condition. I admire the effort to reduce use of packaging. Unfortunately most suppliers are unable to because of strict health regulations which also include inspections and could fine or suspend production if something is out of line.

When it comes to cleaning products, we are able to get many things from The Soap Dispensary, a neighbourhood shop that sells a lot of bottles, brushes, bags, etc that are all reusable, and refills (packaging free) of cleaning supplies (table and surface sanitizer, hand soap, dish soap, etc). Glass straws, nut milk bags, glass jars and bottles of many shapes, sizes, and colours, and brushes to clean everything, as well as plastic containers/bottles to keep cleaning product in, or spray bottles. Even bitters bottles and atomizers. Soap Dispensary offers a good selection of bulk food too (sugars, spices, teas, etc) that we can use in the bar - mostly this is if we're looking to grab a small amount in between other supplier deliveries.


Saving Energy

Organizing the fridge to keep the more frequently reached for items closer to the opening is a useful practice to reduce the time the door is opened.

For continuous glasswashers (eg. rotating style that have a sensor to shut off), just keep it in "standby" as much as possible. Not running it constantly. Only taking out glass to make room for more, or being sure to leave a glass at the sensor to keep it from running constantly. This is great for water consumption and dishwasher chemicals.

Front loading washers should only be used when there's a full rack, for similar reasons.


Hot Water On Demand/Recirculation System

We haven't yet installed this, but there's been talk of getting rid of the boiler in place of hooking up on-demand hot water. Apparently it's super efficient (reducing energy consumption). I'm really looking forward to this as it also frees up floor space which will likely be better used as more food/beverage storage in our tiny restaurant.


Shake-and-Dump Versus Pebble Ice

I love the shake & dump when a recipe might otherwise call for crushed or pebbled ice. [This is when you shake a cocktail and dump all of its contents into the glass, rather than straining over new ice.] I like to think we're beyond just wasting excess ice, and my bar only has one type of cubes. Shake & dump is my preferred style of Margarita, as well.

Refillable Water Pitchers at Tables

We use 1L bottles for water service. A table of three or more will get their own bottle - left on the table. For tables of two or less people, we will refill the water for them. It's more a matter of actual table space, more than anything.

For bottles coming off tables, unused water is unfortunately dumped. This is a BC health code thing. And we have to wash the bottles.

Ice Used to Chill Glassware is Used to Cool Water Lines

I discard the ice [used in chilling glassware] into the section of my ice well that chills the carbonated water line.

Instead of Burning the Ice at the End of the Night

Typically I will use a large cambro or bus bin to remove the ice, then dump it into tree beds on the street.

Cutting Empty Bottles into Other Objects 

I have a dozen or so Chartreuse bottles that I intend to cut and finish to be used as water glasses. If it's successful, I'd hope to do it more frequently and offer to sell my creations for a small fee (simply to make it worth my time). There are a lot of interesting bottles out there and they could make some very cool glasses. A magnum wine bottle or other wider style bottle could make a good planter, or be useful for some other decorative use.

Getting Labels Off Bottles and Jars for Reuse

My technique is to first try running them through the dishwasher and peel with ease. Failing that - a hot soak, use table knife to scrape, then soap and steel wool.

A little vegetable oil on a napkin gets the last sticky residue off with a little elbow grease.

Use for Liquor Boxes

The classic Booker's bourbon wooden box is in almost every bar to hold bitters.

Longer-Lasting Fabrics for Bar/Restaurants

Felt is my hero! Highly brush resistant, meaning for upholstery it can take on a lot of wear without showing it.
In general, I always like to recommend using cold water to wash textiles and going easy on soap. Hang to dry if you can. It's a matter of being gentle on the fabric. Use spot remover if you must.
If it's wood, I'm sure refinishing is way better than replacing. A little sand and oil goes a long way.