GSN’s One For the Road: Masters of Mixology NYC Edition

One of the current trends I see happening in bartending is focusing more on individual, quality customer service and less on the particulars of crafting cocktails.  I think this is partly because a lot of us have learned the basic recipes and balance aspect of mixology; but when it comes to maintaining positive energy and learning new ways to personalize our cocktails for each guest, many of us fall short.

Pernod-Ricard is leading the way by introducing a new training program for the graduates of the Barsmarts program called “Master of Mixology”.  This all day seminar debuted last month in three key markets: New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.  Led by ringmaster Gary “gaz” Regan and co-host Simon Ford, the day featured three different seminars, each one focusing on ways to excel as a bartender.

The morning began bright and early with a guided meditation exercise led by Gary meant to help everyone focus and relax.  It worked.  I nearly nodded off, but maybe that was because I’d been out the night before and had a few too many with gaz, coupled with too little sleep.  Gary’s point was to prepare ourselves before we begin our shift, listen to our intuition and focus our intent when we are behind the stick.

Things continued with “The Mastery of Service” co-led by Dushan Zaric of Employees Only and Macao Trading Co. and Aisha Sharpe of Contemporary Cocktails Inc.  The focus was on how to practice hospitality using knowledge, performance, and intent.  The upshot of this seminar was to teach us how to become mindful of how we work and feel when we are in “the zone”, despite what chaos may be going on around us.  This will lead to stability, clarity, and intensity which ultimately gives us contentment in our work.  They also handed out a small memory aid for everyone.  It was a glass marble to be kept in our pocket, reminding us to be in the moment.  Dushan carries one all the time.

By this time, everyone was hungry, so we all broke for lunch.  I took the time to grab a few rays of sunshine outside, despite the early spring chill in the air.

After lunch, Gary again led a short exercise in relating to customers.  His focus was how we can be inclusive and suggestive, rather than authoritative.  Most importantly, he reminded us to really listen to what a customer may respond with when asked, “How are you today?”

Up next was Tony Conigliaro from London’s 69 Colebrooke Row.  Like a mixological Willy Wonka, Tony brought some very interesting apparatus and sweets to pass around.  Well, not candy per se, but things like eggs in the shell that smelled like fresh cut grass, champagne cocktails that effused essence of rose, and Rota-Evaporated spirits.  Perhaps the most interesting and geeky part of the program was Tony’s discussion of how chemical chains evolve and become more complex as cocktails are aged in glass.  We’ve all heard about barrel aging, but this was something entirely new to me that deserves further study.

Gary led one final short program on dealing with negative emotions while working, then the final presentation was hosted by Nick Strangeway from U.K.’s Strangehill Drinks Consultancy.  The focus was using locally sourced produce, growing herbs (even broadcasting seeds in abandoned lots for later harvest) and creating interesting seasonal modifiers like cordials,  shrubs and sherbets.  We all got to taste some unusual recipes including a milk punch and an alternative take on a 20th Century cocktail which called for blanco tequila and Seville orange juice.  As well, there were dozens of fresh herbs placed on our tables for us to “spank” and inhale.

By the end of the day, my head was full of knowledge and my spirits were high.  Kudos to Pernod-Ricard’s Director of On Premise Initiatives, Suzanne Freedman for pushing the envelope when it comes to educating the bartending community.  As I told a friend of mine the next day, “unlike most of the other players in the global spirits industry, Pernod-Ricard is not in it just for the money”.  And that, is more cutting edge than anything else currently going on in the bartending world, IMHO.