From South America to South Jersey, Bartender-Botanist Danny Childs’ ‘Slow Drinks’ Celebrates Human Connections to Natural World


The Pennsauken resident honed his understanding of plants in environments from equatorial rainforests to the Pine Barrens, and consolidated that knowledge behind the bar of Farm and Fisherman in Cherry Hill.

By Matt Skoufalos | July 18, 2023

Danny Childs doing field research in South America. Credit: Danny Childs.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Guy walks into a bar, offers to sell the bar owner his spring vegetable crop, leaves with a job.

Then, guy turns that job into a magazine column, flips the magazine column into a cocktail book, and finally, returns to the bar as one of its managers, replete with cocktail recipes developed while working there.

It’s not exactly the stuff of a street joke, but when mixologist Danny Childs charts the course that brought him from the jungles of the Amazon to the counter at the Farm and Fisherman Tavern in Cherry Hill, an unlikely confluence of circumstances emerges.

Childs’ connections to the natural world stem from his South Jersey upbringing, but have underpinned his exploration of environments as varied as Patagonia, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Mexico. A biology and anthropology major at the University of Delaware, he began field work in South America during his junior year, researching the environmental impact of different biomes on the indigenous cultures that arose within them.

Backpacking through South and Central America on a gap year that he jokes stretched into a decade-and-a-half, Childs couldn’t quite shake the itinerant lifestyle and its connection to the land. Upon returning to South Jersey, he began working at Indian Acres Tree Farm in Medford with his girlfriend (now wife) Katie.

After some idle talk around a bonfire one evening, the couple eventually went a step beyond daydreaming, and began living on the land as they worked it. They spent much of their time living out of a four-bunk, military-grade tent outfitted with a wood-burning stove.

“It was equal parts the hardest thing that me and Katie have ever done, and weirdly, something that I look back on fondly,” Danny Childs said. “I had been in South America many times, but this was up the road from where I went to high school.

“I was totally immersed in nature, which is something I always wanted to be,” he said. “[But]  I never thought I would be coming back to Jersey.”

Life in the tent was challenging. During their time there, New Jersey sustained one of its coldest recorded winters. It was also a fallow season, which sent Danny out looking for a job. He landed at the Farm and Fisherman Tavern in Cherry Hill offering to sell his spring harvest to chefs Todd Fuller and Josh Lawler.

They took him up on it, and offered him a serving job to boot. Danny began to see how his penchant for homestead food preservation techniques could take root in a commercial kitchen.

Salute, Bruno – Danny Childs’ Fig Leaf Bourbon. Credit: Katie Childs.

“Todd and Josh always were forward-thinking,” Danny said.

“They knew I was farming, and with that came a lot of bounty and excess that you have to preserve somehow, or it’s going to go to waste.”

Danny had learned a bit about bartending during a stint at a friend’s restaurant in Santiago, Chile, where he became enchanted with building cocktails around fresh ingredients.

Farming had given him insight into fermentation and preservation practices, and the wilds of Indian Acres had opened his eyes to the bounty of foraging. Farm and Fisherman offered him the chance to unify those disciplines and his botanical knowledge behind its bar.

“We kept always having these projects,” Danny said. “We can’t make a syrup out of everything, so what else can we do? We got into making other liqueurs, exploring other measures of fermentation: wine, mead, vinegar, kombucha.”

After a time, Danny convinced the chefs to build a garden behind the restaurant. The plot expanded from three small beds to 15, plus bushes and fig trees, all of which yielded usable materials for the bar and kitchen. Their challenge then became managing the high-volume demands of the restaurant and its bar program while honing cocktail recipes that also communicate a perspective about the region in which their ingredients are cultivated.

“We’re getting into all these different methods of preserving, and developing something really unique, not in just South Jersey or Philadelphia, but in the country,” Danny said.

“How we can balance this really intensive bar and restaurant program, doing these things that we set out to do forever ago; things that we’re really passionate about?” he asked.

“I knew that it was a story I wanted to tell.”

So Danny began telling his story. His beverage column in Edible Jersey, entitled “Slow Drinks,” nabbed an award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), which Danny leaned on in shopping a manuscript for a Slow Drinks book. He thought he’d come to terms with a publisher — and then the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit.

Danny and Katie Childs and their children. Credit: Katie Childs.

Everything ground to a halt.

The restaurant closed temporarily. Edible Jersey pulled the Slow Drinks column.

And the Childs welcomed their first baby at the outset of the pandemic — right while both were out of work.

“Everything we felt like we were getting traction for derailed a little bit,” Danny Childs said.

“[At the time]  I’m working with Todd on [Back Door]  pizza on the weekends, doing insurance estimates with my dad’s company during the week, working tirelessly at night with one child — I’m just praying this pans out.”

Eventually, Farm and Fisherman reopened. Katie, a florist by trade, taught herself photography to shoot art for the book; they hired a connection from the restaurant to design it.

The couple began soliciting publishers again, and eventually landed with Australian publishers Hardie Grant, who were eager to make a splash in the American market with the concept.

This fall, the Childs will celebrate the release of Slow Drinks: a Field Guide to Foraging and Fermenting Seasonal Sodas, Botanical Cocktails, Homemade Wines, and More. 

“My editor said to me, ‘I think this book will change people’s reality,” Danny said; “their view of their immediate backyard, the dandelion in the spring; the weed you don’t want, the trees.

“Products have been made from these ingredients for centuries; for millennia,” he continued. “It’s so awesome to go out and interact and engage with the world in this way. Whether you’re making sodas with your children, or enjoying a drink at the end of the night that you made with your wife, it’s approachable.”

Slow Drinks is equal parts recipe manual and preservation playbook, with stories sprinkled in throughout. Readers will learn how to make what Danny Childs calls “big, overarching framework recipes,” including beer, wine, and mead; kombucha, vinegar, and pickles; sodas, Amari tinctures, bitters, and vermouth.

The book comprises chapters on each of the four seasons, and highlights eight singular botanical ingredients from each, exploring their ethnobotany and natural history, from where each ingredient is grown, foraged, or otherwise sourced, and how to harness its potential.

Each of the recipes offers the formula for both a botanical preservation technique, and use in a single-serving cocktail. That way, “you have to make something to make the drinks,” Danny said.

“This two-word phrase, ‘slow drinks,’ it’s associated with slow food, and it is very process-driven,” he said. “Some of these things take weeks, months, half a year, a year, or more, to make. It’s a pick-your-own adventure when you get into it.

“We designed the book to get dirty; to sit on the countertop, open; and to be something you’re going to use.”

Today, Danny manages Farm and Fisherman four nights a week. Although he’s not behind the bar as much as he’d prefer, “the garden is rocking, cocktails are flowing, and the team is as strong as it’s ever been,” Danny said. He credits Fuller and Lawler with giving him the opportunity to explore a passion for creative cocktails, and also anchoring it in the practical knowledge of operating a successful restaurant.

“They have always lifted up individuals who want to do fill-in-the-blank,” Danny said. “The idea of Farm is almost like a thinktank. I’ve just been so fortunate to build this there, and to have had the mentorship the whole time, and the people to bounce ideas off of, to test the drinks.

“I don’t think it could have occurred anywhere else,” he said. “If I’d walked into any other bar, this never would have come full circle like this.”

Slow Drinks is slated for a September 12, 2023 release. Readers may pre-order it from here.

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