On a whim and a aside from my culinary education I have enrolled in the Drinkmaster Bartending School in Boston and attended my first class today. Sure, we’ve all seen the movie Cocktail with Tom Cruise and thought to ourselves, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to be a bartender?”. Reality probably set in and for many and various reasons we assumed that bartending wasn’t something within our grasps.
While taking such a class may seem unrelated to pursuits in my culinary education, it actually has some pretty clear benefits to me and my desire to learn to cook. I signed up for the class a few months ago while reading through a book, Running a Restaurant for Dummies that I had purchased to learn a bit about the restaurant industry and its inner workings. I signed up with the thought of breaking into the industry and learning a bit about the front of the house operations through bartending or by acquiring the skills necessary to work small private parties or catering events. Bartending is much like cooking in that it involves taking orders, clearly defined recipes with occasional improvisation, fast, efficient production and interaction with a team. The money happens to be pretty decent as well which is an added bonus.
I arrived at the appointed hour and took the elevator to the 5th floor. The doors opened to a small hallway with slightly dim lighting. I walked through the door and was immediately welcomed by Jeff, our instructor for the day. I was given materials, a name tag, and signed in before taking a seat at a full-sized replica bar with bartending stations. The place looked really cool and felt like a real bar.
Once everyone was settled, the owner started talking to us about the school and its aim to teach people the core mechanics of the industry and how to be a great bartender. He introduced us to Jeff and left us in his hands for the day. After introducing ourselves, we were giving a brief overview of the basic bar setup and went right to work. This place apparently was going to be really hands-on, something I immediately became excited about. Music was pumped up to enhance the experience and provide some real life distraction. We were all jammin’ behind the bar with classic rock, raggae and current and familiar bar and club anthems.
All students in the class shared stations, switching back and forth, going over the basics of order taking, customer interaction, pouring, mixing and shaking and presentation. The pace picked up as our comfort level increased with drinks being called out in succession. I imagine this is what being on the line in a kitchen is like, firing plates and plating dishes for servers with consistent and attractive presentation. We were mindful of our workspace, the bar mise en place, putting back our bottles where they came from and keeping our space clean. I was really having a good time now. Everyone made mistakes, but as we kept moving it became easier to get over them. The operational aspects and good business practices of a bar started to take form, as we honed our skills moving to what hopefully will some day be instinct.
The question on everyone’s mind at the beginning of the class of course was, “How do you remember all of the different drink recipes?”. It was great to know that you don’t need to know how to make every drink there is in the world, but rather the mechanics and the tools to be able to figure them out, along with some clever customer interaction techniques to elicit recipes for your first time. We learned bases and different combinations and substitutions. I started to make parallels with cooking and the differences say between a classic braise, fricassee or blanquette.
I left class feeling more confident than I ever imagined I would be after my first day. The mystery that shrouds bartending has started to break down into simple individual components. Much like what Chef Dowling said at the info session I attended at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, I am sure that when I am done with the class next Sunday I will never look at bartending or the drinks that I order while out the same again just like she said about food after taking the certificate or professional programs.
I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s class and the challenges and fun that I will experience. In just five hours I learned so much and know another five hours will increase my skills dramatically again.