How did you get started in bartending? "I was a performer. I did off-Broadway musicals before, so it was a natural progression. There is a theatrical side to bartending. I started in a wine bar, learning about wine, and then moved into cocktails around 2001. Everything that made me happy in performing also [worked] in bartending and mixology."
Tell us about the New York chapter of the organisation Lupec (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails), which you started. "The organisation was started in Pittsburgh by women who wanted to find the classic cocktails of their grandfathers. The only places [serving such drinks tended to be] not very trendy, dirty old men bars. When I launched the New York chapter, it was to create a sort of drinking sorority, with women in the industry helping and supporting each other."
Is there a difference in the preferences and palates of men and women in terms of cocktails? "I think so. Not all guys like bitter drinks but oftentimes they will. You look at food and it's the same. Sometimes men like saltier food. Personally, my palate is more floral and subtle so I prefer more aromatic flavours. But there are stereotypes; not all girls like sweet drinks."
You prefer to call yourself a bartender instead of the more prestigious-sounding mixologist. Why? "As a bartender you need to have the opportunity to serve people and get that feedback and response. It's hands-on and you never stop learning. In order to fine-tune, you have to get out there. I don't mind the term 'mixologist'. I do create recipes and cocktails and I do a lot of menu consulting but the skill of serving people makes me a better bartender."
What are people in the United States drinking these days? "Women and whiskey is now very popular. Every spirits brand with a whiskey portfolio is starting to market to women. We're also starting to see cocktails on tap, which is kind of bringing cocktails into the dive bar environment. There is also a major resurgence in small-batch micro distilleries. You have people making gin in Brooklyn, Manhattan, upstate New York and even Colorado."
Is there a difference between East and West cocktail cultures? "This is my first time in Asia but in New York we've had some training by ambassadors from Japanese whiskies in techniques and styles. It's completely different and I am fascinated by it. It's a beautiful art and process. I wish we had the time in the US to do that, but usually Americans want cocktails as fast as you can make them."
Do bartenders bring their own ingredients to events such as the MO Bar Masters of Mixology? "The MO Bar was able to get 90 per cent of what I want and in some cases exceeded my expectations, so I didn't have to bring much. The things that are hard to get are good sherries. Sherry is having a big resurgence in the US. It's an ingredient I use a lot, so I smuggled a bottle here. But I'm flexible. That's part of the challenge. I knew they could get amazing mangoes so I'm making some drinks with that. Whatever ingredients I have, I'll taste it, adjust it, balance it."