Meet Your Mixologist: Picca Peru's Julian Cox
In the year since Picca Peru opened, it's emerged as one of the most exciting new restaurants in Los Angeles, and the buzz has extended far beyond the west coast. Serving Peruvian small plates in a charming townhouse on the outskirts of Beverly Hills, it was lauded by GQ as one of the 10 best new restaurants in America and Food & Wine named chef Ricardo Zarate best new chef in 2011. At Picca, the cocktails created by mixologist Julian Cox are as much a part of the overall culinary experience as any dish on the menu. "The idea is for the drinks to live up to the expectations of Chef Zarate's food," Cox says.
The two teamed up with the pop-up sensation Test Kitchen, which occupied the downstairs level in the building where Picca is located today. A testing ground for both emerging and established chefs to try out ideas and break new ground in culinary arts, Test Kitchen was scheduled to operate for six weeks, but with the resounding embrace of L.A.'s foodie community, it extended its duration to a full three months. With each dinner hosted by a different chef or team of chefs, a mixology menu was created to complement the dishes. Today, Cox still enjoys occupying the space that was Test Kitchen, which he calls "a fantastic landmark for chefs."
In the spirit of pushing the culinary envelope, Cox has taken a risk with Picca's beverage program by featuring only Latin spirits on the menu. For those accustomed to their dry martini at dinner, that means no vodka. While many mixology programs across the country enjoy highlighting diverse or unusual spirits, they tend to play it safe, and at least keep everyone's go-to spirit on hand for clientele unwilling to dabble in something more adventurous. "It's fun and exciting," Cox says of encouraging patrons to try something different.
At the heart of Picca's spirit portfolio is pisco, which Cox describes as a clear Peruvian brandy, and admits to telling some customers that it's like a Peruvian vodka. With classic cocktails like the pisco sour and pisco punch, he explains that pisco has been a mainstay in North America since the Gold Rush when trade ships from Peru entered the San Francisco Harbor.
Noting that Zarate's modern Peruvian cuisine has elevated the pisco cocktail, Cox has certainly had a hand, as well. For example, his Martin Ricky incorporates molecular gastronomy in its preparation. The name is a play on words with a nod to the "Ricky" family of cocktails containing lime juice and soda water as key ingredients. The Martin Ricky is made, also, with a high-end, aromatic pisco, grapefruit juice, and then topped with strawberry air. "The interplay of sweet strawberry when your lips touch the rim of the glass and the tart grapefruit is a great combination," says Cox.
The menu also features an extensive selection of rums from South America and the Caribbean. One of his most inventive rum cocktails is the Avocado Project, aptly named for the trial and error process used in the drink's creation. Made with Banks 5 Island rum, a blended, clear rum with unexpected earthiness, Cox adds a homemade avocado puree, agave, and salt for one of the most original drinks on any menu in town.
With Cox's passion for innovation, and a proven track record for creating dynamic cocktail menus at L.A.'s most celebrated restaurants (Comme Ca, Rivera, Sotto), there's no doubt that Picca will look forward to exciting times honoring the culture of Peru and the fine art of eating and drinking well.