February 22 is National Margarita Day, and what better way to celebrate this tequila-driven Mexican cocktail than with a recipe from celebrated restaurant Dos Caminos?
It may come as no surprise that the senior mixologist at the B.R. Guest Hospitality Group, owners of the high-end New York and South Florida Mexican eatery Dos Caminos, is Latino. That he’s lived in Venezuela, Brazil and Colombia. That he cites his Catalán abuela as one of his culinary inspirations. And that he draws on his Hispanic heritage when developing flavor profiles for cocktails like the Durango, a five chile-infused tequila with guava juice.
What will be a surprise is that instead of graduating from mixology or culinary school this accomplished bartender graduated from…law school.
“I worked as a bartender as one of my three jobs to put myself through law school and found I loved it,” said VanCouten. “After graduating with my law degree, I told my dad and mom that I was going to go back to my original plan and pursue a career in the hospitality and culinary industry.”
Today, VanCouten, 32, is the libations mastermind behind not only six Dos Caminos restaurants, but the company’s 18 other restaurants—from fancy pan Asian bistros to elegant seafood and steak houses. “It’s so rewarding to use my history, culture and background to pair cocktails with food,” he says, adding that from his grandmother “I learned not only my culinary skills, but how to be passionate about flavor.”
When I caught up with him this week, I asked him to show me how to make a classic, perfect Margarita, widely regarded one of the most-ordered cocktails in America. He gave me that with a little spin, which requires no fancy ingredients or techniques. The recipe is one that Dos Caminos Executive Chef Ivy Stark, with whom VanCouten works closely, brought back with her from a trip to Mexico. Here it is:
Passion Fruit Margarita
3 cups passion fruit juice
Juice of 4 limes
2 ½ cups tequila reposado
½ cup Grand Marnier
Fresh raspberries, for garnish
Combine all of the ingredients except the raspberries in a bowl and stir well. Refrigerate until ready to use. Pour into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously to combine. Strain into margarita glasses over ice and garnish with raspberries. Makes 8 drinks.