Chris Catalano

Chris Catalano

When Chicago bartender Chris Catalano needs inspiration for a new cocktail, he visits the produce cooler and more often than not emerges with an idea.

“Whether it’s featuring a specific produce ingredient or a spirit, I like to start with one thing and build a recipe from there,” Chris says.

Last summer, Chris started with mangos but he soon realized just how long it takes to process the slippery fruit. Around the same time he was fighting with mangos and trying to create a consistent puree, Chris was listening to an episode of the Mixology Talk Podcast that highly recommended The Perfect Purée.

“Using The Perfect Purée allows our bartenders to make consistent cocktails without pulling out a blender or muddler. Whenever it’s time to develop new seasonal cocktails, we look to The Perfect Purée to save prep-time and deliver our ideas to the glass.”

For Chris, it was a eureka moment. He quickly ordered a case of The Perfect Purée Mango and put his Mango Mint Margarita on the menu at the California-themed Summer House Santa Monica.

“Being able to order a consistent product saved us a lot of time and frustration, and it still matched our freshness standard,” he says. “It helped us move the work upstream, which can be all the difference when guests are waiting for their drinks.”
Chris appreciates all aspects of the restaurant business, having worked as a bus boy, line cook and delivery driver in his teens. He began barbacking at a craft beer and sports bar when he was 19 after nagging the manager for nearly a month to hire him. Chris worked there for two years, absorbing all he could from the hardworking bartenders.

When he turned 21, Chris started his first bartending job at a sports bar and nightclub across the street where, as he puts it, he went down the “mixology rabbit hole.”
“I really took to a bartender who preached about fresh ingredients, even though we didn’t have any of them to work with,” he says.

This mentor was so passionate that he brought his own fresh ingredients from home. That example, along with advice from a manager to study master mixologist Dale DeGroff, established Chris on a professional trajectory.

He got in the door as a server at Stella Barra Pizzeria, a highly-rated artisanal pizzeria that shares the same building as the Summer House Santa Monica. Both concepts were launched by chef Jeff Mahlin and specialize in handcrafted dishes using local, seasonal ingredients. After just a few months on the floor, Chris was invited to join the bar staff and begin creating original cocktails for both restaurants.

“Having two menus in one location allows me to work with both rustic Italian ingredients, and fresh California-inspired ingredients,” Chris says.

Now a very hardworking bartender in his own right, Chris also mixes at CH Distillery, an acclaimed Chicago vodka distillery that hosts a guest bartending series.

After the success of his summery Mango Mint Margarita, Chris approached fall with something more earthy in mind. Using White Peach Puree and sage as his inspiration, he paired them with peppered gin, lemon, simple syrup and soda water to create a semi-sweet and herbaceous Tom Collins cocktail.


Mango Mint Margarita
Peach La Rhone