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Of perfect matches and unlikely pairings

Stories from the world’s best bartenders

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By Kaye Estoista Koo

Don Papa Rum, a homegrown Filipino brand, despite having only been around since 2013, has already expanded to 21 countries. In fact, it entered the US market just this April 25.

Of the 21 countries, 11 are in Europe, which include Spain and Netherlands. Don Papa Rum is in high demand in France, the first country they went into for export.

Brand manager Cristhel Molina explains why Don Papa Rum has been such a success internationally. “Especially in France, as they embrace the kind of behavior of looking into new brands, those with a story,” she says. “They like a lot of discovery, a brand that is hip and cool.”

Don Papa Rum has been holding cocktail competitions for three years now. The most recent competitions were once again held in Netherlands, United Kingdom, with Denmark as the newest location. The winners come to the Philippines as part of their prize. Previous winners have gone on to become Bacardi Legacy and Diageo World Class winners.

For the win. Chef Marcus Shockley and bartender Andrei Talapanescu present their perfect pairing.

For the win. Chef Marcus Shockley and bartender Andrei Talapanescu present their perfect pairing.

Chef and Shakers

This 2017, a Chef and Shakers competition was held in the Netherlands for the first time.

Six chefs and 12 bartenders competed in Master Chef style mechanics with a mystery box challenge. For any Don Papa Rum competition, it is important that the chefs and bartenders represent bars or restaurants that are already carrying Don Papa Rum products,  familiar with the taste profile and how to use and execute it. The chefs were given time to prepare their dish while the bartenders had to come up with a cocktail drink to match the dish, on the spot.

A bartender who used to play professional water polo and a chef who used to work in Southern California kitchens became the dark horse winners. The two were an unlikely pairing.

Bartender Andrei Talapanescu, head bartender at Pulitzer’s Bar, arrived at the competition with his chef from the world-famous Pulitzer’s Hotel. However, four other bartenders wanted to pair their drinks with that chef because he was a high-end hotel executive chef from Amsterdam.

Chef Marcus Shockley hails from the Duchess Restaurant in the W Hotel in Amsterdam.

He says, “No one was picking Marcus, but his food was super nice. We didn’t know each other.”

As the 12 bartenders could have their pick from the six chefs, Andrei made the strategic choice.

“From the ingredients there, I saw that it could work. His dish was the most perfect one. As four bartenders already picked the chef I came with, that means I had a lesser chance to win, so I ditched my original chef and went with Marcus.”

Marcus on the other hand, was ready to make his own drink because he used to be a bartender. However, the chefs needed to be picked by a bartender. One of the chefs from the Philippines wasn’t picked by anyone and was thus disqualified.

Andrei told Marcus “When we won it, it was such a shocker, we couldn’t believe it!”

Their winning dish and drink used Don Papa as part of the glaze on Marcus’ braised pork belly with star fruit.

Andrei said that the sweet, spicy, and savory flavors from Marcus’ dish ticked all the Filipino boxes for taste. It didn’t take Andrei long to look for flavors that would work well with the dish, as pork and rum naturally go together. He jokingly adds that the chef he came with, and who lost to him and Marcus “was a bit upset, but he will get over it.”

Since then, the winning duo have become friends, hanging out and having dinner with their girlfriends.

“We are a team now.”

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The Aperitivo Culture

The pair is part of a new trend that Don Papa is introducing, the Aperitivo culture.

Instead of the usual wine or beer with meals, the Aperitivo concept pairs rum-based cocktails with food options. Aperetivos started in Italy in the 1920s for the sole purpose of kick starting digestion. The Digestivo is the drink designed for after dinner.

As they appear in Don Papa Rum events here, they set the groundwork for the Denmark winner arriving in August and the United Kingdom winner in July.

Don Papa’s Happy Problem

Molina said Don Papa now has what they call a happy, good problem.

She says, “We are growing very fast! Like when we are out of stock, in France, we only do pre-order basis, the product flies off the shelves in the bars. Getting into a new country has never been difficult.”

In Europe, with its share of well-known, longer established rum brands, Don Papa is currently the only Philippine rum there.

“We are able to push Don Papa as a source of Filipino pride. We have achieved so much in such little time.”

Molina also adds the importance of them being present in the Philippines.

She says, “we are not just an export product. We are a product available locally that Filipinos can be proud of.”

The funniest responses to Don Papa Rum actually come from Filipinos living abroad, she relates.

“Whenever we meet a Filipino who tells us, I actually discovered Don Papa through a friend of mine in France, or in Germany and they tell me it’s a Filipino product, they couldn’t believe it.”

Andrei’s Journey

Andrei, who lives and works in Amsterdam, lived a different life before he became a bartender, or a shaker.

He says, “It was a totally different life, with no drinking, because I was doing sports. But I was attracted to spirits, I thought they looked flashy, shiny.”

Andrei started buying books, reading up on cocktails, making drinks for friends or at parties. Originally from Romania, Andrei realized the level he wanted was not there and he moved to Amsterdam and switched universities.

This landed him a teaching stint at Bols Bartending Academy, as well as multiple gigs in restaurants, cocktail bars, and clubs. Of the seven venues he worked in, he opened three of them. He has been at his current job at Pulitzer’s Bar for one year and three months.

“When they reopened this five-star hotel, I helped lead the bar and create the menu,” ne shares.

Pulitzer’s Bar is part of the Pulitzer Hotel, built along the canals of Amsterdam from 25 individual houses which has been around for 45 years.

The property kept the core values that made it world-famous and now people are coming back to see the change.

“We want to exceed their expectations because many of them remember the old one, and then there are the first-timers, of course.”

The bar seats 60 and Andrei shares how insanely busy it can get on a Saturday night with 340 people in and out the whole evening. He shares,

“Last month, we served 3,700 cocktails compared to 1,000 on a good month in another bar! That’s not counting the tonics, wines, and other drinks.”

Individually, the most number of drinks he has made in a day is 900 over the course of four hours.

For him, coming up with new drinks can take anywhere from a few minutes to three months to one year. For the reopening of Pulitzer’s Bar, it took Andrei minimum of three months.

“In Holland, if you want to do something with drinks, put mint,everybody loves it. We’ll be doing a Great Gatsby theme soon. The bar already looks 1920s, the art deco style is how it would have looked like when the author wrote his book around this era,” he shares excitedly.

In the eight years since he turned pro, he recalls one drink that didn’t quite work with the guests.

“Taste is different for everyone, and it has been a while, since very few of my experiments don’t go well. There was this one time, I put together truffle and white chocolate.

It is old-fashioned but it didn’t work, even though that should work, right.

So we tried different bases of truffle bitters, infused truffles, spirit of truffles. What didn’t work was the white chocolate, either as liquor or syrup as it came out like milk that went bad!”

He remembers another instance when he thought a drink would not work, but it did.

“We did a drink that I didn’t believe in at first. It was a totally black drink, super pitch black, no reflection like black light. It was black sesame syrup, Japanese whiskey, bitters and activated charcoal which is used for cleansing the stomach from food poisoning. I thought, we are never going to sell this, it looks like benzene! People loved it!”

His drink of choice would have to be a rum “I do drink a lot of rum, as its value for money, and it is the best product there is. But it depends on the mood, or day, so sometimes I like a daiquiri, a negroni, or a dark and stormy,” he shares.

Andrei believes in always furthering his craft and loves going to bars and tasting what other shakers prepare.

“You can never be the best at this,” he shrugs. “You can win all competitions but you are never going to be the best because bars do the same thing, so going to other bars is part of the job for research and development and I do enjoy other people’s drinks a lot.”

Has he ever gotten drunk?

“It happens,” he smiles.

“I do get drunk but not at work, never behind the bar!”

The 28-year-old shaker has this simple advice for anyone who wants to give his world a try.

“At the beginning, it’s interesting and fun. But after one point, you have to make the switch between having fun drinking every day to being more serious and taking it as a job.

Being around alcohol, all the time, can create issues with drinking habits, so drink moderately, stay on the good path. It takes spark and passion to combine ingredients and mixing things.”

Andrei concludes that the best time to drink is “actually, start by four in the afternoon and finish by 10 in the evening, for a good night’s sleep.”

Marcus Builds

In order to successfully pair a dish with a drink, Marcus, who used to work in Tails & Spirits, the number 18 cocktail bar in the world, has a few tips:

“Building a dish with a drink is about understanding the flavors and how to pair the two. You have to start in one place for foundation.”

In his case, he started with Don Papa Rum and thought of all the proteins that would go well with it.

“Choose your ingredient and what you’re going to do to it. For example, if you sous-vide, the way you prepare this part dictates outcome, flavor wise, texture wise.”

“As you keep building, think of classic pairings. Think of comfort or what your grandma gave you when you were a kid.”

He loves sauces and glazes because “here you can create depth and have many ingredients without adding them to the plate. As you continue to make these choices, see where it takes you. Here you find weird pairings. And I like to break the rules.”

Marcus explains that for him, putting all the dry ingredients on top of his dish spikes interest in your guest, because it will taste different from what they assume, especially if you put in sauces. “The ingredients won’t show up there,” he says. “Let them be surprised.”

Ultimately it is about having fun and working together well. Even as he builds his dish, Marcus makes sure to check in with his shaker on the flavors and tastes he is putting in his drink to see if they match.

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