The grass is always greener, isn’t it? Bartenders call themselves “bar chefs” and experiment with culinary techniques, while chefs look longingly from behind the kitchen doors out at the front of the house, where all the fun is happening. Julian Medina, who has just opened the 24-hour Cuban diner Coppelia in Manhattan and still oversees the kitchens at Toloache and two locations of Yerba Buena — all of which are Food Republic-recommended if you’re in New York and want some Latin flavor — stepped out of the kitchen recently to learn how to make tequila in Mexico. His proprietary blend of Herradura is now available for your sipping pleasure at Toloache in Midtown Manhattan.
What made you want to create your own blend of tequila?
I am really passionate about tequila. I love to try new, exclusive blends, and it has become a huge part of my life. I am even building a tequila bar in my new home. When the opportunity was presented to me to create my own blend of Herradura, I could not turn it down!
What is the tequila like?
It’s a double-barrel reposado tequila that is aged for 11 months in toasted oak barrels. The blend is then moved to a new toasted barrel for an additional month, a process that creates smooth tequila with a complex palate.
Have you always been a fan of the spirit?
Yes. I am originally from Mexico City, and tequila is a very special spirit in Mexico. At Toloache, we have over 185 mezcals and tequilas because there are so many different types I love. I couldn’t just pick a few so I’ve included them all.
How do you account for tequila’s growing popularity?
It is a really versatile spirit, but it has a really strong flavor profile that holds up well to bold foods.
How do you take your tequila? Neat? In a cocktail?
Straight up, or in a very straightforward margarita on the rocks. I like to taste and savor the flavor. We make a margarita at Toloache called Chef Julian Medina’s Favorite Margarita. It has Don Julio 1942, Agavero Tequila liqueur, lime juice, simple syrup and a splash of orange juice — real simple, but the perfect margarita.
It seems like chefs are increasingly interested in spirits. Why is this?
I think cocktails and spirits allow chefs to be more creative. The spirits world has evolved so much and there are so many different offerings that it would be a disservice to our customers not to offer a wide variety of options. That’s why I offer such an extensive list of tequilas and mezcals at my restaurants.
What are the best tequila-food pairings?
Tequila has a smoky undertone and pairs really well with charred flavors, bold flavors and spicy flavors, in particular. One of my favorite ways to use tequila is in the Camarones Toloache. The dish is made up of roasted garlic shrimp, crispy tortilla, black beans, chayote spaghetti squash salad and cascabel salsa. The shrimp are marinated with mezcal, which adds a great flavor and really compliments the dish.
With so much tequila in the house, do you have a good hangover cure?
At Yerba Buena, we serve the Anti-Hangover Mary with Svedka vodka infused with B-12, tomato juice, tapatio sauce and lemon juice. It’s the ultimate hangover cure.