Nic Shanker takes a stamp and applies a wave pattern to a large, light blue ice cube. Butterfly pea flower tea gives the clear ice its colour. Shanker puts the ice cube in a glass containing an alcohol-free distillate designed to replicate gin. When he adds tonic, the blue of the melting ice turns purple. A wonderful visual effect and complex flavours – all without a drop of alcohol.
‘At fashion events, the people are often partying during the daytime. So what they want is drinks with little or no alcohol,’ says Janina Shanker. As the owners of Starkeepers in Düsseldorf, she and her husband Nic Shanker, a bartender by profession, run a top-class cocktail catering business. Janina Shanker manages the back office. ‘The guests want alcohol-free drinks that are more than just a fruit juice spritzer,’ she says. Shanker rarely drinks alcohol herself. With the exception of her favourite drink Frangelico Sour, where the hazelnut liqueur is mixed with lemon and orange juice, sugar syrup and egg white.
Cocktails inspired by international star cuisine
These days, the cocktail world dispenses with fruit salad and decorative umbrellas. Rather, it has ties with food pairing and fusion cuisine that combine various ingredients and culinary traditions for a complex taste all of its own. ‘We have learned a lot from gourmet cooking. Bartenders adapt flavours and craftsmanship techniques. It even gets called the liquid kitchen,’ explains Nic Shanker. When he creates a fitting signature drink for the men’s fragrance Acqua di Parma, there is a reason why he also uses sweet and spicy shiso syrup from Japan in addition to gin and lemon, mandarin oil, bergamot liqueur and egg white.
The Michelin-starred restaurant Agata’s in Düsseldorf, which blends French cuisine with Asian influences, is a Starkeepers catering partner. ‘We sat with Agata Reul and head chef Philipp Lange at their restaurant until late into the night,’ relates Janina Shanker. What else they discussed and sampled other than shiso syrup? This much can be revealed: The restaurant and cocktail caterers may be on the trail of a new trendy drink.
‘From root to fruit’
The world of cocktails is not only being influenced by the quest for new flavours – while more and more chefs are cooking ‘from nose to tail’, in other words using every part of an animal, the Starkeepers approach is ‘from root to fruit’. For Janina and Nic Shanker, who are vegetarian, it was an obvious idea. Janina explains: ‘We desiccate any fruit that’s left over or turn it into syrups so that we really are using everything.’ The Starkeepers also squeeze surplus limes into juice themselves. "There aren't always good fresh limes available," Nic explains. ‘So we have good juice that we store frozen so we always have what we need in stock.’ Janina Shanker adds, ‘We also reuse decorative items, such as rose petals. We make our own rose syrup from them.’
We have learned a lot from gourmet cooking. Bartenders adapt flavours and craftsmanship techniques. It even gets called the liquid kitchen.Nic Shanker, Starkeepers
From business administration studies to cocktails
Janina and Nic Shanker’s personal convictions and professional experience leave their mark on Starkeepers. With her background in the fashion industry, Janina Shanker has an eye for the highly detailed and thoroughly stylish look of events. And Nic Shanker, who first discovered bar work at the age of 17, went on to abandon his business administration studies to make cocktails at catering events. ‘There was a key moment,’ Shanker recounts. ‘I got a call in the middle of a very important lecture.’ A colleague from the bar where he worked had accepted a cocktail catering job that he couldn't make. Now Shanker was supposed to fill in for him. ‘I thought back and forth for a while and then decided to get up, leave the lecture and do this job.’
A good decision: ‘I was completely blown away. You can start your own business with cocktails - without a bar. You can travel around as a cocktail caterer, host exciting events and make clients happy.’ The client agreed to give him the necessary know-how. ‘I'm very grateful to him for that to this day.’ He founded Starkeepers in 2005. ‘There are many bartenders who are good at mixing drinks and are knowledgeable about flavours. They have mastered their art,’ he says. ‘But what’s more important is that you are empathetic and love working with the guests.’
‘We are merely the accessories’
These days, there is usually somebody else tending the bar in Nic Shanker’s place, but he and Janina take their love of the guests to the extreme. ‘We want to conjure up an experience. We are merely the accessories that make an occasion perfect, not rock stars who think they’re something special,’ says Nic Shanker. Janina Shanker adds: ‘A bar that serves cocktails is a melting pot that lightens the atmosphere among the guests. But the most important thing we can add is our attention. Anyone who walks through the door should really feel looked after.’
The Starkeepers get inspiration at their local METRO store. "We discovered the German aperitif Déjà-Vu in the METRO assortment. It's very popular with our guests - and super tangy with grapefruit and tonic," says Janina Shanker. In addition to everyday necessities, customers can find special products there too, for example in the fish and meat sections. What’s more, METRO also delivers everything customers need, even at short notice. With its digital DISH services such as the Website Builder and table reservations, the METRO subsidiary DISH Digital Solutions assists restaurateurs with their online visibility and contact with the guests. METRO MARKETS operates an online marketplace with non-food product ranges such as kitchen equipment and cleaning materials.