This month my Campari America Spirited Interview series brings us to Chattanooga, Tennessee with Kaleena Goldworthy of The Flying Squirrel.
I met Kaleena a few years ago at the Wild Turkey Behind the Barrel program - an amazing few days in Kentucky where we drank bourbon out of the barrel with Eddie and Jimmy Russell, slept in tents, shot guns, and made new friends. Although all of the bartenders in the group were amazing, Kaleena impressed me with her attention to detail and passion for the cocktail and spirits industry. In the years since, she has moved up the ranks at her home bar, traveled around the world learning about how spirits are made, and this year was part of the Tales of the Cocktail CAP program - the prestigious program for up and coming bartenders.
Without further ado - Kaleena Goldsworthy.
Gastronomista: Kaleena, what is your position at the Flying Squirrel in Chattanooga? How did you end up there, and what has changed for you since you have been there?
Kaleena Goldsworthy: My current position at Flying Squirrel is the Assistant GM and Bar Manager. My story of how I ended up here is a pretty crazy one. Just over 4 years ago, I traveled to Chattanooga for the first time on vacation and stayed at The Crash Pad. The Crash Pad is a boutique hostel geared to a more outdoorsy clientele. Our trip consisted of rock climbing, hang gliding, paddle boarding, and having really wonderful late night conversations with the inspiring young folks running the hostel. At the time of our visit, the owners of the hostel had just broken ground on a bar / restaurant, which had always been a part of their plan.
Quite literally one month after that trip, I found myself in a situation many people in their mid twenties find themselves: newly single and on the self-proclaimed "noble quest" to find myself. I began applying to jobs in all the cities that I loved traveling to, and found myself reaching out my new friends at the hostel. I was, at the time, a full time musician who spent her days teaching preschool. Regardless, my new friends convinced me to talk to the owners about working at the new restaurant. I kept insisting I was looking for a "real" job, but once I heard everything that they were looking for, I thought it could be a great stepping stone into a new city. I remember sending an email to the owners saying something along the lines of "If you are offering me a job, I will move to Chattanooga," and their response: "If you'll move to Chattanooga, you've got a job."
Three months later, I arrived in Chattanooga with a U-Haul, no serving experience, the promise of a job, and my only friends being my future bosses. My interview was a comical one: "This is Kaleena. She moved here from NY, so... she's got the job. We're not sure where she will be yet." Honestly, I didn't know where I was going to be until about two weeks out of training, and my only serving experience was that that one summer job I had in high school.
I was told I was going to be a bartender, to which I internally panicked. The kind of I-don't-know-what-kind-of-soda-goes-into-a-vodka-soda panic. As luck would have it, in addition to reading "Bartending for Dummies," I enrolled in BarSmarts. While completing BarSmarts, I was completely and totally awestruck and intrigued at the wealth of knowledge I had yet to acquire in this industry.
I'm the kind of person who goes all in on things, so I just kind of assumed all bartenders knew how to make... every drink and knew all about whiskey and rum. What I thought was just trying to keep my head above water, was actually way more than I needed. It was honestly way more than I ever thought I would find -- a true passion to learn the ins and outs of the industry and the history behind it all. We were the new kids on the block, and we were busy. I would like to think it was my experience working with preschoolers that prepared me most to work behind the stick, and I found myself truly loving my job and every obstacle that was thrown my way.
After about 6-8 months, I was promoted to Bar Manager, and about a year into operations, was promoted again to AGM. Throughout the course of these 3 years that we have been open, I have applied to and attended every educational opportunity I could to help me feel more comfortable where I was.
Gastronomista: You're not only an awesome bartender, but you also have a gorgeous blog called The Bitters Girl. How has your career benefited from blog?
Kaleena Goldsworthy: Why, Thank you! Haha -- Honestly, I love writing. Bartending, though at first incredibly challenging, provided me that creative outlet that music had once afforded me. After starting to manage and spending less time behind the stick, I needed another creative outlet. As I mentioned, I am a total nerd when it comes to education. I'm convinced that if being a full time student were an acceptable job, I would be one of the best. Our industry has such a rich history, so many incredible stories, so many rare and unique ingredients -- basically so much to learn!
The Bitters Girl was a project I started to understand bitters better and it kind of morphed from there. Originally, I had a plan to document all of the ingredients used to create bitters in one format so that I could better understand their place in other spirits and liqueurs. I became an active member of Chattanooga's USBG and began writing for the USBG National Blog as well, and from there, I just started to write about my experiences in learning how to bartend and manage. At this point, I would say that my blog has offered me an incredible opportunity to write. I have had the opportunity to write for a handful of websites and people I respect so much.
Gastronomista: What bars do you frequent in Chattanooga? Are there any innovative cocktail programs that excite you?
Kaleena Goldsworthy: The older I get, the more I love the atmosphere of a bar during the day, when I can have a seat, listen to the music, take in the ambiance and not have to yell over anyone else. I think working in a high volume bar has led me to seek out more of these inspiring venues during their "off-peak" hours, when I can really relax. I would say my go-to bars are Main Street Meats, the Bitter Alibi (and The Fix), and I absolutely love the atmosphere and vibe of Matilda Midnight in the Dwell Hotel. In the grand scheme of things, Chattanooga is really gaining great momentum in the food and beverage industry, so there are a lot of people pushing out new and exciting things. I really love the enthusiasm and excitement in cocktail creation with the bartenders at St. John's and Meeting Place as well as the awesome cocktails on tap (and bottled) at Main Street Meats. It's really quite inspiring to be living in what others would consider a "smaller" city, because every stride we take to do something unique and different is putting us on the map. I feel so excited to say there are so many incredible bars and restaurants doing outstanding things and offering new experiences in this "little" city. Chattanooga's drive is really what excites and inspires me.
Gastronomista: If you were to visit any bar anywhere in the world, at any point in history, what bar would you visit? Who would you have a drink with?
Kaleena Goldsworthy: Oh man. As a bitters nerd, I want to travel back to the Old-School Apothecary-esque "bars" of New Orleans. I want Antoine Peychaud to serve me his Sazerac at his pharmacy. I would go back to experience the true speakeasy's in NYC. I want to talk shop with the people who didn't realize what they were doing at the time. From such humble beginnings came such immeasurable greatness.
Gastronomista: Bitters and Amaro are a booming trend, how have you seen this trend affect your bar menu and the preference of your customers?
Kaleena Goldsworthy: I think a lot of people are interested (both customers and bartenders), but in a smaller city, it's a bit harder to get everyone on board. I've noticed industry people really taking to the trend and showcasing these items in cocktails that intrigue the guests and offer a discussion. This is far and away my favorite way to get someone psyched on a new ingredient -- just talk about it! Chattanooga (especially the downtown area) has a lot of forward thinking people; people who are excited about innovation and trying new things. While it might take a minute for certain items to take, when featured in the right cocktail, we can see Cynar, Fernet, etc. fly off our shelves.
Gastronomista: What other Mixologists inspire you and why?
Kaleena Goldsworthy: There are so many people who inspire me. Jim Meehan (someone I have seen a handful of times and am still too shy to speak to) is a huge inspiration. PDT was always the bar I had wanted to visit while living in NY (I wasn't in the industry at the time, so it was never a priority -- I still have yet to visit!). His professionalism, wealth of knowledge, and what he has done for our industry is so incredibly admirable. I had the amazing opportunity to work as a CAP this year at Tales of the Cocktail and found myself surrounded by bartenders who inspire me. Quite literally, all of them inspire me every day. It takes a lot to make something of yourself in this industry. It can so often be thankless, but these people do it because they love taking care of other people -- they genuinely care. That's inspiring.
Gastronomista: The presentation of your drinks is always so beautiful - do you have any tips on how to style and serve beautiful drinks?
Kaleena Goldsworthy: Why, thank you! I am constantly reminded of how I was taught to create, garnish, and present cocktails -- which is a culmination of a lot of people's ideas and thoughts spanning Tales of the Cocktail, Portland Cocktail Week, and my amazing GM, Sanders Parker. Every ingredient in a cocktail should serve a purpose -- don't try to overcomplicate it. Simple is often times better when it comes to a cocktail. If you stick to these guidelines, I think styling and serving drinks can be pretty simple. Every drink should be a work of art and something you are proud of. Each drink is also an opportunity to wow someone -- an extension of your passion and expression. I think that is my biggest tip to serving beautiful drinks -- to make sure that everything has a place -- whether visual, the smell, the taste, the feel, etc. Make sure it's easy to navigate as well. If you're going with an avant garde garnish, there is nothing worse than watching the customer's puzzled look as they try and take a sip -- unsure if they are to remove the garnish or drink around it, etc. Make it clean and simple; make it nice.
Gastronomista: Campari America is sponsoring this series on up and coming Mixologists. Can you recommend a great recipe with some of their products?
|The Golden Snitch|
The Golden Snitch
Created by Kaleena Goldsworthy
In a mixing glass ½ full of ice, add:
1 1/2 oz. Smoked Peach Whiskey
1/2 oz. Lemon Verbena Syrup
1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
1/4 oz. Cynar
Stir and strain into goblet over ice
Garnish with a bamboo pick and a husk cherry
For more follow Kaleena on Instagram: @Killeena_
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All photos courtesy of Kaleena Goldsworthy
All photos courtesy of Kaleena Goldsworthy