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David Hacking

Written by Andrew Woods

Photographed by Bethany Reid

The EnjoyAM restaurant group, helmed by chefs Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer, has reshaped the Memphis food and cocktail scene of the past decade. The duo started with their freshman restaurant Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and continued to expand all the way to 2018’s Gray Canary. The group has proven it can expand and correctly guess what Memphians will want next.

For David Hacking, the act of balancing the artistry of craft cocktails and maintaining a highly efficient service is one of his favorite aspects of the job.

Hacking’s story takes him all over the map of EnjoyAM restaurants, from starting as a barback at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen to opening The Gray Canary to his current post as the assistant general manager at Hog & Hominy, the restaurant group’s most talked-about restaurant and the educational center of the group’s cocktail program.

His history in the cocktail world is similar to his life’s trajectory, he pinged around the U.S. from Utah to Texas to Miami until finally finding his way to Memphis. His first passion in life was music, but he soon found that working in the restaurant industry scratched a similar itch for him.

“I noticed a lot of friends that played music were in the bar industry as well,” Hacking says. “It just kind of made sense because playing music and creating things like cocktails go hand in hand. It’s putting these tiny pieces together to make something really great, a work of art.”

Once starting at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, he was quickly taught the nuances of service and the quality and consistency that was expected from every cocktail that left the bar.

Hacking developed an understanding for crafting classic cocktails, giving him a basis for creating his own libations.

“It’s all about riffs, which is the same in music. You get an idea from someone else and you make it your own. Not to say that there’s no originality to it but there are really only six cocktails, everything else is really just stemmed off of those drinks,” explains Hacking, who is citing David A. Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. The 1948 book, which is highly respected by the International Bartenders Association (IBA), lists the Daiquiri, Manhattan, Martini, Old-Fashioned, Jack Rose and Sidecar as the root of almost all modern drinks.

After spending almost two years at Andrew Michael, David was asked to help open Downtown’s Gray Canary, one of the most stylized and bar-centric restaurants in the group. Hacking gained recognition both locally and regionally for his cocktail program.

Hacking has always been interested in the interplay between food and drink and often uses the phrase “Eat your drink” to signify his philosophy of bringing the kitchen into the glass and the cocktail into the larger gastronomic discussion of taste. Working within the strictures of a high-end restaurant group didn’t stifle David’s creativity, but instead encouraged it by becoming more efficient and creative.

“What I’ve learned now is that it’s super fun to come up with cocktails, but it’s just as rewarding to find ways to do it efficiently without spending more money. I try to get with the kitchen and say, ‘Whatever we’re not using enough let’s get together and brainstorm on how we can close the gap,” says Hacking.

This year has brought David to Hog & Hominy, the most visible of all of Enjoy AM restaurants. It also offers him a chance to teach a new generation of Memphis bartenders. His cocktail philosophy is centered on efficiency, quality, hospitality and turning obstacles into opportunities.

“When we make a cocktail list it’s really fun to come up with crazy and new ideas, but everything has to be done with a purpose,” he explains.

He notes that every drink has a role on the menu, there is no place for pride or pretension. Everything is structured to be exactly what the menu needs to satisfy the guest, which he says is the primary goal of a bartender.

“My favorite part of the job is when the restaurant is extremely packed and people are standing at the door waiting. We’re getting drinks out as fast as we possibly can. Everybody is in sync and you can hear the restaurant hum,” says Hacking. “People are talking and you can see how happy everyone is. Drinks are flying, food is flying, and everyone is taken care of.”

David’s use of non-traditional cocktail ingredients and kitchen preparation is on display in this issue’s cocktail. Inline Skates is a riff on a vodka sour that uses grilled cucumbers to make a syrup. It adds a refreshing and quaffable quality to help beat the heat.

Inline Skates

Rim a collins glass with demerara sugar. Pour all ingredients except Topo Chico and LaMarca Prossecco into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Double strain into the glass and add ice, leaving about a quarter of the glass empty. Top with Topo Chico and LaMarca Prosecco. Stir the drink to create a more consistent flavor. Garnish with a cucumber peel that is wrapped along the inside of the glass, just below the lip.

  • 1 ¼ oz of Old Dominick Vodka

  • ¾ oz of Pasubio Amaro

  • 1 ¼ oz Charred Cucumber Syrup

  • 1 oz Lime

  • 1 oz Lamarca Prosecco

  • 1 oz Topo Chico

  • Garnish with cucumber peel

Charred Cucumber Syrup

Roast six cucumbers on a grill or open fire until charred on the outer peel. Then juice the cucumbers with the peel still on. Strain and measure the juice before pouring into a saucepan. Bring the juice to a boil and add an equal amount of sugar. Stir until dissolved. Take off heat and let cool. This recipe should yield around 64 ounces depending on the size of the cucumbers and should last a week if refrigerated. In lieu of a juicer. Take one one-inch slide of a cucumber. Dice and muddle into the cocktail with an ounce of simple syrup.


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