Forget about watered down mojitos and uninspired rum and cokes, because once you’ve had a sip of a cocktail crafted by Aaron Fitas, you’ll suddenly remember why those Latin classics became, well, the classics. Making cocktails with a distinctly Latin sensibility is his passion, and as the head mixologist at pan-Latin eatery Yerba Buena Perry Street in New York’s trendy West Village, Fitas has nearly single-handedly transported a legion of urban dwellers to somewhat more sultry, exotic destinations.
“To me, making Latin-inspired drinks is a matter of pride,” says the Venezuelan native, who moved to New York in his 20s. “It’s a challenge and joy to transform those drinks into something more gourmet and refined – but it’s what I love doing.”
For Fitas, making drinks emblematic of Latin culture – think spicy, sweet, complex, tropical and lush — is an extension of his love of politics. The 39-year-old moved to the big apple with the intention of studying political science, with plans of returning to Venezuela and entering government. Working in the restaurant industry while studying at New York University however, it became clear to Fitas that his true passion would lead him to pursue a more flavorful version of international diplomacy.
“As a bartender, it became clear that cocktails could be a way to show the great side of Latin culture,” says Fitas, who worked his way up from bus boy to bartender before landing a position behind the bar at Latin hotspot Calle Ocho. “Latinos are capable of so much greatness. Unfortunately we’ve been portrayed differently, but I use cocktails as a medium to overcome prejudices.”
From Peruvian pisco, to Cuban black beans and Mexican mangoes, Fitas loves all Latin ingredients and strives to showcase them elegantly. Through stints at restaurants like Rayuela and Brazilian steakhouse Churrascaria Plataforma, Fitas has picked up culinary tricks he says helps him not only showcase heritage ingredients, but elevate standard drinks in new, unexpected ways. Working under Chef Julian Medina at Yerba Buena and alongside close friend mixologist Junior Merino has only served to refine his signature style.
“I’m not afraid of creating drinks with yucca and avocado,” says Fitas, whose favorite spirit is pisco. “It’s my mission to explore all of Latin culture, one drink at a time.” Lucky for us, that trip begins with his take on the piña colada, a classic cocktail whom many consider timeless with its combination of beloved Latin flavors. By using fresh pineapple juice combined with the simple, clean flavors of coconut water accented by lemon juice, it’s a refreshing version of a time-honored classic.
2oz of Santa Teresa Rum
1oz freshly squeezed pineapple juice
1oz coconut water (canned with pulp)
3/4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 oz simple syrup (see bel0w
One part water
One part sugar
Put both in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Let it rest at room temperature, then store into a container until ready to use. Do not freeze.
For cocktail: Shake all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Strain and serve in a chilled martini glass. Serves one.