What do you as a mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
I've actually used Guiness as a float in a martini believe it or not? Not bad either! It was a cocktail I created for the Penka Diamond Cocktail Competition in 2005, whilst head bartender at Hush, which won for the venue and came second in the regional West End London heats, and was made up of Penka vodka 50ml, orange bitters 3 drops, bar spoon of runny honey, scrape half a vanilla pod, shake and strain into martini glass, float guiness and garnish with an orange twist wrapped around the used vanilla pod - Different!
Continental bottled beers are great to experiment with too - there are so many!
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
Remember that you are always on show and you never know who is looking at your every move, learn the basics well and take pride in your job and never drink on duty!
Afterwards is a different matter.
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share?
Arrogance and assumption. A friend of mine recently told me the story of the time he went into a fancy bar and asked the bartender for a brandy. His phone rang and had to answer! Upon coming back to the bar, he asked what he owed, the bartender said £140, my friend said "Ok, I'll have another one." He paid the £280 and the bartenders face was a priceless picture. The point is, never judge a book by its cover. If that bartender was working under me, that would have been his last shift, smug arrogance gets you nowhere.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process.
After meeting the client, a briefing on the concept is essential. After getting the feel for the business, time is best spent on sourcing ingredients appropriate to the business concept For example, play with names for cocktails and often the ingredients will fall into place as a natural association or vice versa.
How did you get started?
I was working as a photographer on the cruise ships sailing around the Carribean before the millenium, and as you can imagine, I drunk a fair few cocktails; in fact it would be fair to say that on leaving the cruise ships, I was so inspired by my cocktail experience around the islands, and mainly in the crew bar, that the next natural step was to fall over. When I got up I decided learn how to make all the drinks that I had been enjoying for the last two years.
How were you trained in bartending?
When I was 18 I got myself a job as a cocktail bartender in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Staffordshire at the towns best bar at the time, where I remember serving taboo and lemonade by the gallon back in 1990.
Ten years later on in Soho, London, I started at the bottom again, this time at the sharp end, as a cocktail bartender, learning the basics, watching other bartenders and remembering techniques taken from the best of the best at the hottest bars in town, like Atlantic, Titanic and 10 Rooms in London.
Did you take any courses?
The only courses I have taken whilst in the bar industry have been in first aid and my personal licence, oh and a cigar course with Jonathan Butler, 'Mr Cigar' himself, and a cellar management coarse with the BIIAB. Apart from that, everything else where cocktails are concerned, comes from the heart.
What are some trends you're seeing in the market?
Molecular experimentation is coming through in the best spots in town, foams, gels, and texture contrast. Those bars with their finger on the pulse and trust their bartenders to create their own recipes are the ones to watch out for. I'm on a mission to bring all this to the country's second city, Birmingham where I am co- opening what will be the hottest ticket in town, The Chocolate Members Club.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail?
I use the Amy Winehouse method and in my mind I make a picture. A recipe is built around the key ingredient, the base spirit and elaboration continues from there, leading to the final creation which often dictates the glass type and then the name usually follows easily after that.
What is your favourite cocktail to drink? To make?
To drink would be an Old Fashioned made with Jeffersons bourbon and maple syrup, without question. To make, I like the showmanship and theatre of a flaming Lamborghini believe it or not, and I enjoy watching the reaction, especially the face of the person who's just drunk it! A bit TGI but I'm getting sentimental in my old age!!
What are some of your favourite tools?
Hammer and circular saw? Oh, for the bar. ahem, well it has to be the ingenious bar spoon, as adapted by my great friend and mixologist impersario bar none, Wayne Collins, as it has a few nifty features especially the spoon which can measure 5ml one side and 10ml on the other, has a lovely gentle twist down the shank, and a serrated base for the muddler end. And, did I mention that it can actually increase your chances of being attractive to women by a factor of five! I never thought that i would ever sound like such a trainspotter!!! ( Last point not actually accurate!).
What is your favorite mixology resource?
When I was in the Caribbean my mother used to send me cut-outs from the Independent on Sunday every week from a great column called 'Cocktails that shook the world'. Other than that, testing as many as humanly possible in person is, I find, the best way to tell the difference between a faker and a shaker!
What does success mean for you?
Saying what I feel about a business and being given the freedom and trust to do what needs to be done to make the business a success, without interference.
What are some current trends you've seen in the cocktail market?
A resurgence in Blavod? Seriously, molecular knowledge is doing well at academy's such as Shaker, where Adam Freeth tells me his classes in London are all fully booked up. More foam please!
What goes into creating a cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place?
A balance of imagination in the use of ingredients ( not just alcoholic) and technical know-how in compatibility of these elements right down to presentation can be the difference between a good cocktail and an great cocktail.
What is your favourite drink to make?
Apart from tea, especially organic camomile - it soothes the soul! It would have to be any of the classics. I used to have customers at Hush that would leave it up to me to make them a different round of cocktails on every order all night, completely my choice. I love the freedom knowledge gives you behind the bar.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Up to my ears in Chocolate, as I'm just about to open Birmingham's first international standard nightclub called just that!
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?
My degree is Egyptian archaeology, so I would probably be in the desert looking for the Stargate!
Your hangover cure?
Option one: don't move for 6 hours and sleep it off - works every time, or option two: a rousing mile long jog around the block and a full English washed down with lashings of hot sweet tea, then back to option one!
Your biggest career influencer?
Chris Potts. What he doesn't know about the business isn't worth knowing. For wine, would have to be Harry from The Arches Wine Bar in North London, and more recently being inspired by the next generation of up-and-coming talent in the top-end club world, such as Martin Maloney, operations at Maya, Andrea Airoldi bar consultant and Vedran Milosovich operations from the Kingly Club. Watch these guys, they are all from my generation of bar tenders back in the day, and are now reaching great heights in the industry.
First drink you ever tried?
Adnams Broadside beer. I used to sneak a sip or two from the bottles in the cellar when I was five and would get told off when my parents discovered the flat bottles - hic!
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?
Well I find that whisky does not do it for me, especially the day after the night before! Travelling through Egypt when I was younger, I had a night on it. The next day we were up with the sun to visit some monuments and all I remember was drinking out of a bottle of water that had been re filled, but had used it to drink whisky from the night before. I'm even having unpleasant flashbacks just thinking about it now!
£10m comes to you. what do you do next?
Give half to Sir Alan Sugar to invest, and invest the other half in the Chocolate Members Club brand taking over the world!
Bar or cellar at home?
Both. Cellar, full of china and the bar is full of cocktail trinkets and curiosities. The pride of place being a set of 1930's Egyptian cocktail sticks made from hand carved camel bone, in the shape of a crocodile, with a carved pyramid on its back where the cocktail sticks sit, with the end of each one having a carved camel, everyone different.
Pacifico or XX Equis - reminds me of Mexico!
Blue Nun for the white, or a classy red. I have a 1979 bottle of Chateau Rothschild that I should have drunk 10 years ago - oops!!!
Bourbon - Jefferson Small Batch. Amazing!
Cocktail? Old Fashioned, using, you guesed it, Jefferson Small Batch.
Cabo Wabo, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Or, the Atlantic Bar , Soho, London, when David Taylor was the bar manager in its hey day.
Duo Veniti, 10 Wigmore Street, London. If you want authentic Italian at its best, try this.
Bora Bora Beach , Ibiza and the North Shore Hawaii.
Bladerunner or any film by Ridley Scott.
Any book by Philip K Dick.
I met Michael Hutchence on the Kings Road, Chelsea, on a Sunday afternoon in 1997, two months before he died. I asked the blond lady he was with if he was really Michael Hutchence. Typical Paula Yates said, I don't know, why don't you ask him, so I did, and had a five minute conversation. Well it was more like a minute but it seemed like we were best mates just for five minutes in a lifetime.