by ROSALBA GRAGLIA
A Sienese who lives in Florence. Quite an explosive mix, if you look at history, in which the two cities have often been in conflict. And instead Paola Mencarelli is a perfectly successful mix (could there already be a still unexpressed passion for mixology?). And she is keen to underline her city of birth, which gave her plenty of grit and determination, and her city of adoption, where she moved for university (a degree in literature, from there comes the humanistic spirit that leads her to love history, culture) and where she chose to stay, fascinated by the international prestige of one of the great Italian cultural destinations. And in Florence she began her career as a journalist and event organizer in the world of food & beverage and was struck by the path of mixology. Result: he created the first and most important cocktail week in Italy, the Florence Cocktail Week, which he organizes today with Lorenzo Nigro
How did the idea of a week dedicated to mixology come about?
From personal passion, of course. I was inspired by international formats, but I wanted to make a "Florentine version", which also received the patronage of the municipality. In Florence there is great potential, a high quality of mixing and I wanted to enhance this heritage, especially the hotel bars, somewhat forgotten and a symbol of that international welcome that has made the city famous. And focus attention above all on Italian mixing, valorising made in Italy products, but without forgetting the openness to international mixing, with the participation of great bartenders from all over the world.
Florence in this sense is an important destination…
Of course, one of the most famous cocktails in the world was born in Florence, the Negroni, which will turn one hundred years old next year, given that it was created, at the request of Count Camillo Negroni, in 1919 by the barman of the then Caffè Casoni of via de' Tornabuoni, Fosco Scarselli. A cocktail that all of Italy should be proud of, and which will be an international star next year
Dealing with cocktails and mixology is therefore also a way to retrace history, to create culture...
Certainly, mixology is not just the pleasure of drinking well, and this applies to all of Italy and in particular I would say to Florence. The Florentine history of mixed drinking is interwoven with art and culture. He took his first steps right here in Florence, in his father's restaurant, the Martini guru, Mauro Lotti, with 60 years of experience in the most famous hotels in the world. Futurism had its headquarters in the historic Caffè delle Giubbe Rosse, writers and thinkers all came to Florence... It is no coincidence that this year the cocktail "Lady Chatterley's Lover" was created at the Hotel Lucchesi on the Lungarno della Zecca: Lawrence's novel was published in Florence in 1928, 90 years ago. There are many links that can unite a mixture of quality and culture. In my opinion it is essential to look for the interconnections between the world of drinking and other worlds, culture, literature, religiosity...Drinking (well) is a gesture with many meanings.
Here in Italy the tradition of the hotel bar is less widespread than abroad... what do you think?
I think it is necessary to valorise and clear the hotel bars in particular, very prestigious addresses that are part of the heritage of our country - and in my Florence they are many and important - and to open them more and more to external customers, as happens precisely at the abroad. It is a heritage that together with the historic cafés we absolutely must protect, we are famous throughout the world for this. And so we return to the concept of the cultural value of drinking well.
How do you see the mixology of the future?
The new frontier is certainly alcohol-free, but quality mixing, not a banal fruit cocktail; the sector is constantly evolving, with home made juices, natural extracts, truly intriguing experiments. A perspective in which to include the discussion of responsible drinking, to make the aperitif a true moment of sharing for everyone, even teetotalers and young people. It seems like a nice idea to be able to share the moment of a drink with the whole family. And then I believe it is important to train, enhance and encourage the youngest, the barmen of the future, in collaboration with hotel institutes and professional training schools.
You are a woman who has chosen to deal with mixology. But is women & mixology a combination that works?
In terms of ability and sensitivity, barladies have nothing to envy of their male colleagues. The problem is that the organization of cocktail bar work, which is demanding, takes place especially in the evening and at night and is less easily manageable by a woman. Currently, the profession is still predominantly male. But it's just a question of time and evolution in the management of the cocktail bar
And the barladies you find in this new edition of MTMagazine are a first important confirmation of this.