Meet the mixologist: Nicolas Baptiste, Experimental Beach Ibiza
Beautiful beachside haven Experimental Beach Ibiza is the perfect escape. Peaceful, relaxing and refreshing, it offers one of the most impressive cocktail experiences on the white isle. The essence of a rustic, tranquil yet sophisticated venue, the beach club boasts an amazing cocktail menu with an emphasis on homemade and fresh ingredients. Set down a bumpy camino off the road towards Las Salinas, it is surrounded by acres of countryside, pine trees and the gorgeous natural salt flats of Ibiza. It is here you can savour the sunniest of days while sipping on the divine cocktails and gazing out at one of the most mesmerising sunset views the island has to offer.
Celebrating his third season on Ibiza, the mastermind behind the cocktail menu at Experimental Beach Ibiza is charismatic Frenchman, Nicolas Baptiste. We sat down with the head bar chef to talk about the ECC group, cocktail inspiration, island life and more.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in Biarritz, in the Basque country of France, about ten minutes away from the border of Spain where I studied at a hotel and catering school for five years. I couldn’t choose between being in the kitchen or out on the floor because I always loved cooking and creating things, but also loved to speak and meet new people. In the end, I chose the bar, as I still was able to create while connecting with people. That was really important for me. When I finished my hotel and catering studies, I studied for another year but just the bar; how to manage, to create the classic cocktails, how alcohols are made – It’s nice to learn from the beginning and I was really happy I had that opportunity.
Do you remember when you first became interested in cocktail culture?
Before studying cocktails at school, I spent summers helping out in my father’s restaurant; helping where needed, pouring wine and beer – the usual.
Tell us about life before ECC?
My English and Spanish speaking skills were bad, so I decided to move to London for one year and worked in a cocktail bar while I improved my English. Then I spent one year in Sydney and was in charge of a small wine and cocktail bar called Aperitif before moving back to France to work for Club Med; for me it was a great opportunity to work and travel but in the end the quality of the bar was poor and I wanted to learn more. After the winter season I moved to Chile in South America to learn Spanish and from there I moved to Montreal for two years and worked at Le Lab. After two years, I realised that I am from the beach and I was missing the sun, the warm weather and the sand.
I called a friend who I had studied with, who was working for ECC group in London and he told me Experimental Beach Ibiza was looking for someone, now this is my third season.
What did you do in the winter while Experimental Beach Ibiza was closed for the season?
I went to work at Experimental Cocktail Club in London’s Chinatown over the winter, and at the same time, I developed the new summer cocktail menu with one of my colleagues. It’s completely new; we’ve got a kitchen and a lab in the Cocktail Club in London – it’s where we can make infusions, bitters, tinctures and try all different things; as you can see we like to play!
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t… this year we have a completely black cocktail made from squid ink, The Black Pearl – this was something that worked.
What inspires you?
Everywhere I go, life inspires me. One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday morning is to go to the market to look at the spices, vegetables, fruits or flowers – we are always doing fun stuff like infusing chillies, or red peppers in tequila, creating homemade syrups and infusions from all the crazy stuff we find.
For me and for this menu, the inspiration comes from Ibiza. I try to think of what I would want on the menu while on vacation on the island. I think of the beach; I wanted to work with Ibiza salts because we are so close to the reserve and I also wanted to work with a special type of seaweed, as we are so close to the sea. Exotic flavours like pineapple, mango and red fruits were also really important to me.
What’s your own favourite cocktail to drink?
My favourite cocktail would be a classic daiquiri – shaken, served without ice in a coupe glass. Just lime juice, sugar and rum – that’s it. You can have a million different varieties if you change the balance of the sugar or lime – it transforms the cocktail completely.
Favourite cocktail to make?
I like to try and create something different for customers all the time. I like to create and try something new every day! Often a customer doesn’t know what they want and they tell me what flavours they like and I’ll go from there – I love making new creations all the time!
Do you prefer city life or the island way?
London has so many great cocktail bars as the cocktail industry is booming, it’s great for my career – but I am tired of cold weather and big cities. I want to feel relaxed, have fun and be able to make great cocktails. Ibiza is so peaceful for me because it’s far away from the people, media, television and busy lifestyle. Of course, you can party in Ibiza – but this is not it. It’s the simple, quiet lifestyle that I love.
Tell us about your experience working with the ECC group?
I love the career opportunities that I have been given with the ECC group – when I started here three years ago I was a bartender, and then last season I moved up to bar manager and maybe in the future there is a place for me to grow even more. ECC group likes to promote from within and give chances to the employees that they know. The bar back of the moment will move up to bartender for the new season, and the newest waitress on the floor was previously a hostess.
It’s also really cool that we have the chance to travel and work at the other cocktail clubs of ECC group as the seasons change.
Why do you think cocktail culture has exploded in the last decade?
I think 10 to 15 years ago, cocktails were introduced to people in a different way – the taste, the price and the alcohol sort of gave them a bad reputation.
I think in this new decade we are seeing a lot of amazing cocktails, and great bartenders and they are priced better. People understand what cocktail culture is all about, and enjoy the experience of drinking a beautifully complex cocktail; something that was foreign to them before.