Matthew Biancaniello has worked as a magazine ad salesman, an underwater photographer and a zookeeper's assistant at the Neverland Ranch. The last place he thought he'd find himself was tending bar, much less creating award-winning culinary cocktails at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel -- especially given that one of his parents was an alcoholic and that Biancaniello himself has a tumultuous history with food.
Now he finds himself on the cutting edge of a new trend: cocktails made with eggs. Or, in this case, served in eggshells. He's collaborating with the folks at Bar Keeper in Silver Lake to turn emu eggshells, which have a gorgeous blue-green hue and a texture similar to the skin of an avocado, into cups for sipping cocktails. (See Page D27 for his Indian Summer cocktail recipe.) "We have to coat it, file [the rim of the eggshell] down, add a mouthpiece to make it safe and sanitary," he says. He plans to introduce the innovative drinking vessels in February.
So though eggs are being used elsewhere to create foams and to add body to drinks, or are served pickled or even fried on top of drinks, Biancaniello has made eggs part of the drink and part of the service.
It makes sense that Biancaniello would make food a part of his bartending experience. He wrote, directed and starred in a short film about his struggle with binge eating, called "The Breadbasket." He earned the money to fund his movie, which was part of the avant-garde filmmaking movement Dogme 95, by eating maggots, cow excrement and other cringe-worthy horrors on programs such as "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" and "The Tonight Show." His nicknames: "The Human Garbage Can" and "The Man Who'll Eat Anything."
All that is behind Biancaniello, 41, who cleaned up his act after falling ill after eating raw chicken feet. Now you'll find him -- 50 pounds slimmer -- creating his specialties at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's diminutive Library Bar on Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
Set against a backdrop of dark woods and red lights, Biancaniello works swiftly to serve a multitude of delicacies: pomegranate seeds marinated in Grand Marnier and served on scallop shells, rock candy made of Aperol, heart-shaped martini gelées and bourbon infused with shiitake mushrooms. By April, he'd like to start serving something he'll call the Humpty Dumpty, a cocktail made of vanilla bean-infused bourbon, almond-infused cherry liqueur, cream, egg whites and lecithin, which he'll freeze using liquid nitrogen into popcorn-size bits. "I'll serve it in an ostrich egg," he says of the concoction, which will cost $25 and serve two.
His unusual drinks (most of which are priced at $15) are composed of such ingredients as sage, arugula and aged balsamic vinegar.
One specialty is the Ham on Rye, made with prosciutto-infused bourbon, black maple walnut liqueur and cornichons. For Biancaniello, it's the most enjoyable -- and safest -- way for him to interact with food. In fact, he used his own money and free time at first to revamp the bar from sour mixes to homemade syrups and the types of fresh produce his Greek and Italian family raised him on in Boston.
His cocktails, he says, "are about freshness and beauty [and] not meant to be gulped."
Biancaniello's rise in L.A.'s burgeoning cocktail scene is especially impressive considering he began bartending only about a year and a half ago. "What changed everything for me was when my wife gave me Dale DeGroff's 'The Essential Cocktail' book. That's when I started taking things really seriously and learning about hand-crafted cocktails."
Indeed. In August, he won the Chartreuse Sweet 16 Competition, held at the Doheny, a private club in downtown L.A. Like all of L.A.'s superstar bartenders, Biancaniello has fans, including Celina Chaunsumlit, a 26-year-old student who also works as a bartender at Backstage Bar & Grill in Culver City. "I really appreciate the complexity and dimension of the flavors," she says. "The quality of the spirit as well as the other ingredients are robust and rich, without overpowering or competing with each other."
Biancaniello has noticed her appreciation: "She's been in every Sunday for the last four months."
"I'm trying to create a bar people haven't seen before," says Biancaniello of his passion. "I don't see myself doing anything else."