For specialty cocktail lovers, Edoko Sushi & Robata’s head bartender, Chris Norton, has uncovered the secret to phenomenal cocktails: ice. For his signature cocktails, Norton creates his own perfectly clear ice and carves each cube himself—so far, the only bartender in the area to do this. Here, Norton opens up to Plano Profile about how he does it and why perfectly clear ice is worth the time it takes.
Tell me a little about your work at Edoko Sushi.
Edoko Sushi & Robata is an upscale sushi restaurant that serves traditional and authentic Japanese cuisine, from Sushi to Robata-style cooking. I have been bartending off and on for almost 20 years, coming to Edoko a little over 4 years ago. I started experimenting more with different types of drinks and fresh ingredients and incorporating that into our menu and the drinks we serve.
The process of creating the ice is not difficult, but it is very time consuming. I do it because of my passion for the art of bartending. I view myself as an inspirational cocktail artist.
What’s the value in perfectly clear ice?
Number one is that it looks great in a cocktail. The value is in how you use the ice to chill and dilute your cocktail. Clear ice melts slower so you will have less dilution of water in the cocktail. The kind of ice you use can have a dramatic effect on the taste of a cocktail. I have tried using clear ice and regular ice from molds in cocktails and there is a definite difference. If you are into the art of the cocktail, like I am, then it is worth the time put into creating the ice. From a visual aspect to the taste, ice plays a huge role in the cocktails I have created for the ice to be used with.
It’s clearly an extensive process to hand make and shape the ice yourself. How did you first become interested in this and what was the learning process like?
I came across a video of someone making a cocktail with clear ice. The look of the cocktail intrigued me, and once I learned the importance of having the highest quality ice possible, I became very interested in learning how to create high-quality ice. I did, like most people do, and Googled how to make clear ice. I tried everything to get my ice molds to create clear products with no air impurities. After six months of trying, I had basically given up until a person from out of town sat down at the bar and told me how to create clear ice. I went home that night and started doing what he told me, and two days later I had a clear ice block.
My next challenge was to learn how to cut and shape ice. After doing more research, I found some YouTube videos of Japanese bartenders hand shaping ice with pics and knives. This inspired me even more to learn how to create high-quality ice that enhances the quality of the cocktail. If you watch the love that these bartenders put into creating a sphere out of a block…it’s amazing. I had to learn how to create these for friends, family and guests who come see me at the bar. All in all, it took about a year of trial and error to get down the process of creating the ice I need for inspirational cocktails.
Without giving away your secrets, what’s the process of making clear ice?
First, I use filtered water. I try to get as many impurities out of the water as possible. Boiling the water helps release the air from inside the water. After it cools, I place it in a 6′ x 8′ insulated cooler. Then, I place the cooler, with the top off, in the freezer for around 40 hours. It is directionally freezing the water from top to bottom. Then, I remove the ice from the freezer and let it sit out for 20 minutes to remove the ice from the plastic insert inside the cooler. Then, I let the ice block temper for another 30 to 45 minutes. Tempering allows the ice to warm up so I can cut ice into to sizes I need for cocktails.
What stage of the process is the most challenging?
The most challenging stage now is managing the ice program for the bar. It takes two days to make a block of ice that is 4″x6″x8″. Then it takes time to cut into smaller blocks for hand-carving the ice spheres and smaller cubes. To be honest, the process is a part of my life at the bar and outside of the bar. My home has become my workshop for helping me manage the process. It can’t be done in a few hours. My latest challenge has been keeping up with process of cutting the block into smaller cubes, so I am in the process of buying a chainsaw or bandsaw that can streamline the process of cutting blocks into the perfect cubes I need.
Did you ever picture yourself becoming an expert in something like this?
I never saw myself as a person who could hand carve ice spheres for a great Old Fashioned. I am not even sure I could be called an “expert.” I’m still learning every day as I go through the process of managing the ice program. I have much to learn and look forward to learning more and sharing that growth through the cocktails I create. There are two things I want to learn how to do in the future: One is to cut a diamond out of an ice block. There is a video online of a bartender using a knife and his hands to cut a block into a diamond that fits perfectly in the glass. The second is to learn how to create a hollow ice sphere that I can fill with a cocktail that the guest crack open themselves right at the bar.
Try Chris Norton’s outstanding cocktails with hand-carved ice at Edoko Sushi & Robata: 5490 State Hwy 121, Frisco, TX 75034 | edokosushi.com