Mixologist of the Month - Julien Lafond
- Date of Birth: 7th March 1984
- Birth place: Lormont, Bordeaux
- Height: 1m 80cm
- Eye colour: Green/brown
- Nationality: French
Julien started waiting tables in a Michelin star restaurant in Arcachon (South West France), when he was 16. He was first introduced to classic cocktails and bar work in that restaurant. He rapidly realised that there was much more to this than pouring beers, and that the complexity of mixing drinks, and the contact you had with the clients was different than any other department of a restaurant or hotel. He then went to finish his studies with a year of specialisation in Bartending and spirits study, that lead him to be sent to Bar Le Forum in Paris to learn the trade. He would stay there for the next three years under the tutoring of Xavier Laigle, winning a few competitions, and developing his skills.
In May 2007, realised a dream by crossing the channel to get to the next step, finding a job at The Royal Exchange working for Zoran Peric and Karol Ansaldi, and that helped him adapt to the much developed London Bartending style. Julien then moved onto looking after the Bar at The Pacific Oriental with Matthieu Garros. He went to open The Hoxton Pony under Gerry Calbrese and Andy Pearson as a Head Bartender in May 2008, and then Manager until December 2009. Then between consultancy for Intoxicology with Andy Pearson, and bar work under Papa Jules at Mahiki and the Brompton Club till September 2010, when he became Grand Marnier UK Brand Ambassador - a role that he continues to fulfil.
Julien's Signature Cocktails
Awards, Accolades and Trophies
2011 : Best Brand Ambassador Class Magazine 2011.
2010 : Finalist UKBG National Competition. Akvinta Grand Prix 3rd Position.
2009 : The Hoxton Pony. Theme Best New Bar Award (Assistant Manager).
2009 : Short-listed for the Theme Magazine Best Bartender of the Year 2009.
2009 : UKBG National Competition. Akvinta Grand Prix 2nd Position.
2006 : ICE program cocktail competition in Paris. 1st Position.
2005 : French Bartender of the Year 2005. Coupe Scott 1st Position.
2005 : International Cocktail Contest Marie Brizard. 3rd Position.
2005 : Habanos Sommelier International Competition France. 2nd.
2004 : Young French Bartender of The Year 2004. Shaker des Ecoles Hotelieres 1st Position.
Claim To Fame
I made a Rob Roy for Sean Connery, I don't think I will ever forget that day! James Bond for Christ sake!
Q & A
What do you as a mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
Beer is a great category and a great product, I associate it with relaxing and there is a beer for every occasion, like a cocktail, those who produce it take great pride and care to give us the best. I am a big fan of Belgian style beer but also of Indian Pale Ale, and my choice would be Kernel as the flavour of the month.
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
Depending of your experience or what you want to do, if you do it do it properly or don't do it. Also go to as many Bars as you can and watch the way they look after people, they make their drinks, you will learn a lot and can take your favourite bits to build your own style.
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share?
When someone refuses to make you a drink because he judges that it's not a cool enough drink, I can't understand that! It goes against what service is all about. I am also fed up to make Mojitos, but if someone wants one, I try to make sure he will have a good one, and that he then believe I am good enough to make him something else that he might prefer.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process.
You have to first understand what will the concept will be and which kind of crowd will they be targeting, that will be really important to also select your bartenders as they will be the one delivering the drinks, and especially get your clients to feel the vibe of your place. A Bartender dressed in a Tiki shirt behind the bar at The Savoy serving jugs of Mojito sounds bizarre to you... It does to me but those three things are still trendy at the moment... I just try to think about what I would like to find if I was a customer in the place I create the drinks for.
How did you get started?
I started by waiting tables in a restaurant in Arcachon, near Bordeaux, making classic restaurant cocktails: Tom Collins, Americano, Negroni, etc.
How were you trained in bartending?
I took a bartender course for a year in the catering school I studied at in Bordeaux and they sent me to Bar Le Forum in Paris. I never came back!
Did you take any courses?
Bartender Course Catering School in Bordeaux and would love to take the WSET soon.
What are some trends you're seeing in the market?
There are many different trends that you can see around the Hot Bars in The UK, bartenders distilling their own spirits, Tiki, Classics, Classics with a twist. I don't have a favourite as long as I can drink something nice and I feel welcome.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail?
Same process as for a drinks list, plus obviously the balance of the drink and the presentation (theatrical), that are a really important part of the process and will play a lot on the final result.
What is your favourite cocktail to drink?
Too many to be named! I am really a classic cocktail lover, but I have a sweet tooth at the moment.
What are some of your favourite tools?
Nice small and thin mixing glass, Parisian Shaker or two metal piece shaker. Bar Spoons. Silver Strainers, everything really! List is too long!
What is your favourite mixology resource?
Other Bartenders and in particular my friends and family.
What does success mean for you?
It means that my Mum, family and friends can be proud of me. The most important things! It makes you feel good and them too.
What are some current trends you've seen in the cocktail market?
The Japanese Bartending Culture is really present now: tools, techniques and way of working are used in many bars. A great addition to all the styles the UK already had.
What goes into creating a cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place?
A bit of imagination, good ingredients, love and presentation. Usually I take inspiration from classic drinks, I am not usually coming up with great innovations but I can find nice ways to twist a classic.
What is your favourite drink to make?
Manhattan and Daiquiri style of drinks are my favourite to make, three ingredients, shaken or stirred.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I've got "Carpe Diem" written on my arm so it speaks for itself.
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?
I can't imagine not being in that industry, I've always been fascinated by bars and feel secure when I am in a bar, so I never thought about life without them.
Your hangover cure?
Sleep, My Beautiful Girlfriend, Sofa, Water, Chinese Takeaway, something stupid to watch, in that order!
Your biggest career influencer?
I've got a few but I'd say Xavier Laigle (Bar Le Forvm), I owe him a lot. The way he trained me helped me adapt to all the place I've worked at and his passion and respect for this industry and the liquid we work with is immense. Otherwise all the people I have been working for or with, in one way or another and the people I go and visit in bars, it's always great to watch other people to learn more. Andy Pearson, Gerry Calabrese, Max Traverse, Papa Jules, and I love stealing idea from Charles Vexenat (Le Tonton). Obviously Jill is always pushing me to work harder when I feel down and don't believe in something.
First drink you ever tried?
Ricard, my dad and Grand Dad were big fans! I am too!
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?
Not really with a special drink but with a way of drinking, I recently realized that I can't do shots any more.
£10m comes to you. What do you do next?
Continue what I am currently doing 'til I figure out what I will do long term, but buy a big house and a nice road trip in America with Jill are definitely top of the list.
Bar or cellar at home?
I've got a bar and about 150 bottles of various spirits (depending of the cocktail tastings) but I struggle to keep bottles of wine, they always end up in a glass.
Delirium Tremens would be my all time favourite.
Amarone della Valpolicella, I know it's Italian - otherwise Burgundy Red and White are always a winner.
Spirit? Grand Marnier (I have to say that!), otherwise Whisky if I had one day to live and one to pick.
It does change really often but classics are always welcome.
Bar Le Forum is my second home. Too many to be named but if I stay local to where I live : Callooh Callay, Happiness Forgets and Hawksmoor Spitalfield are three classic destinations.
Apicius (Paris), The Hawksmoor (London) & La Esquina (NYC).
London, La Havana, La Roque Gageac.
L'encyclopedie du savoir absolu et relatif de Bernard Werber.
Recently Distant Relatives by Nas and Damian "Junior Gong" Marley.
Same - too many to be named but the Wu Tang Clan is not far to snatch the top spot, so I'll go with them.