What made you want to get into the bartending industry?
My sister and I had a dream. I was 12 years old and she was 14 years old. She will probably tell you it was her idea and honestly, it probably was. We envisioned owning an Irish Scottish restaurant after our heritage. We would name it Kelleen’s as it is a mix of both our names, Kelly and Colleen. This concept has been in my heart ever since. Mixology has become both my passion and my niche.
My first bartending position was at the Ritz Carlton Naples, Florida. I was officially a server. However, the role included mixing our own cocktails. My love for the beverage industry boomed after I was told to bring a wine key my first day of work. I was intrigued but had not a clue what a wine key could possibly be used for. Only a short couple of years later I was composing drink lists almost monthly, my resources for ideas through Marriott were endless and my passion for mixology has forever soared.
Is there any cocktail that you dread getting asked to make?
There actually is not a cocktail I dread making. I have always said if someone orders a drink from my bar I want to create something they can savor. There is one exception to this rule…. If you experience a drink you fall in love with at a random bar, get the recipe from the mixologist that crafted the drink. Don’t be surprised that my rendition is not quite the same if you don’t have the recipe. We as mixologists are very passionate and extremely creative. If you love a libation, you had somewhere you are only adding flattery to the bartender who originated it when you ask for it somewhere else. However from one fellow bartender to another, as a consumer PLEASE get the exact recipe so I can make it the way you have enjoyed it before. Even better, take a risk and experience the craft of the mixologist who stands in front of you.
What was it like to be competing in Masters of the Craft?
Creative opportunities with Marriott have been endless ever since I walked in the door over thirteen years ago. Mr. Marriott’s concept has always been, “Take care of your associates and your associates will take care of your guests.” Marriott has always helped me feel challenged, humbled, and has always given me the opportunity for growth. Masters of the Craft elevated my bartending skills to an entirely higher level. My competitors brought such heart and talent to this two-day competition. I could not have asked for a more ambitious challenge. I cannot wait to see what my competitors continue to bring to the industry. I have gained an entire team of mixologists that I will not hesitate to collaborate with. Michael F., Rachad, Aaron, Melissa, Bradford, Scott, Raul, and Michael S. you are the most talented crew that I was humbled to learn from in just a few short hours of the competition. I am eager to watch my fellow competitors blast the industry with beautifully crafted cocktails.
While competing the first day my nerves had the best of me. After becoming a finalist, I was given the best advice from both my Executive Chef, Jack Delby and my husband, Brian Pentecost. It was simple. Relax and have fun! I woke up the morning of the finals in a much better state of mind than the morning before. This final experience was one for the books for me.
To Jonathon! My friend, I could not ask for a better test of myself than to compete against you. You are a star and it shows! Congratulations and thank you for helping me step up my game and be truly challenged by a fellow associate that has both a passion and talent in this hospitality industry.
Tell us about the drink you make in the Master of the Craft competition. (What inspired it, what you wanted to convey, etc.)?
The name of my cocktail is Mr. Collins. Argia B. Collins was a restaurateur in Chicago in 1950 and made the founding recipe of the Mumbo (also known as Mambo) sauce that you can find almost anywhere in Washington D.C. It was a fight for several years regarding the original author of the recipe when it showed up in D.C. in the 1960’s. Mr. Collins was eventually credited with authoring the original recipe. I chose this name as I am a Chicago native and Mr. Collins would be a slight twist on a traditional Tom Collins drink. I tried to bring together the location of the competition, Washington, D.C.; my main liquor choice; Gin and an acidity component as found in a traditional Tom Collins, to arrive at my moniker; Mr. Collins. The specific Empress Gin I used for this cocktail has a unique quality that allows it to change color from purple to indigo to pink to yellow to clear, as the acidity levels change.
The secret recipe for a Mr. Collins is as follows:
2 oz. Victoria’s Distillery Empress Gin (Infused with butterfly pea blossoms)
2 dashes cucumber bitters
¾ oz. Simple Syrup
1 large dash of Hibiscus Simple Syrup
5 pineapple tomatillos de-husked
1 spray of cucumber bitters
1 large lemon Balm leaf and one single pineapple tomatillo de-husked for garnish
I chilled the rocks glass in the Nitrous chiller but if this is not an option for you, use a room temperature glass so the drink does not get too watered down. This is a built cocktail so it’s a sipping drink that should be enjoyed over twenty plus minutes.
Take the chilled rocks glass and add one giant square ice cube.
Add two dashes of cucumber bitters on top.
Measure 2 oz. of Empress Gin and pour over ice cube.
In a separate glass or metal muddler, muddle five tomatillos with simple syrup and hibiscus simple syrup. Muddle hard and long. I liked the bitterness of the skin from the tomatillos in the syrup.
Add just enough ice to cover the liquid in the muddler. Shake for ten seconds.
Strain with the julep strainer over the top of the glass. A few seeds will slip through but is a cool effect as the color changes and the weight of the syrup with the seeds settle to the bottom.
Take one large lemon balm leaf and rim the glass. Lay the leaf flat on top of the large ice cube.
Skewer one single de-husked pineapple tomatillo and lay on top half of the glass.
Spray one spray over the top of the glass of cucumber bitters for more aromatics.
Sit back relax and ENJOY!!!
What do you wish more consumers would understand about your job?
I think it is hard for many consumers in the industry to understand the time required to make a quality drink. Some drinks are meant to be savored as they have multiple layers of complexity while others show their best attributes when shot back. Mixologists show their skill when they are able to make a drink to order. A two minute cocktail delivery is unrealistic for a well-balanced and crafted cocktail. Please be patient! Each drink is composed with precision and care. Patience will ensure a well-crafted cocktail worth of the wait sitting before you in due time.
If you could have anyone in the world make you a cocktail who would it be and what would you want them to make you?
Anyone that knows me well knows I love Bruce Willis. Actor John Goodman once called Bruce Willis one of the best bartenders in America. I would love to know what signature cocktail he was slinging back in the day. At Renaissance, our motto is to make it “Sexy.” If anyone could make it look sexy in a glass, it would be Bruce Willis. Whatever that drink would be, I would enjoy every sip!!!
Photography courtesy of Marriott International.
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