Acclaimed restaurateur and master chef Marcus Samuelsson grew up in Sweden, where a daily gulp of vodka over a meal was as commonplace as a morning cup of coffee. "It's not like we'd drink a lot of it," says the owner of New York restaurant Red Rooster Harlem. "Just a shot, sometimes infused, to accompany some pickled herring."
Cocktail culture has, of course, evolved considerably since Samuelsson's '80s youth in Sweden, but vodka is still in his life. The chef recently joined forces with Skyy Vodka to create a menu of drinks rooted in classic cocktail recipes (think gimlet, martini, and punch) but spiked with modern flourishes, like ginger syrup and hibiscus-infused tea. Samuelsson believes in the time-honored tradition of looking back to find inspiration for something new, especially when mixing a good drink. "It's about honoring the past, but creating something fun in the present," he says. Most importantly though, Samuelsson's recipes are accessible to those of us without a degree in the mixological arts. "A lot of people are afraid to make cocktails at home," Samuelsson says. "We wanted to demystify the process and show people that it can be fun to get into."
An added bonus? The chef swears these recipes are perfect for knocking a budding winter cold out of your system – especially his sangria. "You can heat it up just a little bit – but don't boil it – and that'll really help," Samuelsson says. "Alcohol kills bacteria!" That may be questionable science, sure, but with drinks this good, we're willing to give it a shot.
• 2 cups Skyy Vodka
• 2/3 bottle white wine
• 2 ounces lime juice
• 8 ounces orange juice
• 8 ounces apple juice
• 1 mango, cut into cubes
• 2 pears, cut into cubes
• Pear and strawberry for garnish
Soak fruit in juices and vodka for two hours to overnight (feel free to add more vodka for a stronger drink). Stir together in a pitcher and serve in wine glass. Garnish with pear and strawberry. Yields six cocktails.