I currently work at Michael Mina SF and am the Lead Bartender.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I have been in the beverage industry for about 4 years, but have been pursuing a career in restaurants since I was 16. I first started studying and learning about beverages 6 years ago during my Bachelor’s Degree at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. It was there that I learned about the history of spirits, classic cocktails, and how to mix a drink. My first official bartending job was at Bottega Napa Valley by Chef Michael Chiarello.
Can you tell us about the vibe and the cocktail program at Michael Mina SF?
The vibe and cocktail program at our restaurant is mainly focused on the collaboration with Chef Michael Mina’s food. Although we have many different styles and options on the menu (roughly 22 cocktails currently), we love to showcase different ingredients that can be found in our Cuisine and transform them into cocktails. With Michael Mina SF being a One-Star Michelin Restaurant, we do receive many guests that come in for the full dining experience. We pride ourselves on being classically trained with knowledge in everything from the history of spirits and cocktails, to modern twists and takes on trends. We do also offer a full 5-course tasting menu at the bar and are well versed in our offerings.
What are some of your favorite flavors to work with?
One of the main reasons why I moved to California is the ability to grow fruits and vegetables nearly year-round. Coming from Connecticut I was not used to having 3 growing seasons, and instantly fell in love with it. Having the ability to go to local farms and have seasonal ingredients on the menu has been something that I have cherished since my first week bartending. A big part of my training at the CIA was learning how to combine different flavors and allowing the pairing to bring harmony to the final dish. Using that same technique I love to incorporate different types of herbs and flowers with seasonal fruit to add layers of complexity to my cocktails. With it being the peak of summer I love using the combination of Strawberries and Lavender, and have had great success with a cocktail on the menu called “Lavender Dreams”. This cocktail is created with Loch & Union Gin, Wild Elderflower Liqueur, Housemade Strawberry Syrup, Lemon Juice, and topped with “Lavender Bubbles”.
Is there a classic cocktail that you like to modify to your own liking that you served to your guests?
I am a strong believer that any good cocktail is simply a rendition on a classic with a touch of a bartenders own flair to it. Nearly every cocktail I develop, I start with finding a classic that follows the same style and then go from there. One of my favorite cocktails on the menu right now is a rendition of a Whiskey Sour and is a great option in the summer season. The cocktail is called “Set in Paradox” and is comprised of Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon, Montenegro, House-made Roasted Peach Syrup, Lemon juice. Served on the rocks and garnished with a Peach Gummy that we make with the Roasted Peaches used in the syrup.
If you could give advice to people just getting started in the industry, what would you tell them?
In order to be a good bartender, you have to have passion for the craft! Being a bartender will always require the longest hours, the most “at home” work, the most knowledge, the ability to multitask, being creative with cocktails, all while being watched by a bar full of guests. I am a firm believer that every position in a restaurant has its difficulties. In my experience bartending has been by far the hardest, but also the most rewarding. At the end of the day if you love what you do, then everything else is easy.
What Continues to motivate or inspire you in this industry?
The thing that motivates me the most bartending every day is the simple concept of hospitality. It is the reason why I wanted to be in restaurants, and love being behind the bar. Being able to make a drink for someone and guide their experience through their meal has always been what I enjoyed. Talking to guests and trying to create the “perfect cocktail” in their eyes will always be a driving force for me.
Do you have any current mentors in the beverage industry or anyone that helped you when you were first getting started?
I have been fortunate enough throughout college and my entire career to have met so many influential people that have helped me get to where I am today. There are many names I could rattle off that pushed me to where I am but If it wasn’t for my College Mentor Professor Charles Garibaldi I would have never thought of getting into the beverage industry, let alone make it out to California.