Last week, the fine folks from Breasla Barmanilor organized a very interesting event where they invited world renowned bartender David Ríos Aguilar for a masterclass and a guest shift. Unfortunately, I could not attend that event but I had the great privilege to have a chat with David and find out more about himself and the work that he is doing. Below you can find all the details from our conversation. Enjoy!
- Hello David and thank you for making the time to chat with me. I know (and most of the Romanian bartending community) that you are a very successful bartender but unfortunately there are a few bartenders who haven’t heard about you. For those in question, what can you tell us about yourself? How did you start in the hospitality industry?
Hello Mihai and thank you very much for your interview. Regarding your question, I think it is absolutely normal that not all the bartenders know me. I am not a super star and even though I am from Spain, there are bartenders there who still do not know who I am.
I am in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years now, working as a bartender, I used to be a wine sommelier, a maître D’, I had my own businesses and here I am today, trying to perfect my craft. I work with a lot of great chefs, one of them being Andoni Luis Aduriz from Mugaritz and when I have the time, I do consulting and other many bar related activities.
I keep learning new things every day and I think this is key: to learn, learn, learn! I said it at the masterclass also: if you learn about wines, beers, local products, your culture, you can use that to create new cocktails that express your roots.
- So, it seems that you are very busy, doing a lot of projects for yourself and for the ones who need your services, but if we may, let’s go back please. Let’s go to when you started to bartend. What made you enter the bar world and remain there for two decades?
Actually this is pretty funny because I used to be a semi-professional football player and in the week-ends for some extra cash I started to work in a local bar. After a few months I realized that I really enjoy working behind the bar. The vibe, the atmosphere, the guests, the drinks, everything was to my liking.
Fast forward a few years, I opened a cocktail bar, a cafeteria and a cocktail catering firm. Now I am free of all of this because one and a half years ago I sold everything because It was impossible to manage and to be honest, I wanted to have some free time for myself so that I could go and travel around the world and meet new people.
- In 2013, you won “World Class” and since then your name appears in everything that is directly related with the Diageo portfolio. What can you tell us about that experience? How hard it is to win that competition? What kind of skillset do you need to have such an accomplishment?
“Diageo World Class” was the best experience of my bartending life! The best but in the same time the hardest competition. Only the global final took almost a week. It was very intense and it had eight different challenges. Some were in the morning while some were in the evening. Challenges like food paring, speed mix, speakeasy challenge, cocktail tasting, mystery box, etc. It was very stressful but in the same time, I had a great time doing all of these challenges. I met incredible bartenders and I learned a lot of new things thanks to those guys.
The most important asset that you can have is your personality. There are very well trained bartenders there but the difference is in how do you control yourself and how do you take care of your guests. (the judges). From a mixology stand point, it is challenging, you have to make a lot of drinks (I made a total of 22 cocktails during that week) but if you don’t have the right personality, you cannot win the best competition in the world for bartenders which is “World Class”.
- Speaking of “World Class”, if I am not mistaken, this is your 3rd time in Romania. Your first visit was for the official opening of “World Class Romania” and for the second you were a judge along with Miss. Stephanie Jordan. What do you think about the level of the Romanian bartenders?
You are right, it is my 3rd time here in Romania (I’ve been judging the World Class Competition) and I always come back with pleasure. Since I’ve been here before, I got the chance to really know the bartenders here and follow up their progress. You have very talented bartenders here and the level is growing each and every year. Besides your obvious passion, the community that you have created here is very important because in this way you can create opportunities for the next generation and you can grow together. There aren’t so many countries which have what you have so, hats off to you guys!
- I agree with you. Our strength is in our unity but enough with the “World Class”! Last week you were at Cluj-Napoca for a “David Rios Masterclass”. What did you prepare for all the people who came there to see you? What was the concept behind that masterclass?
Well, I think that the term “masterclass” is a bit too much. I prefer to call it a simple meeting with my bartending friends. We’ve gone through a lot of things… I made quite a few cocktails but my focus was on the process. How do you create a new cocktail, how can you make a connection between a wine and a cocktail, how to balance your drinks, etc. I talked about temperatures, about glassware, locally sourced ingredients, emotions, creativity, body language and many, many tips. The feedback was very good from the bartenders and that makes me really happy because I enjoyed it a lot as well. It is nice being within the Romanian bartending community!
- I’ve seen quite some pictures on Facebook (full album here) regarding your presentation and it looked very interesting indeed. Shame that I’ve missed it. Speaking of the guest bartending, how was it for you to bartend behind the stick at Charlie? How was the crowd? How did you felt? (except for exhaustion, of course)
It was very nice. A lot of guys came to the guest shift to see me in action, to taste the cocktails and to talk to me. Even thought it was very busy, I really enjoyed it a lot! The recipes for the cocktails were very simple but the taste was complex. This is the kind of drinks that I love to have and to make in the same time. The guys from Charlie were super excited and together I think that we’ve made a pretty good team. This guest shift was one of my favorite shifts ever! I felt super good!
- Yes, I know the feeling. Romanian bartenders love to taste new cocktails. Again and again. :> This being said, yesterday you stayed for a whole day with some of the best bartenders from Romania. They’ve learned a lot from you but the question is: what did you learn from them?
When I travel, I try to absorb everything that I can from people. At the guest shift I was able to see how the bartenders from Charlie were working behind the bar, how they interact with their guests and how are things done here in Romania. I (re)discovered “ţuica”, your national spirits and I was fascinated by its story which Călin was kind enough to share it with me. We’ve talked about the plums, the distillation, the aging and of course, we tasted it. I loved it!
- Nicely said. I wanted to ask you: since you are so busy with a lot of personal projects, when do you find time for yourself? How do you balance your work with your personal life?
This is a really good question. We are referring to balance when talking about cocktails, but we need to find it also in our personal life. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the proper time to do what I enjoy most, activities like surfing, going to the gym, playing sports etc. Now, all my time is divided between my work and my family and I think that I am very fortunate to have such an understanding family who believes in me and supports me no matter what. If the future, I am planning to take more time and use it just for my non bar-related pleasures.
- How does a normal day in your life looks like? Do you have any particular habits during the day?
I wake up early in the morning and start to have breakfast with my children. I have a pair of 6-year-old twins. After that, I prepare them for school where I drive them. From school I go straight to the office where I take care of my e-mails and see what new things have happened in the bar world. Afterward I take care of my upcoming projects and if there is anything to do, I get to work. In the evening, I try to get home as soon as possible to spend some time with my twins, which mean the world to me.
- We are at the end now. Is there a message that you would like to send to the Romanian bartending community?
Never stop learning, respect your profession, your colleagues and try to work together. When you have a really good attitude you can accomplish everything! Romania is by far one of my favorite countries. Thank you for having me and hope to see you soon and at the end don’t forget to: dream, enjoy (yourselves) and smile!
Photo credits: Lucian Mândru
Here you can see the video that was made during the event. Credits: Vlad Anca.