Let’s drink to that!
By Natanga Smith Hurdle | Sun, April 15, 2012 - 12:00 AM
Jamaal Bowen, 27, has ten competitions so far under his belt and many accolades and awards, such as Bartender Of The Year 2006, three times and current Angostura Mixmaster Champion, two-times Taste Of The Caribbean Silver Medallist and Gold Medal Member of the Barbados Culinary Team last year, among others.
For him, “balance, taste and appearance make every cocktail special. . . . So if it looks good, tastes great and it’s well balanced, it’s always going to be a winner”.
He made his international television debut by appearing on Where In The World Is Matt Lauer? when Lauer and the NBC team came to Barbados last November on a promotional tour.
Bowen is currently preparing for the Taste Of The Caribbean show in Miami in June with the Barbados Culinary Team and sat down with EASY magazine to talk about his success in so short a time.
EASY: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Bowen: I live in a small community called My Lord’s Hill in St Michael with my mum, two aunts, my grandmother and five cousins. I attended Charles F. Broome Memorial Primary School, Christ Church Foundation Secondary School, and then the Barbados Hospitality Institute Hotel PomMarine. I enjoy cooking, which is my first love, travelling, going to the beach, wine tastings, meeting new people, and playing sports when I get the chance. When I’m not working, I love hanging out with my friends or socializing in the comfort of a nice bar.
EASY: Why did you decide to get into bartending?
Bowen: I’m honestly not sure when I decided; I think it chose me. I always wanted to be a chef and still play around in the kitchen from time to time. However, in my two years at Hotel PomMarine, my love for cooking took a back seat after I achieved an A+ in Bar Technology and the rest, as they say, is history.
EASY: How did you get started in the business?
Bowen: Who remembers Fruesta? I was still a student at Hotel PomMarine and entered a competition featuring Fruesta non-alcoholic beverages. There I met older individuals who had been bartending for years – two became my mentors soon after. Being inspired by the thought of seeing new places/countries and my never-ending “thirst” for knowledge, I was drawn into the world of mixology.
EASY: Where have you worked so far?
Bowen: The former La Mer Restaurant at Port St Charles was my first job. Still a student and being under the age of 20, I could only work as an assistant waiter but for the most part it was fun while it lasted, although it was only for six months. I’m currently employed at the Sandy Lane Resort as their resident mixologist. This year will actually mark ten years that I’ve been with the resort. My first year and a half were spent also as an assistant waiter, but I found myself in a situation where I’d still be able to help the bartenders out until an opportunity opened up for me to become a full time bartender.
EASY: How have you honed your craft?
Bowen: Over the years, competitions locally, regionally and even on the international level have helped me to become the professional I am today. I’m like a sponge when I’m around other industry pros – any kind of information that’s available, I automatically pick up on and use to my advantage.
EASY: What’s your signature drink?
Bowen: Lots of people would say Monkey In A Tree is my signature drink (Mango Rum, Malibu, banana liqueur, pineapple juice) because I won 2006 Bartender Of The Year with it and it was also featured on the NBC Today Show with Matt Lauer, and Giada De Laurentiis featured it on the Food Network last November.
EASY: Where do you get your ideas from?
Bowen: My inspiration for cocktails comes from many different concepts. Competition cocktails are more brand-focused in the Caribbean, depending on the competition, so those ideas are derived from Caribbean culture and history, sometimes even food items. For example, my Salsa Vida Mocktail (Most Creative Non-Alcoholic Drink at Taste Of The Caribbean 2011) is a “liquid interpretation” of salsa. Cocktails for work are inspired by the classics – like Martinis, tiki cocktails and sours.
EASY: Craziest concoction?
Bowen: My Bajan Punch (2006) – breadfruit purée, soursop juice, coconut cream, milk, nutmeg and cinnamon. It tastes great but the breadfruit-soursop combination usually catches people off guard.
EASY: Favourite spirit?
Bowen: Anyone who knows me will tell you I love tequila, but only the good stuff. I like being different – following trends was never my thing – so while others shy away from it, there’s always more for me.
EASY: What do you like and dislike about your job?
Bowen: I love the mix of cultures that I can connect with in the space of eight hours in a day. Watching my guests have fun and enjoy my cocktails is the most gratifying thing ever. On the other side of the coin, long hours can toil on your body over time and when it’s really busy, I might find myself working 12- to 14-hour shifts.
EASY: What is the most challenging part of your job?
Bowen: Most challenging part of my job is getting accustomed to my new role. There’s a lot to consider now, it’s almost managerial, so there’s more paperwork involved, more delegating, and a lot more responsibility. As the time passes, I’m getting more comfortable and grasping it all.
EASY: Bar philosophy?
Bowen: Creativity is an ongoing process; every day in the world of mixology something new is being created, twisted, turned upside down or inside out. I mean we have peanut butter and jelly vodka now and even bacon-infused bourbon. We need to be on our toes at all times in the world of cocktails.
EASY: What trends are you seeing today in mixology, and what are the most popular cocktails overall?
Bowen: Right now it’s all about redefining the classics and pushing the envelope with creativity. Drinks like the Cosmo, Mojito, Manhattan and the Martini are being recreated in new and exciting ways, whether it’s changing up the recipes or adding new flavours. Abstract ingredients, (seeds, flowers, and oils) are very interesting to work with; molecular mixology in Britain and the United States is very fashionable (using substances like stabilizers, and liquid nitrogen). Falernum, which we manufacture here in Barbados, is taking the world by storm as well.
EASY: When you go out what drink do you like to order for yourself?
Bowen: It all depends on my mood, my attitude and what the menu has to offer. If I’m just hanging out with my friends, it could be a beer; out to dinner, wine is a must; in party mode it’s tequila and cranberry juice. If it’s just the boys, I’ll have a single-malt Scotch. I also drink cocktails but that’s usually if the menu looks really innovative or very creative.
EASY: What three things do you look for in a bartender when you are out having drinks?
Bowen: Professionalism, an addictive personality is definitely a plus, and s/he must be someone who can sell their cocktails and not just pour drinks. Bartending is fun – there’s no reason why your guests shouldn’t enjoy themselves if you enjoy what you are doing and do it to the best of your ability.
- Editor's Choice