Tag Archives: Family

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!

 

 

Confessions (A Third Year Anniversary Special)

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I cannot write well enough to convey how floored I am after realising that, man… It has been three years since we had the insane idea to start a blog.

I say that initial statement with conviction (albeit with a touch of self-deprecation) because that is the honest to goodness truth, which I feel I can expound on by talking about how the blog started.

See, I never planned to do this. My life goal was to put up a wine school in Manila (either a WSET accreditation school or a lifestyle-esque venue for people who just want to know how to appreciate wine), or work as a freelance consultant for food service and wines (which I’m currently doing).

I was fine, contributing to that goal by teaching in a university and doing personal research to enhance my knowledge (whether by meeting people, going to events, traveling to wine destinations, or going online).

As I went about my business, I discovered a lot of things while going online for wine research: First, the materials available were erroneous, outdated, too complicated for my students, impossible to relate to by a lot of Pinoys, or just plain boring (mostly those written by people who take themselves and wine too seriously). Don’t get me wrong, there are awesome ones out there (I’m totally team Oz Clarke, Natalie Maclean, and Jancis Robinson), but they tend to cater to hardcore wine enthusiasts and can get a bit intimidating for novice wine drinkers.

That being said (and here comes my confession), during one of these online researches, I kinda picked a fight with a higher-ranking guy overseas in a thread after he failed to see the humor on certain statements I made. Not my finest hour, I admit, but I came from a perspective that while the alcohol industry is indeed serious business, the people who are only beginning to learn about them get too scared with such seriousness.

Fine. I may have said really stupid things to defend my point, but hey… I was young. I just (passionately) knew that beginner winos get overwhelmed by technical talk (and the insistence on certain preferences over others’) that they never get encouraged to explore, or give up wine altogether (sidenote: that being said, there is a MASSIVE untapped market out there).

Anyway, I ranted about the argument to my poor, hapless husband who, using that beautiful marketing-trained brain of his, suggested that I stop complaining about the lack of accessible (and friendly) resources and make some.

Seriously, make my own? This was during the time in my life when I was starting to slowly navigate through my introversion and fear of rejection… I thought, wouldn’t putting myself out there (at the mercy of cyber bullies and grammar fiends) be counterproductive?

So, I decided to take a deep breath and just post. I totally refused to take it seriously (after all, I had a day job), and had each article edited by a friend (who I would also like to credit for helping me come up with a name for the blog over coffee and booze).

This is why, if someone tries to look at the archives, I only wrote sporadically when we started. I just did not want to emotionally invest in it… So much so that I didn’t even bother to fix the layout (hah!).

All of this changed about a year later. I suddenly met like-minded people (read: anti wine snobs), legit people who believed in what I did (and prompted me to edit the living daylights out of the blog from April 2013 to about June 2014, then told me to at least write once a week but twice would be better), supporters, and partners who encouraged me to actually launch this thing.

So here I am, three years later… A non-writer of an educated alcoholic who chucks out about 1.5 articles a week… A crazy, barely creative, self-effacing freak with a bizarre sense of humour that actually had an article published… Someone that normally shies away from social media but actually put up a Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest account for the blog (kicking and screaming)… A neurotic, chaotic geek who wound up halfway around the world and got to meet (and befriend) some of the best winemakers in the world… A disbelieving wine professional that constantly pinches herself just to realise that working with fabulous people is a reality and not just a dream.

I’ve harped so much about the people around me because I really don’t think I could have made it through the years without them.

Chad, my husband, is a given (and I’ll save everyone the cheese by not gushing about him online). Mark was awesome for getting me started along with Gerry’s breathtaking graphics. CJ was marvellous for solving the banner issue (because I cannot code to save or end my life). Tin was splendid for constantly sharing my work and guiding me around the inner workings of Philippine media. Paul is incredible for letting me use him as some sort of a grammar sounding board (and bearing the brunt of one of the blog’s first haters).

I’m so grateful for supportive partners as well: The Embassy of Chile in Manila (especially Ms. Fernanda Vila) for taking a lowly, startup, non-writer like myself and sending me on one of the most amazing adventures in my life. I’m thankful for the team of One Mega Group for legitimizing my work and actually publishing it. Urbangeppetto is super cool (especially Garp and Lois) for patiently working on gorgeous designs for us (despite my head and my schedule being all over the place… Which is why it’s taking time for the new layout to materialise).

I’m stoked about working with equally cool friends (that I sometimes consider family) as well: Poco Deli has been wonderful for hosting wine dinners with us, with the same intent of getting wine neophytes to start on their own road to great wine adventures.

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Come one, come all! Artistic wines from Provence, featured in Le Jardin Manila’s Wine Dinner on May 18, 2016 at 1830. Tickets at PHP5,000.00+ each, which includes five wines and a five course meal. Limited seats available, please reserve yours through +63917-8112171 

Le Jardin Manila (led by the phenomenal celebrity chef Jonas Ng*) has been a great partner with their desire to introduce high quality French food and wine in an accessible yet intelligent manner. We’ll be working with each other again for a Provence dinner event on May, showcasing breathtaking, unusual wines from Provence with delectable food to match.

Lastly, I’m happy that we get to reach out to people in different parts of the world (I mean, seriously. Our stats tell us we have readers from Russia, constant readership from Brazil and Austria… I’d love to visit those places one day, and I’m glad the blog has had a head start).

So, here’s to three years (and beyond). Cheers!

*Catch his show Chef Next Door on the Lifestyle Channel… Reruns are playing constantly but new episodes will start June. That, or see him around Le Jardin. 😉

The Year That Was (2shots of 2015)

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“To take wine into our mouths is to savor a droplet of the river of human history” – Clifton Fadiman

 

If that is the case, then 2015 was the year I became a true historian. 😉

Here are a few of some of my favourite moments in 2015:

 

Tons of Travel

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Amsterdam, Sancerre, London… Oh My!

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Singapore, Hanoi, and Napa

I thought 2014 was an amazing traveling year (I wound up halfway around the world on the opposite hemisphere!), but 2015 was just as fun. I enjoyed being part of a Vietnamese tea ceremony and partaking in my favorite Singaporean libations. I loved drinking through London, Paris, Sancerre, and Amsterdam. It was also a blast to end the year with a trip to Napa.

 

Healthy Living

Sharing my discoveries on health benefits of different beverages (juicing, chia, tea, etc.) was a rewarding experience. If you meet me in person, I’m far from being an Adriana Lima (I always use her as my ideal body peg because man, she’s healthy and sexy), but I’ve been consistently happy with my yearly checkups… I just have to be more mindful about the stuff I eat with wine (eheh).

 

Friends and Family

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Titas Drinking Spritzers for Lunch (How The Mighty Have Fallen)

Some of my favourite articles included chronicling a wino friend’s pregnancy and looking back on the drinking habits of our youth. Chad, the rest of our family (I’m still eternally grateful for the surprise trip to Napa), and our spectacular friends have been loving and supportive (even drinking with me and sharing their discoveries, all in the name of beverage research of course) throughout 2015.

 

The Great Chilean Adventure

CHILE COLLAGE 1

Gillmore Winery, Valdivieso, Via Wines, Montes, Lapostolle, Caliterra

CHILE COLLAGE 2

Morande, Sta. Rita, Tremonte, Uva Dulce, and Valparaiso

 

CHILE COLLAGE 3

Checked One Thing on my Bucket List: A Visit to Concha Y Toro!

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My First Foray Into Becoming a Legit Non-Writer Writer 😉

Narrating my Chilean wine adventures throughout 2015 was marvelous. To this day, I still can’t get over the beautiful sights, wonderful people, and phenomenal wines of Chile. The icing on this cake was the Lifestyle Asia article about the trip (OMG I’m a legit non-writer writer now!)… It was fabulous to share my experience with so many people.

 

Local Flavours

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The Beginning of a Fantastic Pinoy Adventure!

The epiphany I had in looking in my own backyard for beverage inspiration has led to many adventures (from coffee to craft beer and everything in between). I’m not done writing about them, and I’m excited to talk about even more truly Filipino drinks (and explorations) to the world.

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Ville de la Reine (available in Wine Story branches)

That being said let me do something quintessentially “new year” with you, my dear readers, by toasting with a glass of Champagne. This bottle of Ville de la Reine is a creamy blanc de blancs (translation: made from 100% Chardonnay grapes) perfect for toasting as the clock strikes 12, or with tasty hors d’oeuvres.

Cheers to 2016!

 

Napa Baby!

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Napa Baby!

For a wino, the next best thing to spending New Year’s Eve in our humble abode is to spend it in one of the best wine houses in Napa. 😉

Full article coming as soon as we get home.

Meanwhile, from our family to yours, happy 2016!

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*Special thanks to O for setting this up… You are amazing beyond words. We are eternally grateful.

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year!

Our family is spending the holidays in San Francisco (which explains my absence). We are loving it here. The weather is nice and chilly, the people are amazing, and the sights are so beautiful.

That being said, I admit to debating whether or not to post right now. Given the time difference, however, I want to be able to put up a post in time for New Year’s Eve in Manila.

If we were back home, we would probably be sitting in front of our window, watching the fireworks in the village across our apartment, having 12 grapes, jumping at the stroke of midnight.

Given that we are a hop skip and a jump away from California’s famous wineries, Chad’s sister’s BFF decided to treat us to a New Year’s Eve romp around Napa.

That being said, we will be welcoming the year with the best buzz ever. 😉

Coming soon, a proper look at the year that was, and a San Francisco special.

How are you spending your New Year’s Eve? If you’re in the Philippines, please don’t drink and light up a firecracker. 😉 Cheers and Happy New Year!

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A little sneak peek on the upcoming San Francisco special (shot in Fairmont Hotel San Francisco)