Tag Archives: bartender

About Last Night’s Gastronomique Adventures…

Standard

The wonderful people behind the famous Grey Goose vodka label held a series of events that celebrated the exciting partnership between a skilled mixologist and a master chef.

 

grey goose collage.jpg

#lit (clockwise from top left): Grey Goose bottle illuminated from below, Mayura Onglet, Tomato Meringue with Ginataang Langka, Burnt Kalabaza with Sea Urchin and Orange Kamote, Bahay Kubo (Garden Vegetable Salad), Kilaw of Wild Talakitok, Toyo Eatery Silog

 

 

It was a first of its kind, given that it is rare to find an event that focuses on a multiple course dinner of Pinoy food paired with different vodka cocktails made from, of course, Grey Goose.

Grey Goose is one of the leading vodka brands in the world, renowned for its impeccably smooth texture and quality production methods. Made in Cognac, France, the vodka is made from selected French wheat and goes through a five-step distillation process to ensure its exceptional flavour. It is then blended with pure spring water naturally filtered through Champagne limestone. A maître de chai (cellar master), François Thibault, is hands on during the production (from selecting the ingredients to tasting the spirit to see to it that the vodka has reached its optimal taste).

As a treat, we were given a choice of several delicious cocktails that were paired with exceptional interpretations of Filipino food, as prepared and curated by Chef Jordy Navarra of Toyo Eatery.

 

 

cocktail list.jpg

Gorgeous Grey Goose Cocktails

 

 

 

chef jordy.jpg

The evening’s culinary genius, Chef Jordy Navarra

My personal favourite ended up pairing the smooth, creamy Cucumber Fizz cocktail with Chef Jordy’s Bahay Kubo, which was inspired by our local folk song, featuring all 18 vegetables of the song in one dish.

It was made even better by one of the waiters entertaining us with his rendition of Bahay Kubo as we ate.

 

 

Speaking of entertainment, on top of the fabulous gastronomique experience, we were delighted by an audio-visual entertainment provided by DJ Paul’s video music (which featured songs from the 70s to the 90s), and live violin music.

Makes me want to drink more Grey Goose at home.

 

blue.jpg

Feeling the Grey Goose blues!

How do you like your Grey Goose? Cheers!

 

*Special thanks to Masterminds Asia, Chef Jordy, and Mr. Jun for a wonderful evening

Impertinently Boozing with Francis Balbarin – Part 2

Standard

“Some people know what they want to do early on in life. Some find it in high school or even in college. I found my calling pretty late at 26. I may not be a classically trained chef, but I’d like to think I have a lot to offer the culinary world. I like to think outside the box and really push boundaries. I still have a lot to learn, and I do not want to stop learning.” 

 

This is a continuation of my conversation with Francis Balbarin, stylish bartender extraordinaire and master of the bun (I mean burgers!).

 

What makes your cocktails yours?

I’m constantly evolving as a bartender. Everyone has different tastes and preferences so I tend to make it up as I go. I try to talk to people at first and ask what their preferences are, whether it’s vodka, gin, whiskey, etc., then

I go from there.

I’ve had so many signature drinks over the years that I’ve forgotten most of them. What I do hate are pretentious establishments. For example, a while ago there was a sudden boom in speakeasies. I’m all for it and the sudden interest in craft cocktails. But (I feel that) it’s more important to try reading guests first, seeing what kind of drinks they could be interested in, and it doesn’t mean the usual, “so what do you feel like having tonight/what are you in the mood for” opening line with a hand flourish and overly theatrical tone. I think this is better instead of pushing drinks down guest’s throats without consulting and asking what their preferences are.

That is part of being a bartender. It’s a skill that’s learned over time. Yes, we are salesmen, but we’re also friends, comedians, entertainers… Or if the situation calls for it, therapists.

Lately though, there’s one drink that I’ve been making where I work that people ask for. It’s fresh muddled ginger, muddled blueberries, vodka, a little bit of spiced rum, and topped off with cider beer. Or sometimes if I see an unusual ingredient that I think can work, I’ll play around with it. I have been playing around with infused spirits for a little bit though. From bacon bourbon, chili infused tequila, ginger vodka to cinnamon and chili whiskey and so on.

 

Kiko - Bar - Edited

Francis behind the bar, and in front of some of his Infused Spirits (available in Burgers and Brewskies)

 

What prompted you to pursue becoming a restaurateur? What’s on the horizon for your culinary career?

I’ve always wanted to own a bar. There were a few times where it almost happened but just fell through at the last minute.

In 2000, I wanted to take a short business management course in Manila while I had a brief bartending stint in the now defunct Club Spoon in Alabang. Unfortunately, all the classes were full and I had to pick another course. There was an opening for a certificate course in culinary arts. I figured, I know how to handle the FOH (edit: FOH stands for Front of the House, or everything a guest can see in a restaurant/bar), I should learn the BOH (Back of the House, most commonly the kitchen, storeroom… Areas in a bar or restaurant a guest wouldn’t see) aspect of things.

I DID NOT know how to cook. AT ALL. Prior to that course I was even scared to hold a kitchen knife.

Some people know what they want to do early on in life. Some find it in high school or even in college. I found my calling pretty late at 26. I may not be a classically trained chef, but I’d like to think I have a lot to offer the culinary world. I like to think outside the box and really push boundaries. I still have a lot to learn, and I do not want to stop learning. Maybe in the future I can finally go to culinary school.

 

Dirty Palmer

Francis’ Dirty Palmer

 

Based from your experiences, what do you think is the correlation between food and drinks?

They complement each other. The flavor of the drink can both enhance and bring out other flavors in food. It can cool down the spiciness of a dish, or cut down the richness of gooey cheese.

Given that, as a bartender/chef/business owner, it’s our duty to offer that to guests so they can fully enjoy the dining experience. One should not be complacent with the idea of just serving food and alcohol and hope for the best. It is our job to sort of educate them as well in a way, and guide them in what works best with what. We as restaurateurs and bartenders should continue to push the envelope to improve and enhance the guest experience.

 

“I’m definitely more motivated now than I’ve ever been. Having a supportive wife and 2 wonderful kids, any man would want to provide and give the best for his family.”

 

What have you learned from your experiences, both as a bartender and as a restaurateur?

I’m constantly learning in this industry. From new recipes and ingredients, to different types of people. Not all places are the same, not all people act the same. I’ve seen and served people from all walks of life. I’ve dealt with the 1% and the masses.

The bottom line is the guest experience. As a bartender, you’re pushing drinks based on their personality, sometimes even personalizing drinks for them. I’ve met some really awesome people while bartending and some of those people became really good friends of mine. I made pretty good money while I was at it too.

As a restaurateur, everything is still pretty new to me. Sort of surreal, still. Everything is still a learning experience. At this moment in my career, I’m very fortunate to have met some very talented chefs, restaurateurs, and craft brewers, whom I have been learning a lot from. They have given me precious and priceless advice and continue to do so.

What I can say though is that it’s very important as someone from the BOH to sometimes go out and talk to guests and get their feedback, whether it’s negative or positive. Get to know the guests. They are the reason we are in this business.

FB_IMG_1465396284130

Francis, his beautiful wife (renowned makeup artist Mayone Bakunawa-Balbarin), and their lovely children (photo used with permission from Francis Balbarin, photo by ProudRad)

 

How does your becoming a dad translate to your work as a bartender/restaurateur?

I guess the obvious answer would be motivation. I’m definitely more motivated now than I’ve ever been. Having a supportive wife and 2 wonderful kids, any man would want to provide and give the best for his family. I became more responsible and more conscientious of what I say to people now, believe it or not. Being a father has given me some sort of “filter” when I talk to rude guests. Anything I say may have repercussions and cost me my job. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still give a little jab of snarkiness here and there, but nothing compared to what I would’ve said a few years prior.

As far as being a restaurateur, I don’t know. Everything happened after I had my kids. I can tell you that my wife and kids are and always will be my good luck charms.

What I do want to teach my kids, though, are the value of hard work and work ethic. We have, on occasion, had our eldest work at the restaurant as a server. We’ve gone as far as to instruct the staff and management to not give him any kind of special treatment. No phones, no dilly-dallying, he goes on break when they go on break, etc. I even told my supervisors that they’d get into more trouble if they treated him any differently. We would also do this to our youngest son when he’s of age. It’s about instilling and drilling hard work in them.

It doesn’t matter what line of work they get into in the future, I’ve made my peace with the fact that they might not continue what we’ve started. But learning how to deal with guests, coworkers, bosses, will translate into whatever job one might get into in the future. The sense of working hard for what little money that you’ll get at the end of the day and learning how to value that amount is priceless.

Sadly, nowadays, these qualities have been lost on the new generation. They feel like the world owes them something.


I admit that one of the reasons I decided to feature Francis’ story for Father’s Day because his story is what it is: The adventures of a talented mixologist, a promising and creative restaurateur… But above all else, a wonderful, doting (and unbelievably dapper!) father.

To Francis and all other amazing fathers out there, may you and your family be continually surrounded by an overflow of love on Father’s Day. Cheers!

 

 

Impertinently Boozing with Francis Balbarin (Part 1 – NSFW)

Standard

“People reading this might say that I’m an idiot and I have no idea what I’m talking about and I’m probably talking out of my ass. Maybe. But a little under 2 decades behind the bar gives me a little credibility, don’t you think?”

 

Snarky people get along well.

Snarky people who enjoy a good drink get along better.

That’s what I thought when I met one of my favorite people, Francis Balbarin: Co-owner of the legendary Burgers and Brewskies (Capitol Commons and Burgos Circle) by day (or 6 months of the year, depending on how his schedule is), talented NYC bartender by night… And an awesomely stylish dad all day long (yes, we even bonded over kicks).

I met him during our Baguio trip where we drank the week away did research on farming and Baguio Craft Brewery.

During the ride to get to a hillside farm, we got to talk… First, about how his fancy orange Nikes would survive the slightly muddy hike (#priorities)… Then, about what he does for a living (both here and abroad).

We got to compare how things are done in the Philippines and in NYC, and his particular disdain (which I share) with the current crop of fresh grads looking to find jobs bartending. This struck a chord with me… After all, I was once upon a time a university professor in one of the best hotel schools in the country.

Here’s the thing: Most kids fresh out of hotel school would boldly go and try to get employment in a bar, boasting about bartending skills when they couldn’t even tell potential employers the alcohol bases of basic cocktails.

But they can flair.

This bothered me.

After the trip, I decided to ask one of my other favorite people for his opinion: Internationally acclaimed, multi award-winning, proudly Filipino flairtender Paul Ceron (also a former colleague of mine in University) his opinion.

Knowing how to mix is the most important (thing), as well as the service procedure and customer relations. Flairing is not a requirement, but there are some bars that require entertainment. I always mention in my seminars that mixology comes first, then bar knowledge and set up… All of that comes first before flairing.”

 

Given that even one of the best flairtenders in the country share our “sentiment”, I decided to really see what’s going on at the other side of the world and get a more detailed insight from Francis himself.

 

How did you get from Bartending to becoming a restaurateur?

It (started with) the typical “move overseas for a chance at a better life” story: The whole family migrated to the States in April ’91 when I was 13 years old.

At 18 I eventually started working at this Filipino club in Astoria, NY as a club promoter/occasional waiter. One day, the owner asked me if I wanted to bartend and of course I said yes.

Little did I know I was going to start that very night because he just fired the resident bartender for theft. Talk about trial by fire. A sea full of people asking an 18 year old for drinks left and right with no experience and knowledge of drinks whatsoever!

*Side note: I actually learned how to pour a shot when I was 9 or 10 years old. We went to a house party with a few of my altar boy friends (yes, I used to be an altar boy) and one of the older ones was a bartender at the Hyatt Hotel. He had set up a mini bar in the backyard where he would make cocktails for people. Curiosity ensued and after a few questions, I was making drinks for people. He also taught me how to pour a proper shot. Naturally, I forgot most of the things he taught me with the exception of the usual Cuba Libres, gin tonics, cape codders, and how to pour from the bottle.

If there were drinks that I didn’t know how to make, I’d ask the guest if they knew what was in them and if I had the ingredients, I’d make them.

On my days off, I took the time to buy books and read about cocktails and proper procedure. Eventually, I got my act together and became very proficient at it.

I’ve tended bar on and off at different places for over 18 years now. I presently work at Dave & Busters in Times Square (whenever I’m in the states). I even won the Stemmon’s Bar Showdown bartending regional championship in 2012, and went on to compete for nationals.

Unfortunately, I lost the competition due to a terrible case of stage fright. At least, I can say that of the 6 competitors, I was the only one that did not know how to flairtend but came close to winning with sheer speed, accuracy, and creativity.

Given all my experience working in bars, it just all made sense that I open one of my own. Two things that I love: a good burger to go along with a really cold one.

So, through numerous R&D and using my friends as guinea pigs, I finally tried (making burgers) during a Manny Pacquiao PPV that my friend hosted in New Jersey in 2007. I decided to do bleu cheese stuffed sliders topped with caramelized onions and granny smith apples and they were a hit. I knew then and there that I had something.

A really good friend of mine asked me to sell them with her at her stall in Salcedo market for a day. She then featured me in her food blog, and eventually a feature in The Philippine Inquirer. That’s when I thought to myself that it could be a pretty solid product and concept: Beer and burgers.

After a few years and few failed attempts at pitching the idea in the hopes of getting investors to finance the project, I finally found a couple of partners who thought the idea could be feasible.

 

FB_IMG_1465869676347

Francis in New York (used with permission from Chris Ordas and Baguio Craft Brewery)

Please share stories about your bartending experiences in NYC.

Where to start? Haha! I could write a book about it (I’m seriously thinking about it!). I’ve been known to post my funny encounters behind the bar. I admit, most of the time I’m snarky with guests, which they actually love. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I love being behind the bar: (having the) freedom to get away with saying or doing certain things. It’s part of the bar culture, part of entertaining your guests.

Here’s one: A 6’4” tall, middle aged man that’s about 250lbs went up to the bar and ordered 2 strawberry daiquiris for his wife and himself and proceeded to pay for it. After I made it and handed it to him, he thanked me and said, “Do me a favor, on the next one, can you give it to me in a ‘Man Glass’?” I said, “Sure, dude. No problem. But next time, how about you order a ‘Man Drink’ so I can put it in a ‘Man Glass’ for you”. He looked at me dumbfounded while the people around the bar started laughing. He shook his head and smiled, and gave me a nod that said, “aight, you got me there”.

Here’s another one: Another middle-aged guy arrived with a bunch of other dads and their kids bearing a trophy of some sort. They looked like their kids just won a football tournament or something. So while the kids were playing in the arcade (Dave & Busters is a huge arcade with a big restaurant and a couple of full bars inside), the dads were hanging out at my bar drinking Bud Lights and shots of Jameson. My bar manager and all the other managers were trying to get us to push these alcoholic snow cone type cocktails with a plastic glowing ice cube called “Glo Cones”.

Now, I’m all for selling novelty drinks, but to try and sell to those pretty chill dads was a no-go. One can try, but you still have to pick and gauge whom you can sell it to.

So, my manager asked me if I tried, and I said, “not yet, still trying to feel them out”. He jokingly told me that I “sucked” and proceeded to talk to one of the men and try to sell a “Glo Cone”. I think out of politeness, the guy obliged and bought one. My manager gave me a look of defiance as if to say, “I told you so”.

In turn, I went up to the man holding this ridiculous cocktail while the other dads were double fisting, holding their Bud Lights and shots of Jameson, and sarcastically asked him (within earshot of the manager of my bar manager who sold him the drink), “So, sir, how do you like that girly glowing cocktail of yours?” He said, “It’s pretty good. I tell you my vagina feels a lot better now, thank you very much.”

With a smug look on my face, I looked at my manager, who was sort of embarrassed; I looked at the man then proceeded to give him a high five.

From that moment on, whenever I would sell one of those Glo Cones, they were referred to as “Vagina Cones”.

It really is a fun and interesting profession. I constantly get to meet and know all personalities, all races. Some are nice, some not so nice. (There are) those that tip… Some are more generous than others, some not at all. Some sadly fit the stereotype, while some of them break the stereotype. Over time, I’ve been able to gauge if people will “take care” of me or not. There are even a few guests that will do anything to try and get stuff “comped” (industry speak for not paying at all).

Some of the easiest and best guests to have are those that work in the same industry. They understand the value of your work and are usually pretty chill and low maintenance as long as you do your job and do it well.

 

img_20160519_161156.jpg

Francis in Action

What would you say are the differences in the bartending scene in NYC and in the Philippines?

There are a ton of differences… From the practices to the way things are run.

The goal obviously is to make money and maximize profits. I’ve worked in both the states and here in Manila and I have to say hands down bartending in NYC is much better. Not only is it more fun, you have more freedom, and it gives the bartender and the proprietor a chance to make more money.

For example, bartenders in the States have certain privileges that they can use to make some money for themselves and possibly the company. One of those is called a buyback. Basically, we have the power to buy someone a drink after they’ve bought and paid for several ones. It’s as if to say, “thank you” (to the guest). This makes guests feel welcome and appreciated and in turn, they spend more on drinks in the hopes of possibly getting another buyback. Not only do they tip well, the company makes more revenue because instead of the 1 or 2 drinks that they initially planned on consuming, guests end up buying about 6 to 8 (and get 2 for free). It really doesn’t cost the company a lot of money to give one or two away, and the added sales and revenue for that particular transaction and the possible future transactions from guests who’ll most likely return to the establishment is priceless.

Here’s a suggestion: Most purveyors will give a case or two of free beer (or a couple of free bottles of liquor) with a big alcohol purchase. Instead of just thinking they’re freebies and just sell them as is (totally nothing wrong with that), use those freebies for buybacks or a happy hour specials on slow days. It’s a great way to market the establishment.

People nowadays forget the culture behind the bar. Being a bartender, we not only serve drinks to our guests, but we also make sure that they have fun and enjoy their experience.

I guess that goes for both bartenders and servers, but working behind the bar has certain perks. We have to talk to our guests and try to entertain them. First, the profit margin for alcohol is much higher than food.

That being said, bartenders actually have the power and should have the skills to upsell and/or make them order more. As long as people are having a good time, they wouldn’t mind spending money (or they’re too drunk to keep track of the tab J). Either way, it’s killing 2 birds with one stone: The establishment is making money, and at the same time the bartender is ensuring future sales… Because the more fun guests have, the likelier they’ll be back (and spend more).

Bartenders don’t even have to know how to “flairtend” or anything like that. For me that is so passé. A bartender could be the greatest flairtender in the world but if he can’t hold a conversation, he is useless to me. I’d take a really fast bartender or a really good conversationalist any day.

Then again, to each his own, right?

Think about it: It takes around 5-10 minutes to get a drink in the Philippines.

Bartender gets order. Bartender writes it down. Bartender gives it to the cashier. Cashier rings it up. Cashier puts the receipt in a bill jacket.

Cashier hands it to the bartender. Bartender hands it to guests. Guest pays for it. Guest gets his change. Bartender cracks open guest’s beer, or crappy mojito, or what have you.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the reason for the process: Bartenders want to be as accurate as possible, with the paper trail to back it up. It also keeps theft at bay. But playing with all that process and doing everything by the book sacrifices speed of service and quantity, and more importantly, guest experience. The faster drinks are sold, the more money the bar makes.

This is how we do things overseas: Guest sits at the bar, then orders from the bartender with his credit card or cash in hand. The bartender makes the drink, and then hands it to the guest while taking the payment. The bartender rings it up, then gives the change.

At this point, the guest is enjoying his beer or whiskey on the rocks (or both) in about a minute, tops, depending on how busy the bartender is.

A bartender can do that with maybe 34 customers: take orders and payments, and multi task. At this rate, he could help out about 710 people in about 25 minutes.

Compare that to 1 customer in 5 minutes.

Imagine the really busy clubs here in Manila where people have to go through the same thing. For one thing, the establishments here are overstaffed (editor’s note: I completely agree… Bistros in Europe that could seat 40 people are usually run by an average of 2 people). There are 3 or 4 people behind the bar when all that’s needed are 2 good ones.

The constant backlog of orders due to unnecessary waiting at any given night amounts to thousands of pesos in lost revenue.

People reading this might say that I’m an idiot and I have no idea what I’m talking about and I’m probably talking out of my ass. Maybe. But a little under 2 decades behind the bar gives me a little credibility, don’t you think?

I get that the bar culture here is different. People’s mentality here is different. People see bartenders, servers, or anyone serving them anything and what they see are people that are beneath them. It’s generations and generations of that old colonial thinking. I’m sure there are places here that think like me or are trying to do the same thing and break the mold. But as of now, that’s just my observation.


 

End of part one. Will return for more of Francis in the next installment of this article. Cheers! 🙂

Lately…

Standard

I’ve been busy.

I’ve finished an inerview with bartender/burger master Francis Balbarin for a feature I’m doing on Father’s Day.

image

Awesome #proudlypinoy Bartender, Francis Balbarin

I’ve gone through one of the best masters classes in Italian wine (hosted by the legendary Gambero Rosso).

image

3,000+ indigenous grapes? No problem.

I’ve been scouting around for the best juices in town (because… Is it just me, or did Manila just get hotter?).

image

Yum...

I’ve finally found enough time to check out the Bonbon Club (in a fit of being anti tita of Manila).

image

Not such a member of #titasofmanila after all!

Now, I’m writing from the comfort of my cozy Hong Kong hotel, excited for tomorrow’s Vinexpo.

That being said, I may not be posting so often this week, but most likely, I’ll be keeping our Instagram (@2shotsandapintofficial) account updated.

Cheers!