If we want bartending to stand alongside the other culinary arts, we need to start approaching the job as a true culinary profession. For starters, that means each of us must own the proper tools of the trade.
Professional and Not
Let’s imagine two scenarios. A recent graduate of the CIA shows up for her first day on the job, and she is holding her case of knives. She proceeds to lay them out on the table, displaying them proudly as if she is showing off baby pictures. She may spend the next eight hours chopping potatoes and dicing onions, but she is prepared to tackle any task that may be thrown her way. Now let’s turn to a new bartender. On his first day, he shows up with a corkscrew—maybe. Why is it expected that the kitchen staff should have their own knives and special kitchen implements and yet acceptable for the barstaff to show up at work with only a smile and a clean shirt?
Now let’s turn our attention to the restaurant bar owner and managers. Shouldn’t they provide the basic bar implements for their team? Recently I went to a very nice restaurant for dinner, arriving early to enjoy a cocktail at the bar. After ordering my Gibson, I watched as the bartender built the drink in the mixing tin (not the glass) and used a smaller tin to complete the shaker set. After shaking with two hands, one grasping each tin, she pulled that nightclub maneuver of cracking the tins, removing the small tin, flipping it over, and placing the end that was just in her hand inside the larger tin to use as a strainer. After straining it into a warm glass and garnishing it with a twist (they did not stock cocktail onions), she charged me $14. I wanted to exclaim, “Next time, just strain it through your fingers!” Why wouldn’t a restaurant of this—or any—caliber stock, at the very least, a proper Boston shaker set with its two companion strainers, the hawthorn and julep, as well as a twisted bar spoon?
Speaking of the bar spoon, certain drinks such as the manhattan should be chilled by stirring,not shaking. Drinks that contain only spirits need to be stirred so as not to aerate and froth them up; therefore, a bartender needs a mixing glass, bar spoon, and julep strainer. Drinks containing fresh juice and syrup such as the daiquiri should be frothy and lively, so they need to be shaken; a Boston shaker and hawthorn strainer are the necessary tools.
And what about a decent muddler? I have seen bartenders muddle with the back of a spoon, a saltshaker, even an Angostura bitters bottle to make my mojito. Not so long ago, the only muddlers a bar could find were small, stained, and lacquered, which were only used for the occasional old-fashioned. Today, there is no excuse not to provide your staff with a decent muddler. Great muddlers are readily available from Mr. Mojito, Pug, or my Web site, themodernmixologist.com.
How about knives? Why is it that the only knife we find behind the bar—if we find one at all—is the one we use to open the cardboard cases that the booze comes in? More than likely, this is a serrated steak knife that was borrowed from the dining room. How can anyone possibly cut beautiful garnishes with that? Bartenders should invest in at least three high-quality knives—a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated blade—and keep them sharp.
Bartenders are once again approaching the profession as a career and not just a part-time gig while they wait for acting careers to take off. Owning the proper bar tools not only will make them feel proud to be a professional, it just might make their job a little easier and a whole lot more fun. And, after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?