Location:Home > NEWS > Jay Sanders of Manifesto Talks Trader Joe's Wine, Celery Bitters and His Love of Burritos

Jay Sanders of Manifesto Talks Trader Joe's Wine, Celery Bitters and His Love of Burritos

Time:2018-05-16 03:53wine - Red wine life health Click:

manifesto craft cocktails chef chat jay sanders kansas city cocktails

Jay Sanders doesn't have a long resume.

"I don't like to restaurant-hop," he says. "I like to turn my staff into my family."

Sanders, who is now general manager at Manifesto, got his start as a server at Room 39 under Ted Habiger and eventually worked his way up to beverage director over almost 10 years. He spent about a year in Cape Coral, Florida, building a restaurant and cocktail bar from the ground up – until Hurricane Irma hit. "I evacuated on my 30th birthday," he recalls.

After the hurricane, Sanders decided to come back to his hometown of Kansas City. He put in his notice, and within three days, his parents flew down to help him pack up his apartment. They drove to Kansas City in a U-Haul and on day three he started work at SoT.

"I had a lot of fun there," Sanders says. "It’s a cool little molecular craft-cocktail bar, and they let me do anything I wanted to do. They let me use everything I learned from Ted Habiger at Room 39; he’s a disciple of Danny Meyer’s 'informed hospitality' restaurant style. Apparently I got the attention of Ryan Maybee, [and he] asked me to have coffee with him. He's kind of a local legend. I was like, 'Cool – wonder what he wants with that?'"

Maybee had an opening for a general manager at his acclaimed craft-cocktail spot Manifesto, and asked if Sanders was interested. Sanders jokes that he would have cleaned toilets just to work at Manifesto. After choosing his replacement at SoT – current general manager Taylor Johnson – Sanders took the reins at the dimly lit bar underneath The Rieger. We caught up with Sanders to talk about building a home bar, burritos and what he really drinks at home.

What is your favorite ingredient to work with and why? I really love using amari, tequilas and mezcals. That’s gotta be a three-way tie for me; that’s just where I am right now. My palate changes as often as anybody else's. If you asked me this question a year ago I would've said gin, hands down. Right now, mezcals, amari and tequila, and teaching people that mezcals are not tequilas and vice versa. Most people had one rough night with tequila in college, or they said it turns them into a bad person, and that's just a myth, so trying to get people over that. They're so bright and green and vegetal and grassy that it really works with the spring. I don't know how else to explain it, but some of my favorite tequilas have a combination of grass, and green pepper and slight creaminess and a little chalkiness – they really work with the cuisine that’s going on in Kansas City right now. Everyone's got their spring menus going on, the first of the flowers, first of small crops coming in, so it's just a natural pairing. As we move close to the summer, I'll move back into gin probably, and Champagne and make some beer cocktails, stuff like that. But right now tequila. You could probably make a case that you could do any season with tequila if you're knowledgeable with your ingredients, but that’s just where I am right now.

Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? I really love really spicy cordials. Not necessarily spice as in hot, but things with rich cooking spice, and really herbal cordials – like any style of chartreuse – I like pulling out. A lot of amari can take everything to 11, and it's very popular now, but when I started now no one was touching Averna, and Fernet-Branca was just something you shot and made a face at with your friends when you went out to a bar. But now people are enjoying it. Also, celery bitters are perhaps the best thing that was ever invented in the cocktail world. It doesn’t have to be a role-player, but one drop – it kinda takes the place of what orange bitters were doing for a long time. But especially with tequila, a drop of celery bitters doesn't make everything taste like celery, but it definitely brightens the vegetal flavors and the green flavors of everything in the cocktail. So if I had to say I had one secret weapon, it’d be celery bitters right now.

What’s your perfect day of eating or drinking in Kansas City? I would start for breakfast at Room 39. For lunch I'd go to Rye on the Plaza; they have a chicken sandwich that just knocks it out of the park every single time. For dinner, The Antler Room is far and away my favorite restaurant in Kansas City. Every time I go there, they blow my mind. I went there for my girlfriend's 30th birthday party last week, and every time I go it’s the best dinner I've ever had, and they're doing wonderful things, so shout out to them. If I'm doing drinks – well, I can't really go to Manifesto anymore! Everyone kinda thinks I'm there to judge them if I go there. My favorite place to drink is Swordfish Tom's. Jill Cockson is a good friend of mine; it’s a good place to go and relax. Monarch Bar is an incredible place to go as well – probably those two. If I could make it back into SoT and not have the staff look at me as their boss anymore – I stop by there for a beer a lot. Those would be my choices.

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