To complete the recipe for her Japanese-style Highball No. 1, bartender Julia Momose needed the perfect piece of ice. She spent three weeks cutting ice into various shapes and, naturally, watching it melt into her Japanese whisky and Oloroso sherry cocktail.
Momose, who is partner and creative director at Kumiko, the new Japanese-inspired omakase bar and restaurant in Chicago, finally landed on a unique structure of two diamond-shaped cubes that stand on top of each other.
“As the guest is drinking the ice will shift and fall ever so slightly so that they’re not getting hit in the nose with a big spear of ice,” says Momose. “My current thing is cutting ice and experimenting with other angles and different shapes of ice and cutting those down for different glasses.”
Essential to the whole process is her ice knife. A gift from Hidetsugu Ueno, legendary bartender and owner of Tokyo’s acclaimed Bar High Five, the ice knife is made from Damascus Japanese steel. “It just cuts through ice so perfectly,” she says. “It’s the perfect size, too, for my hands. I’m definitely obsessed with it.”
Though she’s had the knife for a couple of years, it became truly indispensable when she began developing cocktail recipes for Kumiko’s opening menu. She uses it to prep ice for her signature highball before each shift, but also uses it for cocktails served during her omakase service.
About six-inches long with a rounded tip, the unbranded knife has an extremely sharp blade and noticeable heft for its size. Most of its weight is concentrated where the wood handle meets the steel, providing balance throughout the blade. Most importantly, the knife is extremely durable and easily controlled—important when cutting into something that’s notoriously difficult.
“The way the blade is designed, where it attaches to the handle, there’s a soft nook where the thumb can go and not get cut, so you’re able to really choke up on it and have full control as an extension of your hand,” says Momose.
During a shift she also uses a Togiharu petty knife and a Misono paring knife. The blades of both are thin and pointed, which is great for creating detailed garnishes, but useless for shaping ice cubes.
Momose keeps her ice knife pristine by sharpening it every couple of weeks, as well as allowing the ice to temper before cutting into it. The result of which is a smoother cut that causes less wear on the knife.
One of her favorite things about the ice knife is that it was designed not only to carve blocks on a cutting board, but also while holding one in your hand.
“I’ve realized that the positioning of the blade on a typical knife makes it a little dangerous to hold ice in your hand and cut at the same time, and this one makes that possible,” says Momose. “[It’s a] gorgeous technique, and I couldn’t do it with any other knife.”
- 45 ml Iwai Tradition Japanese Whisky
- 1 tsp Valdespino ‘Don Gonzalo’ Oloroso VOS
- Q Club Soda
- Glass: Highball
- Chill a highball glass.
- Place two cut ice diamonds into the glass and add the whisky.
- Carefully top with Q Club Soda, taking care not to hit the ice or the glass, just pour straight into the whisky.
- Nuzzle gently with a spoon to allow the ingredients to incorporate. Lower the ice back down without agitating the cocktail.
- Add a teaspoon of sherry over the top of the ice.