Internationally renowned mixologist known for being one of the precursors of low-alcohol cocktails, Diego Ferrari began to specialize in the topic by chance. Today we offer you the first part of this long interview, which in the second episode will also focus on the role of Rum Barista at Ron Matusalem and on the Cocktail Art Facebook group he founded for those working in the sector.
Hi Diego, can you tell us about your professional path? What were the Italian or foreign experiences that you remember with greatest pleasure?
I began to tread the world of mixing at a young age, first by following a professional course and then deciding to specialize by working in a bar in my city in 2001. Two years later I went to London to try to grow also on a working level, discovering however, some working and mixing techniques were more cutting edge in Milan, thanks to the work of one of the best barmen that mixology could have, Dario Comini, the owner of Nottingham Forest. I had been observing and following its mixing for years so, once I arrived in London, I decided to show it to my colleagues, who were enthusiastic as were the customers. I worked for a long period at the Baglioni Hotel, where I met great professionals, who in the following years gave life to a real mark on mixing in this wonderful city. Upon my return I had various experiences, from a sushi bar to a champagne bar serving oysters, but only in 2014 was there the real turning point in my career, with the arrival at the Rotonda Bistro.
You were the first national precursor of low alcohol content (Low Abv) cocktails. What led you to develop this type of mixing?
I had to make a virtue of necessity. At the Rotonda della Besana, the Museum of Childhood (MUBA) housed inside needed a refreshment point, which would be called Rotonda Bistro. The contract provided for the non-use of spirits, therefore drinks under 21% abv. Pasquale Formisano, owner and internationally renowned photographer and friend for over 30 years, asked me to collaborate on this project. Even if I was initially reluctant, I decided that we could convert this limitation into an opportunity and so we did. We began to study the market and began to create new Low Abv recipes. Even if I don't consider myself to be the precursor of this trend, I was certainly among the first to approach the topic. Over time, my specialization led me to travel more and more to hold seminars on the topic.
What kind of response did the theme of Low Abv cocktails initially have and how much attention has increased in this regard?
Initially everyone was reluctant: from customers to colleagues, who probably didn't understand the potential of the topic. I remember that at a masterclass in England some colleagues said that it was wonderful but it would never catch on there. After just two years every bar in London had a page dedicated to Low Abv cocktails. In just a few years this topic has attracted the attention of the media, so much so that I myself have been the protagonist of many interviews on the subject, in print, on the radio and on television. The trend still persists and is growing, thanks to the fact that there is a more moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages and the average customer is more knowledgeable than in past years.
When did you start taking this concept of mixing around Italy and the world? (Cocktail Art & Max 21% ABV tour started October 2015)
I started giving my seminars on the topic back in 2014, in Italy, then in October 2015 I did my first masterclass and guest in London, which allowed me to start a much more extensive tour in Europe and in Asia. Doing these masterclasses and speaking in front of hundreds of people is a privilege as well as an incredible emotion... they often see us as bar legends, VIPs or important people but the reality is that we are very normal people who work with passion. The important people are those who change the world, who are in the history books and who help others and save lives.
In 2018, together with the publishing house Bibliotheca Culinaria, you published the bilingual book Low Alcohol Cocktails – New Frontiers in Mixing, winner of the World Best Book award in its category at the Gourmand International Awards. Was it a 'simple' recipe book or a warning to inspire more and more bartenders to follow your path?
From the beginning the guideline was to create a book that should be a tool for novice and professional bartenders. The publishing house has guided the editorial part impeccably, also resulting from hundreds of successful publications. The text has been shaped step by step: how everything was born, the study, the research, the creation, the teamwork, the importance of social networks and the recipes. It has been enriched with the wonderful photographs of Pasquale Formisano. Just 12 months after publication, the book won the award in its category at the Gourmand International Awards, in Macau in 2019.
Courtesy images Library Culinary, credits Pasquale Formisano
You have been named among the 100 most influential people in the world in the bar industry by Drinks International two years in a row. Did you expect this success? If yes, why?
No not at all. In particular, in the first year, I would never have thought of entering such an important ranking as this. Being among the 100 most influential people is a dream, as is being reconfirmed the following year. Another recognition that makes me very proud is being named among the Top 10 Best International Ambassadors at Tales of The Cocktails in New Orleans.
What's your favorite low-alcohol cocktail? Can you give us the recipe?
Serve decorated with orange peel and coffee beans.