A Glimpse of the Tales of the Cocktail Apprentice Program

As I write this, I’ve been back in New York City for about 24 hours —and the exhaustion is finally hitting me. After landing yesterday at 4pm, running home, showering, and unpacking, I headed to a USBGNY Mixer, which then led me to home and eventually passing out. My dreams were filled with recipes and images of batching cocktails—memories left over from the previous week.

About a week ago I posted that I had planned to chronicle a diary of what it’s like to be a Tales of the Cocktail Apprentice (or CAP). After hitting the ground running the first day, I began to realize that I might not be able to juggle both the media side and the Apprentice side as well as I had originally planned to. Once in the kitchen, any time I had hoped to have a camera in hand was replaced with an Oxo 32oz measuring cup or a knife. I’m not sure I’d have had it any other way.

After the majority of the Apprentices arrived Monday afternoon, we had a few hours to settle in before we started off the week. We were treated to dinner—some amazing fried chicken with all the fixin’s—along with some Stella at Jacques Imos.

Ann and Paul Tuennerman at Jacques Imo's

The night eventually led us to New Orleans cocktail haven Cure, where most of us put the night to rest as we had an early morning call—the first of many.

The backbar of Cure.

The Apprentices at Cure.

Brian Mattys, and Franky Marshall with Chris and Laura McMillian at Cure.

Our second day on site—the Tuesday before Tales—started off with a meeting of all the Apprentices, CAP leaders, and Tales Staff. This, of course, included a cocktail. Unexpected to all attending the meeting, this also included a blessing from a voodoo priestess.

A sign of the week to come.

Ann Tunnermann, aka Mrs. Cocktail, and Paul Tunnermann., aka Mr. Cocktail, were kind enough to bring in a voodoo priestess to bless all the Apprentices and Tales Staff. Did it work, you ask?I’d like to think so, since all made it through the week relatively unscathed.

After each and every Apprentice was blessed (Thanks again Ann and Paul), we collected our Apprentice gift bags. Attached to each bag was the ever-so-important Apprentice badge, which enabled us complete access to Tales throughout the week without ever an issue. Along with these badges were our aprons, our Apprentice chef jackets, a Tony Abou Ganim (TAG) Bag and TAG Muddler, and a thank you bottle of Chartreuse V.E.P.

My Apprentice Badge-Finally...

Don Lee addressing the team on the first day.

Corey Bunnewith of Russell House Tavern modeling the Apprentice apron.

So what does being a Tales of the Cocktail Apprentice mean?

Work. And lots of it. Anyone thinking about applying for next year’s program should keep this in mind. By the end of the week, you’ll have pain in places on your body you never knew could feel pain.

The day of an Apprentice typically starts around 8:00 or 8:30am if you decide to sleep in. The work day usually ends at 6:00pm or so, at which point you shower (trust me—after working in a hot kitchen all day, you need one), find dinner, and then head off to whatever parties are happening on a given night. The night (morning) usually ends between 2:00 am and 4:00 am at the Old Absinthe House. Aside from this typical daily framework, the rest of the week is anything but “typical.”

For example, one of our assignments involved supplying two hundred liquor bottles half-filled with water for Stanislav Vadrna’s Seminar, “Ichigo/Ichie: One Chance/One Meeting the Way How to Synchronize the Bartenders Mind/Body,” in which he discussed the proper styles and techniques to make your guest feel at ease and get the most out of their visit to your bar.

The two hundred bottles were used by the seminar attendees to practice the art of opening and closing a liquor bottle.

200 Liquor bottles half-filled with Water for Stanislav Vadrna's Seminar.

Another seminar assignment involved placing down several hundred glasses for a tasting of straight spirits.

And we haven’t even gotten to the part about the cocktails.

Speaking of which—let’s talk cocktails—all those lovely libations people imbibed in throughout the week at each and every seminar. Most people likely enjoyed them without much of a thought about how the drinks got there. If you’re imagining a few guys using those 64oz shakers to shake up a few drinks then let me share with you what actually happened.

Well, before they got to you and other seminar attendees, the cocktails were prepared by the bucket load. Using lots of math (try batching cocktails for close to 200 people on the fly without a calculator!), a great deal of talent, and a few dashes of love, the Apprentices used the buckets pictured below to prep each and every cocktail.

The buckets where each cocktail started its life.

Here are some of the tools we used to get them out to folks looking like actual cocktails.

Some of the tools used throughout the week by the Apprentices.

And some more…

And no cocktail would be complete without a few key items. First of all, lots and lots of booze.

The below picture is from the “Booze Room” from which Apprentices would pull from once we figured out many bottles of a particular spirit a recipe called for. For example, if a presenter called for 100 Gin and Tonics with two ounces of gin per glass, we would more than likely pull eight 750ml bottles of gin, as each bottle contains about 25.6 ounces of gin.
This task often proved to be interesting when we had to adjust the recipes due to an inadequate supply of ingredients being received for a particular presentation.

The Booze Room

And what cocktail would be complete without some citrus or other fruit?

The Citrus Room.

So is participating in the Apprentice program worth it? In my opinion, an emphatic , ”Hell yes!!!” However, if you apply and are lucky enough to be accepted, keep in mind that you’ll be pushed to work possibly harder than you’ve ever worked with little time for breaks during the course of each day. On the other hand, the rewarding feeling of knowing that you took part in something so much bigger than one person and that you were involved in pulling off some amazing feats—not to mention the friends and contacts you make in the process—definitely make the whole experience worth the effort.

Would I do it again next year? I’d definitely like to, if the group will have me.

Ah, the group. I’m not sure the Apprentices could ask for a better group of leaders than the ones we were given. Don Lee, John Deragon, Leo Robitschek, Mike Ryan, Jeff Grdinich(aka Keebler), and Eric Simpkins ran a tight ship (well, as tightly as a ship can be run when its crew starts each day with shots of Del Maguey Tobala or Fernet) during five incredibly intense days of anything a boozy imagination could conjure, —all whilemanaging to keep it cool at all times, regardless of the situation. Our week included seminars that involved the use of chainsaws, moving liquid nitrogen from one side of the state to the other, among many other crazy situations; but with our leadership, we managed to pull through the week in one piece.

The Previously Mentioned Chainsaw in The Kitchen.

As I mentioned earlier, I unexpectedly put the camera aside fairly early on, so after the first day any pictures that I managed to snap were via the trusty ol’ iPhone. Luckily I managed to take a few of the kitchen that first day.

One of the Caps, Franky Marshall of Clover Club at work in the Kitchen.

Other highlights of the week included a presentation on Mezcal by Mr. Del Maguey Himself—Ron Cooper, with a special appearance by Dave Wondrich.

Ron Cooper and Dave Wondrich presenting to the Caps.

A Cointreau Tasting presented by Erin Williams, Cointreau’s Resident Mixologist.

The Cointreau Tasting Mat.

The Spirit Awards.

The Apprentices at the Spirit Awards.

A couple of Apprentices at the spirit awards.

The way saw it, since I started off the week with coffee and a cocktail, I might as well end it in a similar fashion with coffee and a beer at the airport.

Last Drink in New Orleans-Post Tales of the Cocktail.

And a special thanks to my fellow Apprentices that I had the pleasure of working with throughout the week. A greater group of partners in this booze filled endeavor, one cannot ask for. After this week, I consider them all close friends.

Adam Robinson
Bradley Bolt
Bradley Farran
Brian Matthys
California Gold
Cassie Fellet
Chad Doll
Chris Hannah
Christine Nielsen
Christopher Churilla
Corey Bunnewith
Cristiana DeLucca
Cristina Dehlavi
Daniel de Oliveira
Don Lee
Eamon Rockey
Eric Simpkins
Erica Pearce
Eryn Reece
Evan Martin
Frank Cisneros
Franky Marshall
Jamie Kilgore
Jared Schubert
Jeff Grdinich
John Deragon
Jonathan Armstrong
Kimberly Patton-Bragg
Leo Robitschek
Luis Bustamante
Matthew Eggleston
Meaghan Dorman
Michelle Peake
Mike Ryan
Naomi Schimek
Navarro Carr
Neil Kopplin
Nicholas Jarrett
Patrick O’Brien
Rachel Kim
Robert Leavey
Sharon Floyd
Sierra Zimei
Sudeep Rangi
Summer Voelker
Sylvia Cosmopoulos
Ted Kilgore
Thomas Klus
Thomas Speechley
Tiffany Soles
William Dollard

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