Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Campari America Spirited Connections Interview Series: Tristan Willey on Sustainability

This year my Campari America Interview Series takes a bit of a turn, and that turn is towards socially conscious bartenders using their platforms for greater good.  This year we will talk to some amazingly talented people who are not only interested in making delicious cocktails, but also in creating bar programs that give back to the community and bring awareness to subjects not often discussed within the food and beverage industry.  I am really excited about this series and about some of the people we have lined up for interviews this year, so stay tuned!

This month I have the privilege of interviewing one of my personal favorite bartenders, Tristan Willey.  I met Tristan when he was working at Long Island Bar, and quickly realized that he is an incredibly diverse talent who has some amazing ideas about building bar programs, new innovative products, and I have to mention, he's an incredibly nice guy.  If any of you have sat at a bar stool during one of his shifts you know what I'm talking about - expect big smiles, warm welcomes, delicious drinks, and unexpected technical lessons about how to make your drinks better.  This month we are talking about sustainability, which is a bit of a buzzword in the drinks-media world right now, and is something that more and more smart and socially conscious bar programs are integrating into their daily rituals. 

Tristan Willey - Photo by Tristan Willey

My takeaway from talking to Tristan: yes, pay attention to your products, your supply chains and your waste, but most importantly, get outside and realize why we need to do more to protect this planet we spin around on.  After all, we only have one.

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Gastronomista: Tristan, tell us a bit about how you became a bartender and what you're up to these days?

Tristan Willey: I came up as spirits professional in NYC through both distilling and bartending avenues.  Working at Kings County Distillery, first learning to bartend at Amor y Amargo, and then going on to open Booker and Dax and then again enjoy my time behind the bar at Long Island Bar.  Working on some new spirit projects I have taken the time to get back to my home and out into nature in New Mexico, and while out here frolicking in around the mountains I am working with a lovely restaurant group to get some new cocktail programs off the ground.

Long Island Bar - Photo by Tristan Willey

Grastronomista: Sustainability—and in particular, ensuring bar programs are environmentally friendly—is a subject close to your heart. Why are you so connected to sustainability?

Tristan Willey: So.  Damn.  Important.  I don’t believe that sustainability and conscious effort towards properly executing a responsible program are mutually exclusive with anything at all.  I don’t think you should even know if a bar if sustainably run or not, it just should be.  It shouldn’t even be a story anymore, and I think people are even slightly worn out on it even as a new emerging story, it should be native and inherent common sense to protect not only our resources, our immediate environment and community, and ultimate (as dramatic as this sounds) our future.  Our cocktail bars are a major cog in society, a major industry that happens to be the spear point of the massive spirits industry, and shouldn’t be written off by our own team as too small on an individual instance to have a significant impact.  Save the world by taking care of it, and while you are at it, get out of the bars and get outside for a bit.

Winter Hike - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: How do you define a sustainability mission for a bar?

Tristan Willey: Currently sustainability comes down to some innovative products and creative re-use, but more often than not it really is centered around something we do every single day in management, a close eye on the details and a care for the minutia.  We are so tuned into to doing it with a budget that we harangue staff about 1/16th of an ounce differences in recipes and pours, we comb through balancing cocktail costs and time sheets, we can certainly turn that attention towards making every small detail count towards keeping our bars efficient and eco-friendly.  A bar should be taking every available step to simplify their program to its essentials while prioritizing less waste.  Maximize your impact with cost, guests, and sustainability by focusing on simple impact in your genre.

Ice - Photo by Tristan Willey
Gastronomista: What are the top 3 things up and coming bartenders can do to pursue a more sustainability minded bar program?

Tristan Willey: Know your products.  By knowing the history and details of what you are using you can control a multitude of issues, one of them is sustainable use.

Eliminate thoughtless waste.  Be the efficient bartender you claim to be, efficiency in movement and process saves things like wasted water, ingredients, and energy. Everything you do adds up to greater impact.

Use ingredients to exhaustion and follow their chain through your doors… as simple as a lemon, store them properly to avoid spoilage, use them for twists, juice them, old juice goes to the kitchen for cooking, compost pith.  Everything has a full circle path, don’t skip steps.

Campari Cocktail - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: You have worked in some of the most creative bars in the country, how do you see bar programs embracing waste and becoming more conscious of recycling?

Tristan Willey: Look to Lighthouse in Brooklyn.  If anyone wants to be schooled up on how to creatively create recycling opportunities such as water purification with used oyster shells, or donation of recyclable glass, Naama Tamir is showing the world how it can be done.  For a primer take a listen to Damon Boelte’s interview of their team on the Speakeasy on Heritage Radio.  It is humbling just how integral to a business you can make sustainable and world improving practices.

Wild Turkey Behind the Barrel - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: You recently relocated to New Mexico, how has your move to the southwest impacted your mission towards sustainability and environmentally-conscious bar programs?

Tristan Willey: I have become so much more aware of supply chain.  In New York I took for granted the availability of products, as if they just naturally existed in my immediate vicinity, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Creating an international product catalogue is really fascinating and eye opening, and the diversity that brings attention to is wonderful, but thinking about how those products get around the globe can be challenging.  I have been looking locally to find things that be used without ever being put on a truck.

Columbia Coffee Country - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: What are your favorite bars right now?

Tristan Willey: On my brief trips back to the city I most recently have been reverting to the unerring classics like Littlebranch, The Brooklyn Inn, Bemelman’s… in these weird and stressful times we are clawing through, I love how stalwart the old guard feels, and how reassuring it is to have a classic drink in something that represents stability and a stoic face.  Back in New Mexico there are two bars in Santa Fe I love, the first is Coyote Café which has re-found the happiness, excitement, and love of fun and wild cocktails that seems to have been lost along the way, they love whimsy and pomp and circumstance, and do it all with a smile.  There is a beautiful old restaurant on Canyon Road in Santa Fe called Geronimo that is housed in a 400 year-old building - the very heart of the 8 seat bar is flanked on all sides with fine dining tables and big, wooden vigas that are mounted to the surrounding walls, there is an old stucco fireplace in the corner and some cocktails come straight from their garden… my very first visit set it in my heart as a happy and hidden place instantly upon wandering in.

Santa Fe - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: If you could visit any bar anywhere in the world, at any point in history, what bar would you visit?  Who would you have a drink with?

Tristan Willey: Hmmmm… London60’s… perfectly trim suit on… hotel bar, a cocktail bar where there was still some importance to how entered and who you were with… and I’d be on a date, sipping martinis and manhattans, with… a first date.

Martini - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: What drives the creative process for you when you're creating cocktails?  Any tricks of the trade you can share?

Tristan Willey: Find the perfect name for a drink, and then craft the drink to match it?  No, I find inspiration right now from two things, the refinement of the classics and the occasionally new ingredient.  More and more I am trying to find ways to mimic the simple and time refined classics, which is providing the biggest challenge I’ve met behind the bar, doing something simple brilliantly.  Someday, I guess…

Mini Boulevardiers - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: This series is sponsored by Campari America, can you recommend a sustainability minded cocktail for our readers made with their products?

Tristan Willey:  This cocktail is a recreation of a favorite spicy old fashioned recipe inspired by the  New Mexican landscape.  It is made with local Santa Fe Honey that’s been aged with the iconic New Mexico Red Chile Pods from Hatch, New Mexico.  In lieu of Mole bitters I mixed Kakawa drinking chocolate from Taos into the Wild Turkey 12 year.  Enjoy!

Old Santa Fe - Photo by Tristan Willey

Old Santa Fe
Created by Tristan Willey

2 oz Wild Turkey 101
1/4 oz Red Chile infused Santa Fe Honey
1 Tsp Kakawa Drinking Chocolate

Build over a large cube, and garnish with an orange wheel and a sprinkling of red chile powder.

All Photos by Tristan Willey

Follow Tristan on Instagram: @Tristan.Willey

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