When we hit up any restaurant, the first thing we do is check out the drink options. We need to chill, we need to set the mood, and we need something great to go with our meal. Whether it’s beer, wine, liquor, cocktails, or something exotic like sake, the drink menu is key to a great meal. And, while drinks menus can complement meals nicely, they also need to be strong and varied enough for people who just want to hit up the bar.
Making all of this come together is no easy task, just ask Jeff Marron. He was just appointed Beverage Manager at Chef Bill Taibe’s locally and nationally celebrated restaurants, leFarm and The Whelk. You might be familiar with Jeff for his insanely in-depth knowledge of wine, beer, and spirits through Saugatuck Grain + Grape of Westport. You might have also tried his barrel aged cocktails (he is the master of the Negroni) at Bar Sugo or other restaurants, and you might have also had his drinks at Luxe Modern Wine & Cocktails. There at Luxe he is finishing up his role as Beverage and Food Director. And, now with all of these skills, experience, knowledge, and passion for drinks, he makes his mark on Westport yet again.
So, come along and let’s dig a little deeper into the evolution of Jeff Marron, his thoughts on working with the chefs and staff of leFarm and The Whelk, his role as Beverage Manager, his approach to drinks, and some of the things he has planned for Chefs Bill and Jeff Taibe’s upcoming Japanese-style pub.
1) Fairfield County knows you for being behind the stick at Luxe and an owner at Saugatuck Grain & Grape, but have you had other jobs in the drink industry that helped bring you to this point?
In some way or another, every job that I have held in this industry has led me to this point. Whether I was behind the bar slinging drinks or selling wine in wine shops, I’ve always tried to get the most out of it as I could. I’m always willing to learn a new skill or technique. In turn, I really enjoy turning that knowledge around and teaching others what I know.
Having free reign to do as I please with the cocktail program at Luxe definitely allowed me to get a little bit more technical behind the bar. Being able to apply advanced techniques during service is a huge advantage over just theorizing how you would employ them. With the help of a few friends and some very patient customers during busy times, I have become a lot more efficient and exacting in my techniques. I have learned a lot about my own strengths and weakness during my time at Luxe.
3) When Chef Taibe approached you to work at leFarm and The Whelk, what thoughts went through your mind?
Initially, I thought that it was going to be a huge undertaking. Going from a smaller, cozy cocktail bar with, essentially, one bartender behind the bar at a time, to having multiple bartenders and multiple busy restaurants can seem like a daunting task. But, being familiar with their food and operations from a customer’s stand point and being friends with Bill and most of the staff already, I knew that I would get the help I need from them to get me up to speed in a short amount of time.
I’m really excited to be working with these guys. They are among the most talented chefs in this area, if not in the entire country. I can tell you that I will be working very closely with them and coordinating my cocktail menus with their food menus. I like the fact that both restaurants print their menus daily. This means that I get to frequently change up cocktails and ingredients as new deliveries come in from the farms.
This is probably the least exciting part of the position from a customer’s stand point. But, for me, I love to collaborate with others. Being a Beverage Manager means that I’ll be working closely with Andrea and Massimo developing the beverage menus. I’ll also be in charge of monitoring inventory levels, seeking out new products to bring in and work with, reordering those products, tasting new wines, beer and spirits with sales reps, running reports, coordinating fresh produce with the chefs, training staff on spirits and cocktails and mixology as a whole. It’s also not just that; I’m a representative of the company. More importantly, it’s my job to make sure all of our guests have a great experience when they dine at the restaurants.
Absolutely. I will utilize as many locally grown and seasonal products as I can. I like to pride myself on making syrups, shrubs and preserves for use over the winter in my cocktails. Joining the the crew at The Whelk and leFarm will allow me to expand on those ideas with the support of the Chefs Bensimon and Lazlo.
7) We often define restaurants by the food they serve. One restaurant might be considered Modern American, another might be a Spanish Tapas bar. How would you describe your take and outlook on drinks…is there even such a thing?
I’m not really sure if there is such a thing. If it did exist, it may break down to if you’re a cocktail bar or not. Then, you could probably divide up the cocktail bars between being a classic cocktail bar, tiki bar, a place for Margaritas or Martinis, etc. As far as my outlook on drinks is concerned, I am definitely a classic cocktail guy through and through. All my menus have always highlighted the classic cocktails. I like to leave the modern cocktail techniques for that special “off-the-menu” drink for the slower times or a VIP. Those drinks are usually a little bit more laborious and require more time to prepare properly.
I’m always looking to get better at what I do. When my sales reps bring me new products to try, I usually try to break out of my comfort zone and come up with new cocktails with those new spirits. I also have a great group of friends consisting of great bartenders, very talented chefs and “foodies.” I get a lot of my inspiration from them. I think we all have similar goals in mind: better food, better service and better drinks. I believe there is always room for improvement as far as my skills are concerned.
Yes, I am. The cocktails that we will be serving will have a heavy influence from Asian cultures. I’ll be utilizing shochu, soju, sake and teas on the cocktail list. It’s a new style of cocktail for me. But, needless to say, I’m having a blast working on new recipes! Chef Jeff and I have already been discussing how we are going to be using the same ingredients in his dishes and in my cocktails, as well.