Bartender Q & A: Chauncey Roach of Racion

by Karen Locke on Feb 17, 2014 in Culture


While at Portland's modern spanish tapas restaurant, Ración, Chauncey Roach transitioned from the kitchen to bartender and he’s been adding ingredients such as fake seltzer tabs, orange bubbles, and liquid gel to drinks ever since. Now, he’s one of the those celebrity bartenders in Portland who we love to question about hangovers and secret bar hangouts.

Drink Portland: You’ve been on the kitchen side of Caffe Mingo, Nostrana, a family farm restaurant in Italy, Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham and now you’re creating adventurous cocktails at Ración. Why the transition from kitchen to bar?

Chauncey Roach: For me the transition from kitchen bar was done purely for the creative freedom I knew I would get working with Anthony Caffiero. I still love cooking. Originally, my intention for working at Ración was to cook here but there wasn’t a spot for that so we decided I would give the bar a shot. Overall, it has been a very natural progression. A lot of the skills I learned cooking are transferable to bartending, like combining flavors and recreating things consistently. Honestly, I don’t miss cooking on a line, but I never really loved sweating and burning myself.

DP: Congrats on being a finalist for Eater PDX’s Bartender of the Year in 2013 up against Blair Reynolds of Hale Pale and Tommy Klus of Multnomah Whiskey Library. Was this as huge of deal to you as it would be to us?

CR: To be honest, I was surprised to be nominated. Portland bartenders are awesome. I didn’t know what to expect when I made the switch to the bar as far as how I would be received by other bartenders. But it has been great. I came into the bar with very little knowledge about liquor or even cocktails in general. When we started planning Ración we went around and picked other bartenders brains about booze, techniques and what they would like to see from a “modernist” bar. Everyone I spoke to has been so gracious and helpful; it has been amazing. I am pretty sure that Portland bartenders are much cooler than Portland cooks. No cooks are going to read this, right? It was an honor to be a finalist for this and it has helped validate what I do everyday.

DP: Cranberry ice, orange bubbles, liquid gel and eggs infused with orange bitters are just a few of the daring ingredients you incorporate into your cocktails. What’s your inspiration for details such as these?

CR: Some of the ideas are inspired by other products or from pop culture. The orange bubbles in my carbonated soda were inspired by Orbitz soda and boba tea. I always loved the “Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz” commercials from Alka-Seltzer so now I’m making fake seltzer tabs for a sort of nod at a hangover relief cocktail. Other times, I just think about a classic cocktail and how I can deconstruct it or work in a modern cooking technique to make it more fun or more interactive. In the end, I’m simply making pee so it might as well be fun.

DP: What are the ingredients in your favorite Ración drink?

CR: My favorite drinks at Ración are the ones with the least ingredients probably because I am lazy. The drink that has been one of the most well received has been my mint julep. It has only five ingredients, water, lemon juice, mint, sugar and whiskey. I also love a spin on the daiquiri I do with yuzu, lime, sugar, rum and dashi, which is in essence, tuna and MSG. That one sounds kind of gross but it pretty damn tasty.

DP: You’re always making all of these intricate and homemade ingredients. What’s your poison? Please say it’s just Rainier.

CR: I drink copious amounts of whiskey, usually rye always neat.

DP: Is there another Portland cocktail bar where we might spot you?

CR: I love to drink at Rum Club since they make the best daiquiri in town and the bartenders there are awesome but as I live on the Westside so I don’t make it over there as much as I would like. I can generally be found at Cassidy’s between the hours of 12 AM and 2 AM most nights after work.

DP: Where might you be eating before a shift at Ración?

CR: Hangover cures are tricky. It all depends on what I have to do that day. If I have the day off, I will destroy a greasy breakfast and a bloody mary or a biscuit from Pine State. If I have to work it's Pho, coconut water and coffee. If I have time, my soups of choice are any soup from Ha VL or the Tom Yum noodle from Tarad thai, if not the Pad Kee Mao from the E-San food cart does a fine job. I don’t even have to order there anymore or give my name which tells you the frequency of my hangovers.

DP: When you’re not at Ración (or another bar), what are you up to?

CR: Wait, there are times I am not at Ración or another bar? I am going to assume I am black out drunk when not at those places but I really can’t say. Maybe I should cut and paste an online dating profile on here to make it seem like I do awesome stuff in my free time. You know, I like taxidermy and slacklining at Colonel Summers Park and playing kickball in cut-off jeans.

DP: What excites you the most about the Portland drink scene or bartending in Portland?

CR: The thing that excites me the most, without trying to sound like a total ass kisser, are the cool people I continue to meet in the scene. Honestly overall, there are some really cool people in the Portland booze scene from producers all the way down.

DP: Are there any liqueurs or drinking styles you wish would catch on? I’m thinking about how it’s not uncommon to see apéritifs, digestifs, even St. Germain elderflower liqueur on menus around Portland but this wasn’t always the case.

CR: I don’t really concern myself too much with trends in liquor or what not. The whole idea behind my bar is to create a new trend or just rip off all my ideas from Aviary in Chicago. Have you seen the “Parks and Recreation” episode where they go to the modern bar and they have turned the shot into a ray of light That’s something I can get behind, in fact I am going to start a Kickstarter now to buy a laser beam for my bar. Everyone should get out and donate to it right now.

Photos: Chauncey Roach


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