Friday, August 4, 2017

Campari America Spirited Connections Interview Series: Sam Anderson

While the cocktail and spirits industry has a façade that is sexy and exotic, those within the industry (like myself) know all too well that countless cocktails night after night can take its toll.  Many years ago, I realized that if I wanted to thrive in the cocktail industry, I would need to work out religiously and be militant about maintaining balance in my life. 

That said, I have gravitated towards people in the industry who do the same; those who seek out spinning classes in whatever city they are in, those who do pushups on the side of the road (even on top of a volcano), those who run charity bike rides, and train for triathlons.  I have such deep respect for these people, mostly because I know how hard it is to wake up for boot camp after staying out a little bit too late.  But, we all must do what it takes to maintain balance in a naturally hedonistic industry.

Perhaps most inspiring of all is Sam Anderson.  He is the Beverage Director of the perpetually hip Mission Chinese in New York City and a marathon runner.  He has been featured on the cover of running magazines, has starred in running campaigns for companies such as Adidas, and all the while, has been killing it in the cocktail world. 

Photo Courtesy of Sam Anderson
This month for my Campari America #Spirited Connections Interview I sat down with Sam to talk about how he discovered running, the importance of alone time, and how it fuels his creativity. 

Get ready to be inspired, dear reader, because Sam is the real deal.  Handsome, thoughtful, wildly creative, and most certainly off the market.  He collaborates frequently with his girlfriend who is a florist (Fox Fodder Farm) - most recently with Red Bull Music Academy and Le Dauphin in Paris.

Without further ado, Sam Anderson:

Photo Courtesy of Sam Anderson
Gastronomista:  Sam, it seems like these days you are known just as well for your work as the Beverage Director of Mission Chinese in New York City as you are for marathon running and your inspirational Instagram posts.  How did you get your start as a bartender and how did you get involved with running?

Sam Anderson:  Years ago, I stumbled from the craft coffee world into Freeman’s Alley where I was mentored by some of the best in the industry all at once; a real kick in the ass.  Lynette Marrero, Toby Maloney, Jim Kearns, Greg Ramirez, Yana Wolfson… a murderers row of bartenders who, unbeknownst to me, were pioneering the craft cocktail business in Real Time in front of my eyes.  I got to witness this, juice their citrus, make their syrups and set up their bars. From there, I worked as Head Bartender at Hotel Delmano during its first four years; still so proud of that place, those nights, the energy and pure sex appeal of that space and it’s trailblazing service to the neighborhood. I earned my “Nightclub Cred” working at Gold Bar for three years alongside Tim Cooper and Remi Shobitan.  I worked as well for April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman as a roving Beverage Director/Cocktail Guy at several of their restaurants.  I’ve done consulting work as well at Vinegar Hill House, Sel Rrose, Fig 19, Cafe Colette, and the Breslin.  I have been at Mission Chinese since the second location’s opening.  I run the cocktail, wine, tea and beer program.

I got into running mainly out of desperation … turning 31 and realizing that I was far down the road to being victimized by the occupational hazards of the service industry not to mention my own rather dark family history with respect to alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. After years of procrastination and failure to quit, I simply woke up one day with a vicious, existential hangover after a long night of cigarettes and mescal and ran over the Williamsburg Bridge.  I couldn’t have gone further than three miles and felt as though my heart would explode.  That feeling afterward, of release, of making a tiny step forward was the first time I’d felt empowerin over a decade.

Photo Courtesy of Sam Anderson
Gastronomista: How do you balance your life in the hospitality industry with staying fit? 

Discipline.  I run 6 days a week every morning and average 60 miles per week with an uptick when I run long routes in preparation for approaching a marathon.  I’m almost always training for a race, either fast, shorter spring races or marathons in the fall. I drink only on the weekends when I am not working and I stick to natural wine.  I am very conscious with how I eat as well and I prioritize eating for training performance first—focusing on a nutrient rich vegetarian diet.  I try to get to bed early and rise as early as possible, so that means I’m not the guy out on the bar circuit any more.  Honestly, I find the biggest challenge to be maintaining touch with a community that I don’t participate much in anymore—but interestingly, as I’ve spoken out about my decisions and just been committed to them, like-minded folks in the business have gravitated to me over time.

I also have a regular yoga practice, as well—which tends to undo some of the knots that a difficult training schedule can tie up in your body. It’s all big time and effort commitment but it keeps me bouncing along.

Photo Courtesy of Sam Anderson
Sam Anderson:  How do you think fitness influences your life on a day to day basis?  Does it inspire your work in any way?

On the physical ground level, because I work really hard to maintain my training, I feel strong and empowered—I know what it is to not feel great about your body… I was for over a decade, a chain-smoker, someone who drank daily, with terrible eating habits who barely got to work on time. I’m no longer self-destructive or nihilistic about how I will feel the next day; when I am making decisions about what I’m going to eat/not eat or drink/not drink, it’s all with a mind toward the physical state. 

Running functions not just on the physical level but on the mental—I run without my phone, without music and use the time to meditate and focus on my breath.  This is enormously therapeutic, stress-relieving and hard to describe.  I know that it clears psychic blockages, allows me to exist in peace and keeps me from reacting to the stress of the city.  Running inspires my entire life—I love better, I listen better, I work better as a result.  Yes, I often get some of my favorite ideas while running but that is just a natural overflow… the channels get cleared, the mind is free to ramble and bounce along. Running is a portal to the subconscious, a physical activity that opens up [that] very creative space. 

Gastronomista:  New York is an amazing city for running.  What are some of your favorite routes around town?

Sam Anderson:  So true!  New York has an embarrassment of riches for the adventurous runner and cyclist—bridges, greenways, waterfronts, parks, access to trails.  If there’s one thing I miss about NYC when I’m traveling, it’s this.  BridgesQueensboro in particular.  I love the dim, gothic solitude of that bridge but also the way it crosses over right into the heart of the city, seeming to be lying right across the ribcage of the city. I love the approaches to the bridge via the waterfronts and then connecting it with the Manhattan bridge and its views of the lower part of the city.  That loop; I lose myself completely, lost in the dream of it all on those 16-17 miles. I love running late at night and in the early morning on the waterfronts and love the long stretches between bridges out to Red Hook.  I love, more than anything, escaping to the trails outside New York

A post shared by Sam Anderson (@sam4nderson) on

Gastronomista:  You’ve been involved in some amazing running campaigns, including Adidas Running, tell us more about how these amazing opportunities came to be, and what you’ve got lined up for the future.

Sam Anderson:  Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to have collaborated with some photographers on creating photos and content that capture my experience of training—the elation that it can produce, the flow.  I was also on the cover of Runaway Magazine, a brand new running publication that people really dug.   This content was never staged… always captured in a race or on long runs, so you really feel that energy.  Recently, I filmed and shot with Adidas, working Mark Seliger and then later with Hypebeast on a piece that I got to style and do the location scouting for.

Hypebeast x adidas - PureBOOST DPR - New York from VIDSETT on Vimeo.

Lined up in the future—I have a full season of races coming up.  The big one is that I’m running my 4th New York Marathon this fall to benefit City Harvest.  Also will be running Boston and Lehigh Marathons.  I also have a number top-secret projects that are all in utero at the moment… wish I could reveal all but I can’t!

Gastronomista:  What tips do you have for balancing fitness, nutrition, and hydration with a busy work schedule in the hospitality industry?

Sam Anderson:  I’m still trying to get that one down myself.  But, putting myself on a training schedule has been really helpful—the hospitality world is very unpredictable and stressful. So having a set routine that I follow every day that keeps me in shape, gives me mental space for meditation and reflection and keeps me grounded.  This has been life-changing.  Otherwise, you’re at the whims of the wind.

Photo Courtesy of Sam Anderson
Gastronomista: So, while we've established that you've become super disciplined about your daily routines, you are also passionate about the today's hospitality industry.  What are your favorite bars right now?

Sam Anderson:  I love Metta (killer sourdough bread, local fire-roasted veg dishes, super clean and fresh food that tastes so good it’s hard to believe it’s so good for you, emphasis on classic cocktails and natty wine), Four Horsemen (my favorite wine list in the city, food and service are also like butter), Karasu, The Bar at the Grill, Cervo’s.  Cocktail and Wine Bars: Dante, Mace, June Wine Bar, Air’s Champagne Parlor, Maison Premeire, Attaboy, Hotel Delmano.  I love a good dive bar as well—Sunny’s, The Alibi and Sophie’s are all favorites of mine.

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?

Sam Anderson:  I would have loved to have shared a pint with Joe Strummer after he ran the Paris Marathon.

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

Sam Anderson:  My creative process is driven by simply being open.  And what I mean by that is being open to inspiration wherever it may come from—music, art, film, food, something someone says to you, something you read… I rarely am inspired by another cocktail or from a drink of some sort, honestly.  I think it’s really important to know your venue, know your guests and what will resonate with them rather than forcing a concept or a perspective on them.  Also, keep it simple!!!

Gastronomista: This series is sponsored by Campari America; would you mind sharing a recipe  or two made with Campari America products with us?

Tingling Negroni
Created by Sam Anderson

1-1/2 oz Gin
3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Zirbenz Pinecone Liqueur

Stir with orange peel.
Strain over a large, single rock.

Add 4-5 drops of Szechuan peppercorn oil and a roll of seaweed.

Created by Sam Anderson of Mission Chinese

1 oz Blanco Tequila
1/2 oz Mezcal
1/2 oz Giffard Passionfruit
1/2 oz Campari
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
Shake all ingredients, and strain over ice.  Garnish with fresh flowers.

For more follow Sam Anderson on Instagram.

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