Want to know how to make the perfect dry martini? The most delicious mojito? Talk to master mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, a legend in the field. Author of “The Modern Mixologist,” Abou-Ganim has created cocktail menus at some of the finest restaurants and hotels across the country and has won 3 Iron Chef competitions. He was Mario Batali’s first bartender at his first restaurant, Po. He was contacted by Steve Wynn’s team to head up the cocktail beverage program at Bellagio in Las Vegas. Oh, and he’s also a National Ambassador for the United States Bartenders Guild.
At an interactive teaching presentation hosted by the College of Hospitality Management, Abou-Ganim relayed some of the history of the trade. He quoted Mark Twain, who said, “In Nevada, for a time, the lawyer, the editor, the banker, and the saloon-keeper occupied the same level in society, and it was the highest.”
Society had quite a different view when Abou-Ganim began his career in 1980. “People would ask me, ‘So Tony, what do you do for a living?’ And I’d say, ‘I’m a bartender.’ And then they’d say, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ ‘I don’t know, I’m having a pretty good time being a bartender, should I be doing something else?’ The perception of the job was not that it was a career to aspire to, but more of a part-time gig.”
Work with and learn from great bartenders.”
Times have changed in the last few decades. According to Abou-Ganim, “This is a great time to be working in the bar business. Our customers are better educated, more demanding…the fresh ingredients that bartenders get to work with. Being a bartender today is a culinary art.”
During his presentation, he brought student volunteers onstage and taught them how to make a number of drinks properly, giving them parting gifts from his line of bar tools. He relayed the history of the Negroni, the importance of using fresh ingredients and tricks to keep bartenders at the top of their game. And he shared what he believes to be the most important part of bartending.
“We can never forget why we do what we do, and that is for our guest experience,” he says. “So if you ever start getting it in your head that you’re bigger than the guest, stop yourself. Because what we do is hospitality. We’re in the hospitality business and it’s all about customer satisfaction.”
“I get frustrated at times when bars say, ‘Oh, we only stock 2 vodkas.’ What? Okay…but don’t be arrogant and pretentious about it if that’s your choice.”
“Or, ‘Don’t even think about ordering a Cosmopolitan.’ Why? A Cosmopolitan is a fantastic well-balanced cocktail when made properly, when we don’t cheat it with artificial and imitation ingredients and it leaves baggage on the roof of your mouth like a carry-on bag for the next two hours,” he jokes. “Use fresh ingredients and prepare it properly to pay tribute to those who created the drink.”
Abou-Ganim urged students to learn from the best. “Work with and learn from great bartenders. And hopefully you have the personality for it. I can teach you to make a fantastic martini, but I can’t teach you to be passionate about it. That has to come from within.”