Saturday, March 03, 2012

Brand Ambassadors

A Pink Peppercorn Paloma from Charlotte Voisey
Last night was a first for me: a cocktail-paired dinner.  It was the Cocktail Dinner at the Culinary Institute of Charleston, part of the 2012 Charleston Wine+Food Festival.   The food was fabulous, and the cocktail pairings worked pretty well.  My account of all that and a few pics of the event will be hitting the City Paper's Eat blog soon.

One of the pleasures of the night was sitting next to Michael Saboe, the dean of the Culinary Institute of Charleston, and chatting about his years in the Charleston restaurant world. He noted that one of the great things about being at the Institute was that it allowed him to stay in the fine-dining and hospitality world and still be able to spend nights and weekends with his family.

And that got me thinking a little bit about career paths beyond the restaurant and bar--a world of late nights and high anxiety with a nights-and-weekends schedule that's almost diametrically opposed to the rest of the working world.  It was appropriate for the evening, since the cocktails were being shaken up by two former-bartenders who had managed to stake out professions that got them out from behind the bar and on the road.

Junior Merino shaking up a
rose-infused Rosita margarita
The first was Charlotte Voisey, a British mixologist who struck it big in London with her classic cocktail bar Apartment 195.  Now she's the "brand ambassador" for William Grant and Sons, the makers of Hendrick's Gin and Milagro Tequila, which sponsored for the Wine+Food event.  She teamed up with Junior Merino, worked his way up the ranks at Roth's Westside Steakbouse in New York and then launched his own cocktail consultancy, The Liquid Chef, which in addition to events like the Cocktail Dinner has him designing cocktail programs for cruise ship lines and theme parks.

That sounds at first like a "good gig if you can get it" sort of thing.  The New York Times ran a nice piece on the new world of liquor brand ambassadors a few years back, and you can see the appeal--a regular salary, travel to exciting places, flashy parties, and crazy perks like actual health insurance benefits.

But, to my eye it still looks like an awful lot of work to me.  Voisey and Merino were certainly hustling last night, mixing up a course of eight different cocktails for dozens of guests.  And that doesn't count the hours of prep work that went into the evening--from squeezing fresh juices to set up--and the breakdown, and the event tomorrow, too.  

Tasting notes and Merino's  Rogue cocktail
(featuring apricot infused Milagro Anejo,
hibiscus syrup, Cherry Heering, cream sherry, and
chocolate bitters)
And then there's the travel. Yes, it's glamorous for a little while.  But, as someone who travels frequently as part of my job, I can attest that spending lots of nights alone in a hotel room far from family and friends can be a tough gig, too.

But I can say one thing: they mix some splendid cocktails, and they're bringing new flavors and experiences to a wide range of people who might not otherwise try, say, a French 75 laced with coriander and cucumber simple syrup or a margarita enlivened by tamarinds and Velvet Falernum.

Amid the celebrity chefs and the big-time television personalities, the brand ambassador is a curious new wrinkle in an industry where a job behind the bar or on the line had few options apart from perhaps working your way up to owning a restaurant or bar. 

No comments:

Popular Posts