Tag Archives: Cocktail

L’art du partage (The Art of Sharing)

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Anthony Bourdain once said in his Paris episode of The Layover, the biggest mistake anyone could make (and a surefire way to have a terrible Parisian holiday) is to over-schedule. I made that blunder several times before, which admittedly caused me to fall out of love with the city.

My first trip was in 2012 when I was wide-eyed and touristy, forcing myself to accomplish all the “must-do in Paris” items from a stereotypical guidebook (I climbed the Eiffel Tower and saw the Mona Lisa in the Louvre). It made for great photos, but it was a “meh” experience. I had a succeeding trip that I called “disastrous”, which happened when I over-scheduled my itinerary in a similar fashion. My third trip was equally catastrophic, because we decided to cram two days’ worth of activities in one day.

That’s when I gave up. I got tired of Paris. I enjoyed the vineyards (and the people) in the wine regions of France, bien sûr, and saw Paris as just a means to get there. In fact, when I got invited to join one of my culinary BFFs/occasional client/partner in crime for all things gastronomy in Paris to do “research”, I looked at is as simply that: Research. Work.

Oddly enough, that’s when I fell in love with Paris all over again.

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Restaurant de Philippe et Jean Pierre, 7 Rue de Boccador, Paris 8e (photo courtesy of Chef Jonas Ng)

It happened like this: Given that my friend would spend most of his time working in one of the best Parisian restaurants, Restaurant de Philippe et Jean Pierre, I had most of my days free.

That’s when I decided to truly embrace Bourdain’s advice and do as little as possible in Paris.

Oh, and eat and drink my way through the city.

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But first, a café (near the Butte Chaumont park) to spend a few hours like a flâneur

Paris offers endless possibilities to fully immerse oneself in their food and beverage culture: One can live like a flâneur in cafés that have been around for hundreds of years, explore markets for amazing food and wine paring options, or sample endless amounts of epicurean delights…

But what is the key to understanding Paris’ love affair with food and beverage? Is it through immersing oneself in their rich culinary history that somehow seamlessly blends with an eagerness to push the envelope? Is it through the appreciation of their amazing technical and artistic skills? Is it through accessing beautiful fresh ingredients and authentic, regional wines, found anywhere from a neighbourhood Carrefour to an artisanal cheesemonger?

Personally, I think the answer lies somewhere in the art of sharing. As with everything else, the French have a lovely translation for the act of sharing that just rolls off the tongue: “Partager”.

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A carefe of Cahors and a Magret de canard from Chez Papa (our favourite branches are in Madeleine and in Bastille)

I came up with this theory after re-evaluating all my favourite moments in my Parisian trip… There was a time when I took my friend to one of our family’s best-loved restaurants for French comfort food (and thus letting him in on our little Parisian secret): Chez Papa. We split escargot, tripe, and their signature magret de canard with a carafe of Cahors (an appellation in southwest France famous for strong, red wines).

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Truffles and Champagne and Rose, oh my! Maison de la Truffe, 14 Rue Marbeuf, Paris 8e

 

We also shared this discovery: A restaurant that served different interpretations of truffle, Maison de la Truffe. We had a risotto with truffles, and the richest, prettiest foie gras terrine. We paired them a rosé (as a nod to the warm weather), and their house champagne… Then left room for dessert in the form of truffle ice cream. Granted, in books, none of these are classic food and wine pairings, but it all turned out so good. Afterwards, as a welcome respite, we decided to treat ourselves to ice cold Martini cocktails along the Seine.

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Yup, it’s possible to drink along the Seine

On our way to a house party, we saw the tail end of an event along the street. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever seen: We saw locals having a blast sitting along the road, doling out glasses of impeccable white wine and shells upon shells of oysters to their friends.

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…or along the road. 

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It’s better to drink with good food (photo courtesy of Chef Jonas Ng)…

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…and with good company (photo courtesy of Chef Jonas Ng)

The house party we went to was hosted by people my friend met in Manila. It was an awesome night where opinions on culinary philosophies, tastes in music (where I learned about Wintergatan, a Swedish folktronica band), food, and wine were exchanged. I knew I was in the ultimate spot in Paris because that’s where I had some of the best home cooked vegetarian food I’ve ever had in my life (I’m not too fond of vegetables, but the way they prepared and cooked the food was amazing). We had wine (as one should in France) paired very casually (with none of the frills of making sure they paired accurately with the food). Plates were cleared to make way for delicious cheese… Followed by artistic and delectable pastries from one of the evening’s guests, famous pastry chef Gaétan Husson.

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Versailles Market

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The feast we prepared from our Versailles Market finds

Speaking of people my friend met in Manila, we also spent one morning in the Versailles market, where we were shown how to shop in a real French marché. I know I’m not talking about Paris anymore, but amazingly, it only takes less than an hour away via train from Paris to get to Versailles… It’s totally worth the travel to purchase some of the freshest produce, the best cheese and charcuterie, and to choose from a large selection of regional wine. We decided to grab some roast, figs, cheese, cold cuts, and a Monbazillac (my cheap alternative to a Sauternes for really strong cheese).

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A feast of thick, juicy steak, paired with a bottle of Pavillon du Glana Saint-Julien, Le Flamboire, 54 Rue Blanche, Paris

Cheese is so ingrained in French culture that they even have an expression for the appropriate consumption: “Pas de bon repas sans fromage”, which roughly translates to, “It’s not a good meal without cheese”. This is something I learned over dinner in Le Flamboire with someone my teacher (and friend) told me to seek out in Paris. Over some of the best, well-cooked steak I’ve ever had (thick as the side of a dinner fork), a bottle of Saint-Julien (in celebration of my return from Bordeaux), and delectable desserts, we swapped stories about how one’s mother’s cooking (whether it’s mousse au chocolat or kare-kare) is universally the best. He also taught me the “correct” way of eating crème brûlée (one should daintily break the crust first before taking a small bite).

 

“They are friendly, the French. They surround you with a civilised atmosphere, and they leave you inside of you, completely to yourself.” – Gertrude Stein, Paris France (1940)

So, what is the secret to understanding French gastronomy? Ask the French, they are more than willing to share it with anyone keen to understand and appreciate. Find someone to share a meal with you and talk about it… Or even listen to a vendeuse as she explains her charcuterie to you (she will most likely let you taste some). The key is to slow down and indulge your senses… In doing so, I discovered, not only did I fall in love with Paris all over again, but with life as well.


Special Thanks:

  • My buddy, Chef Jonas, for sharing Paris, photos, and friends with me (see him on the Lifestyle Channel in his show Chef Next Door, or spot him around his restaurant, Le Jardin, in Fort BGC)
  • Babette Isidro of Jeron Travel
  • Renato S. Dollete, Food and Beverage Manager of Etihad Airways
  • Tim and Justine for opening their home to us
  • Claire for showing us around her hometown
  • Eméric for sharing a beautiful meal with me 
  • Chia for taking me on an epic Parisian adventure

Heroes and a Bottle

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A melange of things that remind me of my heroes

I’ve been MIA for a week now (so much for that target of hammering out an article at least 2x a week, eheh), but as people close to me know, my calendar has just erupted like one of those Dr. Pimple Popper videos… Out of control and messy (I’m sorry for the graphic analogy!).

Think four wine events right before I fly off to Europe for work/research, followed by travel plans once a month until the end of the year.

Professional wino problems.

That being said, I’ve mostly used my laptop for research, RSVPs, email, homework, and admittedly, entertainment.

One of the entertaining things I came across involved people talking about what they’d like to eat and discuss with their heroes (living or dead)… Then, I thought to myself:

What would I drink with my heroes?

So, my imagination on overdrive, I decided to compile a list and share it here.

 

Ernest Hemingway

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”Ernest Hemingway

Why: He had one of the wildest lives I’ve ever read about, and I admire his writing style. His time in Paris was so epic; I did an “homage to Hemingway” walk and hung out in his Parisian haunts when I last visited the city. One of my all-time favourite books is “A Moveable Feast”, which chronicles some of his adventures.
What to Drink: Bourbon. The man loved his alcohol… The stronger, the better. While he was known to drown himself in some of the best French wines during his time, I feel like Bourbon is a little more like him: Masculine, rough, and earthy.

Edith Piaf

“Quand il me prend dans ses bras, il me parle tout bras, je voie la vie en rose (When he takes me in his arms, and speaks to me softly, I see the world in rose-coloured glasses)”Edith Piaf, La Vie En Rose

Why: Môme Piaf’s agitated, powerful, and heartbreaking voice was a reflection of her tragic life. Whenever I get melancholic and miss Paris, I listen to one of her songs and I’m transported to the beautiful but grimy streets of the city.
What to Drink: Champagne. Oh, the woman could down a bottle like it’s nobody’s business. I also loved that she lived during a time when drinking Champagne out of a coupé was considered très chic.

Anthony Bourdain

“When dealing with complex transportation issues, the best thing to do is pull up with a cold beer and let somebody else figure it out.” – Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown (Peru)

Why: The man is one of my culinary idols. While I decided not to pursue a career in the kitchen, his irreverent take on haute cuisine (and his colorful vocabulary) has consistently inspired me to be as unconventional and cheekily verbose as I could when dealing with wine. Also, it has to be said that he has fantastic taste in vino.
What to Drink: San Miguel Pale Pilsen (with Sisig!). The man loves the pig, which we Pinoys have perfected in the form of heart-attack inducing dishes, like Bourdain’s Filipino favourite, the sisig. Nothing on earth goes better with sisig than an ice-cold beer. To truly be Pinoy, San Miguel is the ultimate, decent brew to go with our greasy bar chow.

Audrey Hepburn

“The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – it’s all that matters.” – Audrey Hepburn

Why: The woman personified grace, fashion, elegance, and everything a true lady aspires to be. Her iconic films, such as “Roman Holiday” and “Sabrina”, showcase her poise, diction (to this day, I couldn’t believe a chauffer’s daughter or a high-class call girl could speak like that), and Givenchy’s 1960’s creations.
What to Drink: Cognac. A little known fact about Hepburn is that she drank a glass of cognac after dinner every night as a digestif. For me, there’s something incredibly stylish about swirling a shot of cognac in a snifter.

Natalie MacLean

“The question I’m asked most often: ‘What’s your favorite wine?’ My answer: ‘The one someone else pays for.'”Natalie MacLean, Unquenchable

Why: I’ve always loved her wine writing style, which is humorous, light, and approachable. Wine novices and hardcore winos always appreciate her work (I still use them as reference).
What to Drink: Romanée-Conti 1979. I’d love to share one of my favourite Burgundy vintages over stories of her meeting the Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy.

Jane Austen

“There is not the hundredth part of the wine consumed in this kingdom that there ought to be. Our foggy climate wants to help.”Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Why: I think girls who dream of getting swept off their feet (by a man with “10,000 a year”) read an Austen novel at one point in their lives. Her famous works are light, fast-paced, and a guide on marrying well in Regency-era England.
What to Drink: English Breakfast Tea. Honestly, it’s because all three words make me think of Austen… Having tea during a bright, sunny morning in a cottage overlooking fields of wild flowers, gossiping about suitors and marriages. Of course, proper frou-frou teacups are a must!

Adele

The focus on my appearance has really surprised me. I’ve always been a size 14 to 16, I don’t care about clothes, I’d rather spend my money on cigarettes and booze.” – Adele

Why: Plus-sized women need an enormous amount of confidence and talent to be successful… Both of which Adele has. Add to that her unique brand of sass, and we’ve got a heroine everybody could relate to (from heartaches, to moving on, to having her H&M card declined), all packaged with a set of pipes that could make the undead quiver.
What to Drink: Right Bank Bordeaux. I found out from some of her interviews that she likes a glass of wine… Red wines from the right bank of Bordeaux are both powerful and silky, just like Adele’s voice.

Iris Apfel

“You have to try it. You only have one trip. You’ve got to remember that.”Iris Apfel

Why: Talk about longevity. This woman is 94 years old and can accessorise outfits like it’s nobody’s business. I’m amazed at the fact that she’s still relevant in the world of fashion and lifestyle after so many decades. She had one of the longest marriages in the public eye, spending 67 years with her husband, Carl Apfel, until he died in 2015.
What to Drink: Manhattan. A proper Manhattan involves Canadian whisky, Angosturra bitters, sweet vermouth, and a maraschino, served in an incredibly chic cocktail glass. Added bonus, the name is a nice way to honour her New York roots.

Oz Clarke

“The ritual observed by professionals is not just showing off: there is a purpose to every stage, and it can help you to get maximum pleasure from a bottle of wine. Wine can be complex stuff, and if you just knock it back you could be missing out on a wonderful sensory experience. Instead, take a few moments to discover a little about a wine’s background, appreciate its colour, and savour its scents and range of flavours.”Oz Clarke

Why: He’s irreverent, entertaining, knowledgeable, and has an enviably no-nonsense palate when it comes to wine. I’ve always admired and respected him for his approach on wines and writing… He manages to inject his dry humour while beautifully utilising the English language, without losing essential information that allows winos to truly learn something. One of my favourite wine shows is “Oz and James’ Big Wine Adventure”, and I use his book “Grapes and Wines” often… Confession: One of my life goals is to meet him one day.
What to Drink: Anarchy from Cypher Winery, Paso Robles. I loved learning about how Anarchy truly captured the rebellious nature of these Paso Robles winemakers during an episode with James May… What can I say, I like people (and my wine) out of the box (no pun intended). I especially loved Clarke’s apprehension as he rode on the back of a hog to get to the winery.

General Antonio Luna

“Mas madali pang pagkasunduin ang langit at lupa kaysa dalawang Pilipino tungkol
sa kahit na anong bagay. (It’s easier to get heaven and earth to agree versus two Filipinos on anything.)” – Antonio Luna (the character), Heneral Luna

Why: Admittedly, my mind wandered off during history class when I was a kid (I honestly blame the deep Tagalog our teachers used to teach the subject), so I never really looked into General Luna’s life story until the film “Heneral Luna” came out. Through the movie, I learned about his passion for the country, disdain for dissension, and stubbornness to inculcate a national pride amongst the Filipinos of the time.
What to Drink: Ribera del Duero Tempranillo. Honestly, because p*ny*t@ it’s good s**t from Spain. 

I realise that my eclectic list of “heroes” includes famous people, but anyone can be a hero, including us everyday folk… As long as we’re courageous and noble in our own way.

What would you drink and talk about with your hero? Cheers!

Impertinently Boozing with Francis Balbarin – Part 2

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“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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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)

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“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.

 

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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.

 

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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…

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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.

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Awesome #proudlypinoy Bartender, Francis Balbarin

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

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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?).

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Yum...

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

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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!

Feelin’ Hot, Hot, HOT…

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Ah, April in Manila.

A time for wallowing in the intense heat.

A time for enjoying a teeny tiny sliver of traffic decongestion because local schools are out for summer break (this, of course, is debatable).

A time for putting aside wine for anything refreshing and cool.

I realize that the moment April arrives in Manila, writer’s block seriously hits me, and with good reason: I can’t stand drinking wine in this heat.

I can go as far as chugging down a very chilled Sauvignon Blanc, or maybe some sparkling wine. I cannot, however, get adventurous in my red wine exploration during this time of the year… I can’t even stand eating red meat these days (much to my doctors’ delight)… Which makes me veer further away from enjoying robust reds.

People who say I should just stick myself in an airconditioned room have obviously not heard that the Philippines has one of the highest electricity rates in Southeast Asia.

I apologize for being a ranting wino (I have yet to get started on the baloney that is the importation of alcohol in the Philippines), but let me blame this on the heat and move on.

In this temperature, I’d rather have coolers, cocktails, and beer… So let me focus on that.

#positivevibes

 

Cocktail of the Month:

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A smoky take on a classic

 

I like cocktails.

As most people know, however, the Pinoy palate is geared towards saccharine sweet food and drinks, and it does translate to the way we make cocktails.

I tend to shy away from diabetes-inducing beverages myself, so I’ve decided to butch up my Screwdriver and use scotch instead. Not just any scotch: A peaty, smoky, masculine Islay.

Here’s how the mix went:

 

Ingredients:

1/2 orange

1/2 lemon

1.5 jiggers Islay scotch

½ teaspoon honey

1 can soda water

 

Procedure:

Chill the soda water before starting. Juice the orange. Put the orange juice, scotch, and honey in a cocktail shaker with tons of ice. Shake. Strain in a rock glass. Pour soda water.

 

Beer of the Month:

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All the way from Sancerre

Maybe it’s my wanderlust coupled with the desire to get out of this inferno added to the French classes I’ve been taking.

Maybe it’s the boredom of having to feature yet another crisp white wine (nothing wrong with that, though).

Whatever it is, my mind ended up transporting itself back to one of the biggest surprises I’ve ever had from the French wine countryside: a brewery.

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Who would mind getting lost in this view?

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Look at all that beer…

See, Sancerre has always been about legendary white wine, and the notion of having a local brewery in the form of Brasserie Sancerroise floored me. Located in what felt like the middle of nowhere, Sancerre, this charming little brewery still uses traditional methods and recipes. They also make beer jellies and candied wines.

Inside, I was told by the nice vendeuse that a) I was allowed to take photos, and b) these are their best sellers:

  • La Sancerroise (Blonde) – An earthy, soft, round blonde beer with hints of green lentils and berries.
  • La Sancerroise au “Gruyt” – An award winning Belgian style beer that used herb and spices instead of hops, using methods done in the Middle Ages.

 

Unfortunately, my imagination can only get me so far… It’s still extremely hot where I’m sitting right now. Excuse me while I indulge in an ice cold beer and cool down.

Cheers!

Clinking Glasses to Questions that Inspire

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I had a horrible time getting over my last bout with writer’s block. Bourdain didn’t work, books didn’t work, and I hardly had time to sit down and actually seek out inspiration.

I found inspiration, however, while I was weeding through my email. Over the course of my career as a professional alcoholic*, I often get asked different drink-related questions, but one of the most common ones is this:

 

“What basic glassware (for alcohol) do I need to buy?”

 

Here are my recommendations for a basic mini-bar at home:

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Just some of the stuff you can find in our home

  • Proper red wine glasses – They’re normally the larger sized wine glasses found in the store. Ordinarily, there are two options: one with a larger, circular bowl called either a Balloon or Burgundy glass; and one with a narrower bowl called a Bordeaux glass.
    If I were to select just one (purchasing both at the same time is indeed a hefty investment), I would suggest getting the Bordeaux glasses first. Larger, more circular bowls collect more aromas and are ideal for delicate reds like Pinot Noir, but there will be a bigger chance of getting a predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, or any similar spicy, bold red wine. These would not require a larger, exposed wine surface to sniff out the little aromas a delicate wine would have. With that in mind, most users will get more mileage out of a Bordeaux glass.
    Trivia: The reds of Burgundy are largely made using Pinot Noir, and the reds of Bordeaux are largely made using Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, hence the reason for the names of the glasses. 😉
  • Proper white wine glasses – Usually, these are the smaller sized wine glasses. These can be used for both white wines and rosés.
  • Sparkling wine glasses – These can also be called champagne glasses or champagne flutes. The elegantly narrow bowls are superb for preserving carbonation in sparkling wines (a must-have for any cocktail party). These are also awesome for Bellinis and Mimosas.
  • Beer glasses – Unbeknownst to many, there are actually several kinds of beer glasses used for specific types of beer (with the intent of really enjoying the best characteristics from the beer). There are tulip pints for dry stouts, nonicks, and even snifters (more often used for brandy).
    Personally, I’d start out with a pilsner for aesthetic purposes: The slender shape is great for showing off the color, transparency, and foam.
    I admittedly bought weizen glasses for our home (which can be seen in the photo), because it not only does a pilsner’s job, it can also lock in aromas on the top of the glass (perfect for objective beer evaluations).
  • Cocktail glasses – These are also called martini glasses. I’ve used these for martinis, cosmopolitans, margaritas, and any “chic” cocktail.
  • High-ball – These can be used for just about everything: water (which we do at home), milk, juice, soda, iced tea, mojitos…
  • Low-ball – Also known as rock glasses, I use these for smaller cocktails (I’ve made White Russian in these), and for brown spirits (whiskey/whisky, cognac, etc).
    I recommend getting a proper snifter for brandy, but a low-ball will be ok to start off with.
  • Shot glasses – Because, shots. 😉 People with nimble fingers and amazing dexterity can use this to experiment on layered drinks (I recommend starting off with traffic light, made by layering grenadine syrup, Galiano herbal liqueur, and Midori melon liqueur).
  • Wildcard Nice To Have: A Decanter – I believe in getting one of these for nicer, older, old-world wines. These babies introduce oxygen, oxidize stinky aromas, and make wine taste smoother. It doesn’t matter what shape it is (there’s standard, cornett, swan, and duck in the market). What’s important is the ease in filling, pouring, and cleaning. I recommend decanting old reds and waiting about 15-30 minutes before consuming the wine.

 

To invest or not to invest in crystal?

I personally can’t find scientific studies that say crystal glassware is better for wine consumption. In my experience, however, they do enhance the wine drinking experience. I recommend getting Riedel (we get ours from Bacchus stores). They’re awesome, a little on the pricey side but not exorbitantly so.

 

There are fun-looking stemless wine glasses. Are they any good?

I prefer stemmed glassware. The purpose of stems is to have something to hold on to without altering the temperature of the wine in the glass with the heat of our hands, thus allowing us to enjoy the wine in its optimum state. In colder areas, it really doesn’t matter. In our tropical country, however, I like eliminating as much unnecessary potential source of temperature alteration (heat!) as I could.

I hope these help. At the end of the day, it’s your glassware, so buy whatever you think suits your lifestyle. Cheers!