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Bar Manager/ Directors

Will Estrada - The Joker Bartender

Bartender and Consultant Will Estrada, also known as The Joker Bartender, is dependable, resilient, and collaborative. Estrada’s ability to adapt under pressure, step up when he is needed most, and work with a team has played a crucial role in his life and his career. Having worked in bars and restaurants with toxic working environments, Estrada thrives at Groot Hospitality which boasts a passionate, supportive, and encouraging team of professionals. As both a bartender and consultant, Estrada approaches his job with a fun attitude. He not only wants to have a good time but he also wants to make sure that everyone who tries his delicious, creative cocktails has a great experience too!

What was your initial reaction to Miami’s hospitality industry? How did this reaction change over time?

When I started in Miami, I hated bartending. It was horrendous. I stopped bartending and got a busser/ runner/server jobs––anything to avoid getting behind the bar. One day, I was working at a restaurant and they opened a new pool bar but none of the bartenders showed up. They went partying. The manager put me in charge of the bar. I had no idea what to do. Then, I ended up staying at the pool bar and it was fun. It was nice to talk to people, meet people, and make drinks. By that time, I didn’t drink alcohol. I only followed a recipe. I didn’t have my first drink of liquor until I was 25. I got an opportunity to work at Fontainebleau’s service bar. When I left there, I started getting into craft cocktails and read about craft cocktails. I learned about wine and became a sommelier. I then worked in management and learned that bartending was more than making drinks behind a bar. I was doing what a chef would do. I was mixing flavors.

Where else did you bartend in Miami?

I got a chance to open a place on West Avenue. It was the first full bar that I took care of. It was a challenge. It was a huge bar in a restaurant with around three hundred seats. I had no idea what I was doing. They told me they needed a new cocktail menu and I had to come up with it. That was fun. People ended up liking my drinks. I got into it. I read a lot of books. At some point, I got decent enough to run places. I worked at Repour. It was a local cocktail bar.  I got to work with a great team. They had the most imaginative craft cocktails there. When I started there was a whole new team of bartenders, the three of us came up with the menu and that menu was probably the best that I ever made.

Willy Estrada 3Willy Estrada 5Willy Estrada 7

What inspired you to become a bar consultant?

I started helping out with some bars. I did the menus and helped with their training. I liked the creative part. I like coming up with cocktails. I got really into consulting in multiple bars. I would go into hotels and look at their cocktail programs. I would look at twelve bar restaurants. That’s how my consulting started.

You call yourself “The Joker Bartender”. What inspired this name?

Since I was a kid, I loved The Joker.  I watched all the cartoons and I first saw The Joker in a comic book. I saw the comic and read the story. What I like about The Joker is not the same as The Joker everyone sees now: crazy, narcissist, murder. The original Joker was meant to be a one time character.  He was supposed to be a villain that died or disappeared. People saw him as a nobody but fans loved him so much that he became iconic. I always thought that this guy was meant to be nothing but he became one of the most iconic characters in comics. I don’t see him as a villain but that is a different story…I admired his journey. I got a tattoo of him on my arm because it reminds me of the struggles that I had as a kid. Coming to Miami was hard too and now I am in a better position than I was when I started. Also, I have The Joker on my arm. A lot of people would tag me as “the Joker Bartender” on social media and the name stuck.

What does it mean for you to be working with Groot Hospitality? What values do you share with the company?

I have worked with the company for a while. I like that Groot Hospitality is not just telling you to come to have a meal and go home. We’re all about coming to have a meal and to stay with us. You have a drink, you enjoy the music and you have a great time. We like creating an environment that you want to stay in.  You see that every staff member loves being here. It’s always fun. We have a lot of energy. We are not a stuck up company that might be doing it for the glory or that might not care if anyone else is struggling. From the owners to management, everybody has the same wants and goals. I’ve enjoyed it so far and that’s why I’m still here.

What are your favorite aspects of the job?

I have always admired Chefs. It’s impressive what they do with food. They’ll list the ingredients and it will be these amazing flavors that I have never tried in my life. Bartenders are doing what a Chef does: we play with flavors. I started thinking less about making people drunk and more about giving people a product that they would love. I wanted to give them something they wanted to sip, enjoy, and love. I don’t want to be just the guy who pours shots but the guy who makes something original, something that excites people when they come to the bar.

You have worked with Komodo, Swan, and other restaurants. How did you come up with the beverage list of each restaurant? How did you make these lists unique?

I like playing around with the Chef. I try to know what they are doing in the kitchen. You’ll see me in the kitchen asking questions. I like to taste whatever they have there. I’m the guy with the Snoopy face hanging around and trying to try everything. I want to understand what the chef is doing so I can do a cocktail that you can pair with a meal. It’s like having a glass of wine and steak or fish. It’s the same with a cocktail. Why can’t you pair a cocktail with food? Because I had the chance to work with a few celebrity chefs and have enjoyed working with them, I started seeing what flavors work in a cocktail.

If you had your own drink, bar, or business, what would it be like and why?

I call my home bar “The Clown Den” so that’s probably what my bar would be. I’ve always wanted to have a nice craft tail bar. A little speakeasy. Nothing huge. I would probably have ten seats at the bar and a couple of tables. I’ve always wanted my own bar and someday, I hope I get one.

How may we follow your journey? Do you have any social media accounts or websites that you would like to share?

Instagram: @the_clown_den and @will_e_artpag

**All images by @blazinvisualz

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Lora Nefiodchina - F&B Manager at Mandarin Oriental

Meet Lora, F & B Manager at Mo Bar, Mandarin Oriental, Miami. The gift of hospitality abounds
in her blood and has evolved among restaurants. She started her career at 18 years-old
inspired by her mother. “I love the ability to show how I see the world with different flavors” –
Lora expresses as a mixologist. She’s the mastermind behind Mo Bar’s new cocktail list, and
me, personally, a fan of her job. She does not only craft cocktails, but she styles them
beautifully. The presentations are a complete feast that combines the best aromas, flavors and
visual appeals. Each one of them has perfectly mixed notes, herbal tones, and spices. In a
quick chat, she tells us more about her.

What’s the best part of being a mixologist?

The best part of being a mixologist, I think is the ability to share with guests “things you like”. Ability to show how you see the world with different flavors.

What’s your favorite cocktail?

I don’t have a favorite one. There are specific liquors I like, for example, I love scotch and
mezcal. I always give a chance to new things. But if I go to the bar I will definitely try 1 classic
drink (Manhattan or Old Fashion) and a signature one its always great to try, to see, to learn. Of
course, I have flavors which I prefer

Do you prefer your cocktails Shaken or Stirred?

One of the burning questions at the bar. Me personally I prefer stirred.

What’s your favorite place to have a drink?

Besides liquors, I enjoy having a glass of wine. So most probably if I go somewhere it will be a wine bar or a classy bar similar style to MO Bar.

Do you prefer Wine, Cocktails, or Spirits?

It really depends, I love to try cocktails, but if the bar where I go is really busy I will choose wine
or liquor. Also if I will go to the restaurant most probably it will be wine.

If Miami would be a Cocktail… what would it be?

I would say it will be made with some tropical fruits and definitely I would add some spiciness.

Can you please describe the featuring Cocktail?

This is our ultimate gin and tonic – Ladies and GINtleman. We blend our own gin in-house to
give the balance of citrus and herbal notes. The cocktail can be described as Asian inspired cocktail,
we use sesame oil, anise stars, juniper berries, and yuzu tonic to highlight our connection with
Asian culture.

Screen Shot 2020 08 23 at 12.23.16 AM
Image by Dulce Escalante


Ladies and GINtelman

1.5oz Blended Gin
0.15oz Lemon juice

1 drop Sesame oil
Yuzu tonic

 

 

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Ray Mozak - Bar Manager Novikov Miami

 How did you discover your career?

I grew up in a family-owned bar/restaurant that had nothing but chicken wings, burgers, and beer. Nothing really fancy, but I loved the hospitality aspect of it. I started bussing tables and bar backing.  I was also in the kitchen, but where I really felt most at home was at the bar. I loved the regulars coming in on a Friday night.  They’d listen to my stories and talk about their plans for the weekend and so on. I had a great time behind the bar. Believe it or not, I’m kind of a loner by nature.  When I’m not at work, I shut-in at home and am focused on whatever I need to do there. So it was a way for me to kind of open up and be more of a social butterfly. I love serving drinks and getting to meet people.

Growing up in northern New York, Rochester. There were no opportunities for me to build knowledge there, everything was just beer and wine and some spirits, but people didn’t want craft cocktails back then. Then one day I decided to quit my job and travel.  I did that for a year and then I was like “Ok, it’s time to move back to Rochester and start a career, a new life, and reinvent myself.” Not long after returning, I was like “Alright, just one more vacation and then I’m going to do this for real!” I went on Expedia and found a special package flight and hotel for a $600 weekend to Miami. I’d never been there so I figured, why not, let’s go explore Miami!

When I came down here, I just immediately loved it. The whole craft cocktail scene was booming. I’d go to hotel lobby bars and ask the bartenders what things were. They were making so many cocktails I’d never even heard about. It was really exciting for me because they were doing the same things I was doing at home, but at the next level. They were interacting with and educating the guest at the same time. That’s when I fell in love with the craft and realized it was more than just a job for me. I continued to come down to Miami and, after the 3rd trip, found a realtor and told her I needed to move here as soon as possible. I went back to Rochester and she called a few days later to say she had the perfect apartment. So I did what I had to do in Rochester and moved to Miami. 

I didn’t think I was going to find a job right away, but I found one within 3 hours of landing, I really did. The realtor picked me up, showed me my place, signed the lease, we did the walkthrough and then she pointed me in the direction of a furniture store because I came with nothing but my dog and 2 suitcases, so I needed a bed. On the way, I walked into a bar on 16th and Collins and walked out with a job. I told them I was from New York, that I was a bartender and have done this for a while and they said: “We like New Yorkers, they’re hard workers, can you start next week?”  And that’s how my career started in Miami. 

When did you develop a love for mixology?

It was when I found a job at 1 Hotel.  They had recently opened Beachcraft and I worked for the beverage director there, Charles Steadman.  He became my idol, the way he was talking about beverages, cocktails, mixing things together, this guy knew everything!  I was star-struck and kept thinking: “How do I become that?” That’s when my love for mixology started, discovering that you can mix so many flavors, you can mix 2 opposite flavors and turn it into something totally different and it pairs well together. I worked under him for a year and then he moved somewhere else. But he was extremely inspiring. Beachcraft was all about garden-to-glass, a lot of the ingredients were grown right on the property, which got me into sustainability and thinking more innovatively. There are multiple layers of bartending and mixology. Personally, I don’t like the term “mixologist” very much. I’m more into it because of the hospitality, the opportunity to create a good cocktail by throwing ideas together.  As long as the flavors match and pair well and go nicely with the food, hey, I’m happy. I just made your day and took you on a journey you will remember for a long time. I was having the most fun pairing food and beverages together.

Now that you mention it, what would be your favorite F&B pairing?

Well, I like a lot of sashimi, sushi, and raw food and I’ll pair it with any cocktail with a little bit of yuzu and sake mixed together. It’s like a palate cleanser and then you can taste the fish more. It cuts the acidity on the fattier fish. That’s my favorite nowadays. A couple of years ago, I was into pairing fat washing Bourbon with steak fat. I’m currently trying to create a drink that pairs well with duck since we are famous for our Peking duck.

Which specialty cocktail would you recommend we try at Novikov?

I would say the Smoking Gun cocktail. I just created this for Coconut Cartel and it’s a really simple drink but with a lot of flavor. It comes with a flavor bubble on top, which pops and then you get the aroma. It’s made with a vapor gun that you can add essential oils to. Right now I have grapefruit, rosemary, and citrus. It’s fairly new, we launched it at the beginning of March and we’re still figuring out the bubble! It’s very temperamental, so I’d suggest trying it at the bar. As for the ingredients, they are super simple, just add a little bit of sweet vermouth to Coconut Cartel rum and some orange bitters, which make it a very palatable drink. I’d recommend trying it as a digestif or with our chocolate lava cake.

What is your main source of inspiration when you create cocktails for the menu?

I love to observe and learn about our guest’s preferences. We have an amazing beverage program with a lot of fascinating ingredients and techniques. In general, I find that our clientele wants a drink that is fast and tasteful. They love exotic ingredients or odd pairings like wasabi and vodka, or shiso and yuzu. Something very easy to make but high on flavor.  I came up with the Shiso: it’s pineapple, yuzu, and muddled shiso.  It’s super easy to make, it goes well with every single one of our sushi rolls, our sashimis, our raw fish, anything. Then, we have a lot of drinks inspired by the balloon glasses, since people love them. So we did Strawberry Spritz, with beautiful garnishes…when people see it passing by, they order it. We also did a take on Moscow Mule, with salted cucumber infusion, Ketel One Botanical, cucumber, mint, and salt. 

The Oaxacan Sun I’m very proud of.  If this is not the number one seller, it’s definitely the second. It’s made with Mezcal, passion fruit, agave, a little piece of serrano, and topped off with ginger beer.  

Which drink would you recommend for:

A. Girls’ night out: Strawberry Spritz or a Lychee Martini 

B. Gentlemen after work: Oaxacan Sun or El Gringo 

C. Couple’s first date: Sake. I would stay away from the cocktails, based on my experience. You don’t want to drink fast, right?

Which wine would you recommend by the glass?

I’m a big fan of Sancerre and Chablis, especially with our cuisine here. They pair very well with a lot of dishes. 

What’s next on the horizon for you?

Since I’m still young, I’m just happy to get through the day and go home, hug my fiance and think “ok, let’s do this all over again tomorrow.” But I’m open to anything and I don’t turn away opportunities either. I love my job. I’m very happy with what I do. I don’t look at it like a “job,” so I’m lucky in that sense. I’d love to grow in my career as a Manager, whether it’s as a Beverage Director or Restaurant Manager. I just want to grow as a person and be able to build a better team, be a better teacher and a better leader. That’s all I want to do.

 

  • Check Ray’s Instagram for easy DIY at home Cocktail Recipes at @drinksbyray
  • @Novikovmiami is currently selling their top specialty cocktails to-go, 18oz pouches with garnishes included $45 (serve 4) call, order, and pick up!. Enjoy an Old Fashion, Wasabi Martini, Agave Picante, or a Cosmopolitan

 

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JC Santana - Beverage Director of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Le Jardinier

JC Santana – Beverage Director of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Le Jardinier:

Puerto Rican-born, Miami-bred Juan Carlos Santana started life as a music event production while cultivating a side passion for craft beers and spirits.  After experiencing all the highs and lows of life on the road, he went back to school to study hospitality, with the idea of eventually opening a bar. After graduating, he applied to jobs in a brewery and a wine restaurant, leaving it to destiny to choose his path.  The wine restaurant made the first offer, which set him on an illustrious and fast-paced career journey. A year and a half later, he would obtain his certification as a Sommelier along with a job at Juvia. This led to an offer from the Zuma Group for the position of Head Sommelier at Coya.  After Coya closed, he continued to grow with the parent company Dream as the US Beverage Director, spending two years opening new restaurant concepts nationally, creating beverage programs and educating incoming staff. With such an exemplary resume, it’s no wonder Santana was tapped for the Miami Design District concepts: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Le Jardinier. 

What are your current and long-term goals when putting together a wine list?

I’m glad to say that the present wine lists contain a lot of things that are a priority for me, while still offering viability for the business as a whole.  My focus is to work with producers who are taking care of the earth, growing sustainably at the very least, if not organic or biodynamic. I look for small producers and people who farm responsibly, that’s the most important thing for me. The other part is making sure there’s gender parity so that we’re working 50-50 with male and female winemakers.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

I love to do it all.  For the wines, I was able to personally curate them and put them on the list, which is always a great professional challenge that builds your knowledge and discernment.  On the bar side, I get to flex my creativity, play with flavors and make something out of infinitely different possibilities. To have an outlet where I can create is the reason I love my job. But I also enjoy the education side—training people and teaching.

How do you work with the chefs to prepare the beverage program?

I’m very lucky that my chefs love when I’m there and give me stuffs to taste all the time.  I focus more on the ingredients they’re working with and I try to include those in the cocktail program or I taste the sauces and think “this needs such-and-such wine.”  I’m happy to say that I have a good relationship with them and we all earnestly want to offer the very best to our guests.

What was the inspiration behind the cocktail menu for Le Jardinier?

It’s largely influenced by the season.  In the summer, I make it lighter and fresher.  For our so-called “winter,” we offer a few more stirred drinks.  When I design a recipe for a drink, I try to be mindful of classic cocktails that I know people love.  For example, El Chile Vasco is a spicy take on the margarita. Margaritas are the number one drink sold in the country.  We infuse our tequila/mezcal with Espelette peppers and through a little mamey in for good measure. The sweetness helps balance out the spice. We also have a drink called Le Pistolette that’s essentially a Revolver, but we do it with cognac. We paid a little homage to the French roots of the restaurant there.

Any ideal beverage and food pairings?

I like traditional food-wine pairings.  There’s an acidity you get out of wine that is hard to find in cocktails or beer.  I enjoy pairing beer and cocktails with food but I think food and wine are really made for each other, while beer is best experienced on its own and, generally speaking, cocktails are more for having a good time or two. 

Can you describe the greatest wine experience you’ve ever had?

I had many, but there are two memorable ones.  One was a very personal experience I had in Slovenia while visiting a small, family-owned restaurant, headed by a winemaker who produced the most incredible wine—truly unbelievable, packed with flavors, freshness, and acidity while respectful of the traditional process.  To be there was very special because he also embodied true hospitality, offering a generous tour with sampling out of barrels, even showing us the room where he curated his pig legs! The smell of the place…it’s a difficult thing to fully express what that experience was like. 
The other was on the educational side.  It’s those times when maybe you’ve spent a week or two relaying difficult concepts to someone and they start to embark on it, following all the steps, even if they don’t fully understand yet.  Then suddenly there’s that moment when a little light bulb clicks on in their eyes and they are like “Oh! This is what you’ve been talking about all this time!” Seeing that smile and epiphany happen is truly awesome.  I would say those little moments are addictive to me.

What are your thoughts on wine education in Miami?

I think there’s a lot of potential for growth in this arena. In my mind, Miami has always been a spirits and cocktails town first and wine has always been second to that. It’s nice to see that there are more options now and more people pursuing careers in the wine industry.  As far as building a clientele, that would require more information and education, I suppose. In the restaurant scene, what I’ve noticed is that a lot of people tend to stick to what they know or have been told is good. Big brands sell here like crazy so it can be somewhat frustrating when trying to present a new product that could really be a game-changer.  But that points to an opportunity, too. 

What do you do outside of your work scene?

I was very big into mountain biking for a long time.  I took a 10-day trip to actual mountains and, once you do that, it sort of spoils the fun of doing it here, unfortunately.  Going down the mountain is that exhilarating!  But going to the beach is also a lot of fun. In my perfect living space, I’d have both mountains and beaches.

If you were a wine, what kind of wine would you be?

I guess I’d feel differently about this at different times…I’m a Gemini after all!  But if I had to pick a wine, probably it would be a northern Rhone Syrah, with the purity of fruits but still with a lot of funky stuff going on in there and many layers of it.  I have good intentions but, at the same time, I’m a little rough around the edges. I’m not super-polished by any means. 

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Blood Moon at Le Jardinier

Which drink would you highly recommend we try when visiting Le Jardinier?

We have a new drink coming out on the menu called the Blood Moon, which has wine in it.  It’s has Charbay blood orange vodka, blood orange juice, lemon, homemade spice syrup (clove, allspice, anise, etc), topped off with Lambrusco.  That would be my first suggestion.

What’s next in store for you? 

I need to submit our new wine list to the spectator by the end of the month.  So my priority right now is to make sure that’s perfect. On the personal side of things, my goal is to eventually open my own place here in Miami, maybe a wine bar, we’ll see!  

 

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