Continuing the international element of Cocktails in the City London guests of this year’s summer event will be able to meet and enjoy drinks with LA’s hottest bartender and winner of Cocktails in the City Los Angeles, Chris Amirault.
Listed in Zagat’s highly coveted 30 under 30 , a list that celebrates taste makers and games changers in the world of hospitality and selected as a rising star by StarChefs an organisation that visit LA once every four years and award only two members of hospitality each time.
A finalist in the USA Bacardi Legacy competition this year, an event that see’s hundreds of entrants cut down to mere 8 we caught up with Chris to say hello and find out more.
You have achieved a lot of success in your bartending career to date, what do you think makes a great bartender?
I think the truly great bartenders out there are simply great people – although they will be technically excellent and able to make great drinks, above all else the top bartenders are great hosts.
They have an ability to connect with guests, they can play a number of different roles – not only be a showman and entertain, but also be able to listen and develop a closer relationship with their guests. A lot of conversations that take place over the bar can be quite automatic – standard questions and answers that don’t really involve the bartender or guest, a good bartender will be in the present and work harder to engage with his guests.
How did you get into the industry?
If you start way back I was originally focused on being a basketball player. I had a plan I’d talked through with my parents, I was at private school on a basketball scholarship and the aim was to get a scholarship to university and study a business degree.
At private school I fell in love with acting and focused everything on achieving this, I moved to LA at 23 years old, got an agent and spent my time trying to get work, casting etc.
During this time I did a lot of different part time jobs and got an opportunity to work in a restaurant through a friend of mine – he subsequently left and I lied about my experience to bag a job on the bar – they say you have to fake it until you make it!
Whilst in this position I was making drinks and a customer came in, we shared a lot in common and got talking. He started asking me more about the drink I had made him and why and asked if I would be interested in developing my tuition of making cocktails.
I explained that I couldn’t afford more schooling, but he put me in contact with a real industry great called Julian Cox. He is considered to be one of the real founders of the LA Bartending scene and he ran a program for aspiring bartenders - known simply in the industry as 'Julian’s class'.
One of the leading LA restaurant operators used Julian’s class as a recruitment tool and I began a six week training program that was something akin to a reality TV show – think survivor. Seventy of us started the course, we would take a test every day, learn all the basics and develop from there. Every day a few people would get cut from the course until finally twelve of us were selected to join the company, and two of us were allowed to work behind the bar.
My personality is that I need to love what I do and I need to put everything into it, I called my agent told them I was going to focus on bartending and the rest is history.
And your in London after winning the Cocktails in the City Los Angeles event – what did you do to win that?
At the event there was a panel of judges including press and trade who were looking for a combination of the best cocktail and the best guest experience. At Otium we wanted to execute something that was iconic and Hollywood.
We created a Hollywood dressing room with the iconic star Marilyn Monroe hosting the space and our drink was based on two iconic cocktails – The Espresso Martini and the Classic Martini.
We created an espresso liquor. but combining Grey Goose with Ethiopian espresso and put this through a rotary evaporator creating a strong bold flavour that was completely clear.
We then milk washed it and spun it through a centrifuge – this would add the viscosity and body of dairy, but not affect the clear and clean look we were going for (like a classic martini).
At the event we would pour this pre-made liquid straight out of a bottle of Grey Goose, stir it down and serve like a martini and guests would be hit by this bold strong-flavoured espresso Martini.
This is very typical of Otium, we like to present drinks that may seem simple but are served in unfamiliar ways, often surprising the guest with a drink that looks very traditional, but has a very different flavour profile.
And what are the current drinks trends in LA?
At the moment a lot of the leading bars are having more fun with their drinks. They are taking 90’s drinks that might seem a bit dated and recreating them in modern ways and creating great cocktails. Why not have a go at making the worlds best Harvey Wallbanger or giving the cosmopolitan a 21st century makeover!
The other interesting trend in terms of flavours is the use of CBD – cannaboid oil.
The oil has no THC and so no psychoactive agents, but retains a distinct flavour profile associated with marijuana and it makes a really interesting alternative to more classic herbal modifiers like chartreuse etc.
We use a coconut CBD oil for a cocktail called the Pineapple Express named after the movie and strain of weed, it’s a pina colada taste profile in the style of a negroni made with gin, vanilla , sweet vermouth, pineapple infused Campari and CBD coconut oil.
Cocktails in the City is a celebration of the craft and skill of the bartender, what is the perception of bartenders in LA?
It's interesting because a few years ago most new openings would be restaurant led and the press coverage would be all about the chef and the food.
Two years ago the press releases started to mention their was also a bar offering - perhaps a line or two.
Now the coverage will include the kitchen, the chef, the bar and who’s running the bar. Chefs, owners and the press and guests now recognise and appreciate how important a good beverage program is within the operation. Consumers now see the work and the professionalism in bartending and people recognise there are different levels of bartender.
Craft cocktails aren't a trend – they're established. Chef driven cuisine – farm to table, clean eating etc all these “trends” people thought would disappear, but they haven’t. They are all firmly established and are being created and served by professionals all over the world.
The more craft bars that pop up the more people will recognise the skill of the bartender. Being a bartender is a badge of honour in the same way as being a chef.
I realise many of the leading chefs pursue it as a career from the beginning whilst bartending tends to attract people who fall into it from different walks of life. However, I really encourage bartenders to spend time working in a restaurant bar, spend time with chefs and learn from them. It’s great to see more and more chefs and owners championing the role of the bartender. It encourages craftsmanship in the industry and creates a richer experience for guests to enjoy.
Thank you Chris, it is great to speak to someone so passionate about their job and the role of the modern bartender and look forward to welcoming you to Cocktails in the City London.