Spirit Brand: Lucas Bols
Profession: Bartender / East Coast Brand Ambassador
Years in the Industry: 9
Natasha Velez Walker grew up in Santurce, Puerto Rico. When she began working for Emilio Figueroa’s hotel, Koco, in San Juan she began to develop a strong passion for the craft. Walker helped open The Piña Colada Club in the Caribe Hilton and later found herself at Casa Lola, working for acclaimed chef, Roberto Treviño. A few industry luminaries caught notice of Walker and suggested she give NYC’s cocktail culture a try. Eager to try spirits such as chartreuse, rye whiskey and mezcal, she came to New York.
What got you into the mixology / beverage business? What do you love about it?
When I was younger, I left my parents house at age 15. Needing to pay for school and living expenses, I picked up shifts at dive bars. When I hit 18, I interviewed with Emilio Figueroa who truly believed in me and put me behind the bars at KOCO, a hotel in San Juan and later at Piña Colada at the Caribe Hilton. What I love about this industry (or one of the things I love) is how much I learn about myself through serving others. Being able to go the extra mile for someone brings me genuine joy.
Do you play “bartender” at family or friends’ functions? If yes, do you mind?
Sometimes it just happens. If someone’s cooking and I’ll make a punch or a fresh fruit drink just to see them enjoy it. I honestly don’t mind. It’s nice to bring something to the table.
How do you get in the creative zone when concocting a new drink recipe? What’s your process?
I think about the spirit, where it was made, what I want it to be, if I want it shaken or stirred. I think about how I want to introduce another flavor dimension. For example, taking a simple sour and elevating it into something else. Do I want ice in the drink or is it going to have to stand on it’s own? I try the same idea in stirred and shaken methods. I keep exploring until I find that one preparation that just hits the palate. You know when you’ve hit gold.
Name your favorite cocktail using 5 ingredients or less!
This isn’t fair, I can’t choose just one. I can say Daiquiris & Negronis. In my mind, they are the perfect cocktails. I can’t go wrong with these.
Tell us about a funny Bar Story that happened to you (or the best bar joke you know!)
I remember one and it isn’t funny but it’s my best bar story. My two favorite regulars were sitting next to each other. Both are workaholics – very career driven individuals that couldn’t enjoy their food that night because they were always trying to work (mind you, this was at Ruth’s Chris Steak House so they were paying good money to not enjoy their food). I took their phones away from them and made them talk to each other. It went well… It went very well. They kept coming in and started dating… less than a year later, they were at the bar. I’m closing, and I let them stay in to have their drinks (Heineken light for him and a Belvedere on the rocks with two limes for her)… and I hear a scream. I run over and she’s on the floor crying. I’m confused and about to lose my mind then I see him smile at me and show me the ring… he proposed. She said yes.
What’s the strangest drink request you’ve gotten?
“Excuse me, can I get a blue label with milk and orange juice…” Say whaaatttt?
What are some basic tips/steps to learning how to pair cocktails with food?
Use your logic in this one. Think about the dishes that are being served and what drink you can imagine yourself enjoying this dish with. If you’re working with oysters, a bubbly cocktail (a french 75) would do. Use cocktails to enhance the flavor of the food, don’t try to overpower the dish. Look for freshness in herbs. Play with the texture of the dish and the body of the cocktail.
What are your career goals?
As of now, my goal is to focus in the brand side of the beverage business and learn all I can from it. In the future, I see myself opening my own series of bars in different places of the world and give my staff the opportunity to seasonally rotate through each location.
In your opinion, what’s the next biggest trend in mixology?
Split cocktails and going back to the kitchen-centric ingredients.
Learn more about Bartender & Brand Ambassador Natasha Velez Walker on her Chef’s Roll Industry Profile.
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