BIOLOGIST TO BARTENDER
We catch up with World Class winner James Fowler and find out how he went from marine biologist graduate to bartending and running his own place. The road to bartending wasn’t always a smooth one, but, as we find out, it was one James was destined for!
HOW IT STARTED
The reason I’m where I am today is because of two people. Firstly, my Mom, who loves to cook, and secondly, Jamie Oliver, who inspired me to learn more and more about food and ingredients. Jamie’s books became my textbooks and my friends became my diners.
It was from Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks where he highlighted Dick Bradsell's cocktails that I realized that food and drink are equally as important. Using Simon Difford's guide to drinks and cocktails, I started to teach myself cocktail creation. The first cocktail I made was the Side Car (as featured in one of Jamie Oliver’s books).From this point on, I scoured the Difford’s Guide, making as many drinks as possible.
I had two decisions, to go to university or to train as a chef. Loving food and drink so much, I decided it would always be a part of my life, so I knew to take the university route to test another passion, which was the sea! I studied marine biology at Bangor University in Wales.
Day one of my course, I was drawing mackerel with a pencil… Day two, I was told that 70% of marine biologists end up in hospitality. I guess hearing this gave me all the reason to bluff my way through three years of study, while on the side running student bars, learning to flair bartend, working in restaurants, blowing my first student loan on kitchen equipment and even building a fully working bar in my student apartment.
The first bar I set up was a converted shot bar in the main student union club at Bangor University. Over the next month, we made alterations to the bar, including pulling a large kitchen sink from a dumpster and turning it into our glass wash section!
After-work drinks would happen at my apartment, in my bedroom. I would hold cocktail parties, making new drinks all the time. This was my study area to which my passion for mixed drinks properly started.
I passed my degree (just) with a dissertation on seaweed, a total of 19 lectures behind me but a huge passion for food and drink. I knew marine biology was no longer a route to follow.
FOLLOWING MY PASSION
After over ten years’ experience working behind bars for other people and creating my own drinks, I decided I could either grow with my current employer or concentrate my passion on the products that I love to use.
One day as part of the marketing expansion, my boss sent over a box of table cards stating, “We serve the best coffee in the world”. As a coffee lover with a fair bit of knowledge, I felt this was a bit too strong a claim. There were so many reasons why I could say we didn’t do the best coffee in the world and this made me think—how about actually creating a place that truly could specialize in products and be the best locally, regionally and one day nationally?
With a few friends I decided to open my own place with a keen emphasis on product and provenance knowledge. My restaurant and bar, ‘The Larder House’ opened in 2011.
Behind the scenes, opening the restaurant and bar was incredibly hard. With a tight budget, I designed and built the entire restaurant. As soon as we opened we were busy.
I guess the biggest lessons I learned were time management, knowing the books and hoping realization of what you are comes sooner rather than later.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
My outlet turns 5 years old this week. I’ve been looking through the memories and thinking about what we have achieved and it is actually quite overwhelming. We have great local trade and I hear lots of good things about the place.
Winning Diageo World Class UK in 2014 was a great moment to me from whoever the God of Hospitality is! In that moment, I really knew my dedication and belief in hospitality and the importance of the bar had been rewarded. It was a great year representing the UK for Diageo Reserve.
I’m now at a stage that I don’t need to be working all hours of every day, which is nice! I spend most my time creating the next steps, events and conjuring ways to make everyone’s lives, be it the team or the customers, that bit better or easier!
If you want to know, do I ever think about leaving the trade to get a “real job” then the answer is NO! I’m hospitality through and through. I want to stay close to the trade and keep my passion alive and flourishing.
Try one of James’s favourite recipes…
POMMS CUP N BOB
- 1.5 oz. GORDON’S Gin
- .75 oz. 10-Year-old Tawny Port
- Tonic water to top up
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- Seasonal sorbet
METHOD: The seasonal sorbet is a great way to experiment with the recipe. With the help of a sorbet machine and some interesting ingredients, the drink can be changed to offer different flavor expressions.Recent examples I have done in my restaurant: Spiced cranberry and mulled Wine; Rhubarb, lemon and thyme; Elderberry and Dandelion root
To make the cocktail, build over cubed ice in a sling glass. Top with a crushed ice cap, add the sorbet on top. Garnish with frozen berries, a cucumber ribbon around glass and a mint sprig.
(*One standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol)
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