New Jersey native Dan Schuster was on track to become a physical therapist, when he got bitten by the food and beverage bug. He was pursuing a physical therapy degree at southern NJ’s Stockton University. when he took a part-time job as a server at a local restaurant. “I loved it; loved the interaction with people, helping them enjoy themselves, being a part of creating a fun experience for them.”
Schuster was promoted to the bar and was soon “headfirst into food and beverage.” In 2018, he was a bartender on the opening team for David Burke at Orange Lawn. After the restaurant’s pandemic-induced closure, Schuster was tapped as bar manager for Orchard Park, which opened in late October 2020. There, he develops seasonally driven signature cocktails, the names of which reflect the intriguing whimsy associated with his boss, David Burke, the celebrity chef known as the “culinary prankster.” Names like Our Sunsets Are BOMB!, Mexigin, raspberry, lemon, hibiscus and One-Eyed Undertaker, black pepper infused Breckenridge bourbon, maple syrup, orange bitters.
Broadwayworld Food and Wine had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Schuster for our “Master Mixologist” feature.
When did you first become interested in the cocktail culture?
While I started bartending seven years ago, it’s only in in the last three years or so that I have become intrigued with the balance, the science of cocktails. I recognized the passion chefs have and realized it translates to bartending – the focus on presentations, techniques and fresh ingredients.
What innovations in mixology and bartending do you find fascinating?
The use of seasonal ingredients fascinates me. I am someone who loves the differences in the four seasons and the transitions between them. And I like to reflect that in cocktails. I also like to use interesting ingredients out of season, like a tropical fruit in the winter. It’s unexpected, but fun to see and taste
How do restaurant and bar guests encourage your creativity?
I always like to play off what the pastry department is working on. There’s a natural bond between the bar and the pastry kitchen since we use similar ingredients, one being sugar. As far as guests, I’m always fascinated by how you can surprise and thoroughly delight someone sitting at the bar. Getting that reaction sparks my creativity.
What are your preferred “classic cocktails” and why?
The Negroni because it showcases the best harmony of flora, bitter and sweet. It’s very simple to make, just three equal parts of three ingredients and it’s very versatile as a pre-dinner cocktail, with a meal or as a post prandial libation.
What are some of your favorite infusions and how you like to use them in drinks?
I love mint, its overt freshness and aroma. I also like to use other soft herbs and baking spices… cinnamon, cloves and the like, I use them all to infuse syrups and in vermouths to add an enriching layer of complexity to a cocktail.
Tell us about a few of your signature cocktails and why they are distinctive.
The Orchard Spritz a riff on a spagliato, which, in turn, is one on a Negroni with prosecco instead of gin. For it I infuse cucumber into the vermouth and use Bitteroma Bianca, a new product by Silvio Carter I like a lot and am using often.
Then there is one of our best sellers, Fields of Mars, essentially a blood orange margarita with fresh lemon juice instead of lime and is sweetened with habanero syrup and orjeat, an almond syrup. It’s a well-rounded, balanced drink because each sweetener plays off of different flavor notes of the tequila
Give us your perfect pairing for a cocktail and a culinary selection.
A black Manhattan and a chocolate souffle. For the black Manhattan, Amaro is used in addition to, or instead of , vermouth with and a good bourbon or rye. I tend to use rye. It’s a very velvety drink, sweet and bitter and pairs beautifully with a rich dessert like a chocolate soufflé.
Tell us a little about your company or restaurant
Orchard Park by David Burke is the restaurant at The Chateau Grande Hotel, on the grounds of the Park Chateau Estate & Garden, NJ’s most elegant venues for special events, indoors and out. As the name makes clear, the restaurant is operated by David Burke, the internationally celebrated chef who is a legend in our industry for his creativity and innovative techniques.
David says Orchard Park is one of the most beautiful restaurants he’s ever seen and I agree. It’s a seductive symphony of colors and textures bathed in natural light during the day and the glow of the beautifully lit landscaped grounds at night. The ambiance is relaxed, but conveys a sense of occasion, People feel good just being there. The Italian nuanced menu offers a broad range of fare from casual pizza to the likes of Scallops & Octopus “Veracruz,” tomato, olives, capers, broccoli and Berkshire Pork Chop, little neck clams “casino,” arugula, chorizo tomato broth, along with a selection of David’s signature Himalayan salt dry-aged steak, a process for which he holds a patent.
We have a lovely terrace for outdoor dining and can accommodate private functions, from intimate to large, given our stunning private dining room and the hotel’s imposing ballroom.
We also have the terrific C’est La Vie Bar & Lounge, where the DJ Prince Hakim reigns on Thursday nights.
Orchard Park is located at 670 Cranbury Rd., East Brunswick, NJ 08816. For more information, menus and hours, visit https://orchardparkbydb.com/ or call 732.554.5714. Follow the restaurant on Instagram @orchardparkbydavidburke.
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