Bob Van der Veer Talks Farm-to-Table Cocktails at The Hungry Cat
"We also know the farmers that grew the fruit that’s in our drinks, not a lot of places can say that."
The Hungry Cat is a fantastic restaurant, to be sure, but its cocktail menu exists on its own merit. The bar has been steadily creating and serving fresh farm-to-table cocktails for years before it was cool to do so. Here Bob Van der Veer, general manager and occasional barman, talks about himself, the bar and why having the Hollywood farmers market on his doorstep makes his job easy. You can catch Van der Veer at Hungry Cat most nights of the week. Ask him about his two-year-old daughter or the band Phish to get on his good side — he’s crazy about both.
How long have you worked at The Hungry Cat?
Bob Van der Veer: Four years, four months and three days. Wow, I really hadn’t thought about that, that’s a long time, isn’t it? I started off as a bartender and did that for a few years, and now as GM I help shape the cocktail program. I work with the bartenders on incorporating planning on what is going to be in season in the next few weeks and planning the menu around that. I still get to get back there and make drinks from time to time, which is great.
What do you think defines the cocktail program at the Cat?
The renaissance of all these prohibition-era drinks is fantastic, but it’s not really what we do here. We take advantage of the fact that we have such amazing produce here in Southern California and really use it to our advantage. Creative California drinks, is that a category?
What have been some of your favorite drinks lately?
I loved the La Belle, a drink created by our long-time bartender Danielle Motor. We made kumquat marmalade, a white wine simple syrup, and mixed that with vodka and really fresh lemon. Just fresh and delicious, we’re not afraid of using vodka here. Recently I made a cocktail called the Sandinista, it was a rum daiquiri with the addition of Aperol and winter grapefruit. That was really good.
How does the proximity of the farmer’s market influence your cocktails?
The produce here is better than just about anywhere else in the country, and our growing season is practically all year long. We also know the farmers that grew the fruit that’s in our drinks, not a lot of places can say that. Late summer we get this Weiser Farm’s Sugar Queen Melon, cook down with jalapeno, it is just so good. Lately we have been making shrubs, preserving fruit, making jams with what’s ripe so we can use it later on in the year. Late summer berries are so good here that it seems a shame not to use them every way we can. We also talk to the farmers and they let us know what going to be ripe in the next few weeks, that way we get to plan out the menu ahead of time instead of just showing up and seeing what’s available. We get to be creative all the time and have that creativity shift with the seasons. That’s a pretty great thing and I love what we get to do here.