When, where and why did you decide to start bartending?
I always knew I wanted to be a bartender. I remember being a kid and dining out with my parents – I was always fascinated by the people behind bars. My parents didn’t really keep booze, except for the occasional bottle of wine, in the house at all, so alcohol was a bit of a mystery to me. So really, the reality of the situation is that my rebellious nature is what drew me to bartending. As soon as I turned 18, I applied to restaurants, and was hired at Boston Pizza. I started as a server, but was always desperately telling my managers how much I wanted to be behind the bar. After a few months, I moved up to bartender.
I spent the first few years of my career working at various pubs and corporate restaurants, until one day, I realized that I could be better. I was 22 and a district manager for the Gabby’s Corporation, making great money (especially for 22), but I wanted to learn how to make a real martini, how to serve wine properly, and be genuinely proud of the product I was putting on people’s tables. I left that job and started working in independantly owned restaurants, and under some of the most talented and revolutionary bartenders in Toronto. A lot of it was right place/right time bullshit, I’ve been extremely lucky, but I have learned, and continue to learn, so much. I absolutely love my job. I’m obsessed with it.
What is your favourite cocktail?
Straight up – I hate this question. It’s not that it’s a bad one, but I find cocktails are so based on mood and atmosphere. On a cold blustery night, or perhaps after a long day, all I want to drink is something with a single malt scotch, or a beautifully aged rum, stirred, maybe with sherry, or a delicious sweet vermouth. But on a hot day, on a patio, where I’m in one of those moods that only a sunny 25 degrees can put you in, give me something with bubbles and juice and tequila or gin, shaken, in a tall glass, herbs and bit of kick. I hate the question because I can’t answer it. I love cocktails, all of them. There is a time, a place, and a mood for every single one of them, and yes, that includes the cosmo.
Gun to my head though, there is a cocktail by David Greig at Cocktail Bar called Big In Japan: single malt schotch, sochu, orgeat, lemon, and sesame oil. The flavours are complex and intriguing. They’re familiar, but unexpected. I think this drink is one of the best in the city, and every time I go, I order this cocktail, and every time I have it, I taste something new. That dude is a kickass bartender.
Shaken or Stirred?
To me, there is more of a sense of gratification to making a shaken cocktail. I like the process, I love the sound of Kold Draft ice cubes against tin. I love the style of it. Each and every bartender has a different shake, a different finesse, a different showmanship. But when it comes to drinking them, I could never choose.
If you could work with any other bartender in the world for one night who would it be?
Julie Reiner, or Alba Huerta. These are two incredible examples of strong women in this business. Julie Reiner is the owner at two of New York’s most incredible cocktail bars, The Clover Club, and The Flatiron Lounge. She is a revolutionary, she has even been credited to indroducing tea into cocktails using infusions and syrups, which is one of my favourite flavour profiles in drinks. She has mentored some incredible women in bartending who have gone on to do great things, and I have so much respect for her.
Alba Hurerta is also an idol of mine. She is the owner of Julep and The Pastry War, and is formally the GM and bartender at Anvil Bar & Refuge, all based out of Houston. This chick is a badass. Her cocktails are incredible, and I look to her for inspiration, pouring over her cocktail menus.
Both these women are great examples of who I would aspire to be in this industry one day, so the chance to work with them would be completely out of this world.
If you could visit any bar in the world where would it be?
I have been lucky this year to cross many places off my Bar Bucket List. Atta Boy and Maison Premier in New York were both totally life changing. Candeleria and the Experimental Cocktail Club in Paris were out of this world, and The Inn of Olde in St John’s Newfoundland is probably one of the most fascinating spots I have had the pleasure of drinking at. There are so many places still to visit, but I think La Capilla De Don Javier in Mexico is close to my number one. This guy is pushing 100 years old and has been working behind his bar since the 50’s. If this dude isn’t the perfect example of what hospitality and loving your job is, then shoot me now. I absolutely must have a Batanga made by the man himself, Don Javier. So simple, tequila, lime juice, mexican coke, and a salt rim. He builds the drinks and stirs it with a “big knife”. Simplicity at it’s finest.
Where are you working now and what is your cocktail style for that bar?
I currently work at Food & Liquor in Parkdale, Toronto. We don’t joke around. We have food…..AND liquor. The bar is as straight forward as it’s name. We have a great beer selection all local brews, with ever rotating taps and bottles, $3 shots of wild turkey every day, and food till 2am. a bar like this pairs well with simple cocktails. No more than 5 ingredients, cool twists on classics, using quality fresh ingredients, but making sure you won’t break the bank. Cocktails start at $10 and range to $14 (most of them are $12 and under though).
Who is your mentor, if you have one?
Dave Fucking Mitton. I feel really lucky to have worked with him, and respect him tremendously. I could tell you everything I learned about spirits, technique, speed, balance, and texture, but as much as all of those things are incredibly important. What I took away most from my time working with him at The Harbord Room is his presence behind the wood. Certainly you can’t teach personality, but the ability to command a room, dictate the flow and the atmosphere of a service, is the most important thing ive learned to date. Anyone can make a cocktail. Literally anyone. But few can be a bartender, and dave made me a bartender, and I will be forever grateful for that.