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