n. pl. things that interest Stewart P. Slocum

Posts Tagged ‘Aisha Sharpe’

The Enlightenment of Mixology | Dushan Zaric & Aisha Sharpe | Pioneers in Mixology | Part Four

In Drinks, Innovation on May 11, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Opening my eyes refreshed from a “listening meditation” last night, I sit at the Tibet House (15th St. 5/6) where Dr. Miles Neale, a contemplative psychotherapist, tells about a jarring experience with one of the confrontational types that wander the streets of East Village and how his response to the confrontation created his reality, not the confrontation itself.  A quick thought flashes through my mind on the unusual path that led me here, starting, of all places, with a passion for the culture, history and progression of Mixology.

The grand opening of Pernod Ricard’s “Pioneers in Mixology,” whose sessions I’ve described over the past few posts, was helmed by Dushan Zaric and Aisha Sharpe with a workshop entitled, “Mindful Bartending: The Mastery of Service.” It will also be presented as part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic on May 17 at the Astor Center.

In this fascinating session, Dushan & Aisha mixed Buddhist principles with the realities of bartending life – late hours, near constant contact with alcohol and boundaryless customer expectations in the world of today where everyone with a Facebook, Yelp or other social media account has an audience and increasingly consider themselves a critic – sharing positive secrets only with close friends but warning EVERYONE if something goes awry.

May sound like a daunting lifestyle, but we know it isn’t necessarily, and Dushan freely admits that “this is the coolest job in the world,” made even cooler if you master balance, live mindfully.

He presents the description of a bartender as part Mixologist (master of cocktail history and the expansive and ever-evolving recipe catalog), part Sage (master of ceremonies responsible for operations, atmosphere and attitude of the bar/lounge/resto) and undeniably part Rock Star (larger than life personalities that can & do range a broad spectrum just like real stars.  Think about the disparity from Bjork, to D’Angelo, to Flaming Lips, to Ting Tings, to Radiohead to John Mayer).

Dushan Zaric and Aisha Sharpe at BarSmarts Pioneers in Mixology

Rock Star Presenters Dushan Zaric & Aisha Sharpe (with Simon!)

Dushan himself is ear-ringed, vested, skinny-jeaned & wallet-chained, and Aisha is sporting a blond fem-rock faux-hawkish look with her black teeshirt; neither would look out of place walking off the Bowery Ballroom stage.  As I glance around the room at the BarSmarts Mixologists in the 9 a.m. morning light, it is a kick to see these larger-than-life personalities and how they are expressed even before noon – quite a few hipster fedoras & derby hats in the room, hoodies galore, one Nehru jacket, a few more vests and the previously mentioned leopard-print dyed hair – definitely a room of Rock Star personalities.

Bar Smarts Pioneers in Mixology

Mixology Rock Stars

As the session unfolds, Dushan & Aisha bring to life the “firm your mind, not your butt” brand of yoga.  Focusing the room on the importance of a bartender’s mood, which sets the tone for the night (influencing scores of other people), and how their reaction to customer and staff interaction either creates happiness or friction, but every moment the choice is that of the bartender to make.  Emphasizing that the ripple effect is as alive behind the bar as anyplace else in life, and it is a bartender’s choice to create happiness.

Dushan & Aisha reveal many aspects of mindfulness through the bartender-lifestyle lens, relating how applying mindfulness techniques creates more happiness in the world and how this translates to happier bartenders, customers, tips, sales, repeat business, repeat business, repeat business … essentially creating a community and virtuous cycle.

In closing, Dushan points to our happiness as our responsibility.  “We are the lucky 1% who have education, who have conditioned air, sewage.  The conveniences we take for granted are the luxuries unattainable to even royalty in the not too distant past.  Your internal state of mind determines your outer world.  Pour yourself into your cocktails.”

Wow.  This was an unexpected and stimulating start to a day full of exploring the frontiers of Mixology – not a technique or recipe has been shared in the first two hours and yet the room of mixologists is transfixed.

Coincidentally, next up on my Kindle reading list was “Pictures of the Mind: What the New Neuroscience Tells Us About Who We Are” by Miriam Boleyn-Fitzgerald.  Even more coincidentally & quite humorously, it is the #4 book in Neuroscience just behind AA’s 12-steps.

“Pictures of the Mind,” shares the latest learning from fMRI brain imagery, which itself is a frontier technology now available to neuroscientists, and the findings are astounding.

Our “selves” are not set in stone in childhood as is popularly believed.  The brain is highly changeable, plastic.  It is possible to exercise and build our happiness-making circuits.  There is even an inkling, a glimmer, of where the “mind” may reside in the brain – a story-making area in the left hemisphere that sews together senses, thoughts and emotions to create our unique realities.

All of this is cool leading-edge discovery, but perhaps most fascinating are the brain-imagery studies with Buddhist Monks.  The corollary is that happiness, compassion & empathy are closely related in the brain & also trainable.

Practicing mindfulness, exactly what Dushan and Aisha have adapted to a successful bartending lifestyle, gives benefits beyond each meditation session and extends throughout day-to-day lives.  The more miles on your “mindfulness meditation” odometer, the better you deal with situations that would spin a typical untrained mind into a negative feedback loop.

Wow.  Again, I’m not expecting this, especially from a book on advances in neuroscience.  Seems “Pioneers” in many fields are applying mindfulness and reaping many a benefit.  Curiosity more than piqued, I had to dig deeper so upon recommendation of the “Pictures of the Mind” author, I’m working my way through, “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness,” that gives practical method to Mindfulness training and is authored by a Tibetan Monk who participated in the fMRI studies.

While I have just dipped my toe into the water of this arena, intellectually it all jives.  The “social proof,” hearing first-hand from two respected Mixology thought-leaders, of how Mindfulness has influenced their life and those with whom they work and care about was a compelling incentive.

So yes, Tuesday nights, I’ll be back at the Tibet House, and to bring this full circle back to Mixology, I did notice that there is a meetup group in Manhattan, DharmaDrink, at the Rubin Museum Lounge (17th St. 6/7) that brings together mindfulness practitioners with cocktails every Friday.

In addition to the two books mentioned and Dushan’s session during the upcoming Manhattan Cocktail Classic, some online resources provided in “Pictures of the Mind” are:

Mind and Life Institute

Mindfulness-Based cognitive Therapy

Also, talks and meditations online at:

Dharma Seed

Plum Village Practice Center

San Francisco Zen Center

Shambhala International

Feel free to share your own thoughts on Mindfulness, Mixology or the interplay between the two.


Introductions to the Elite | Pioneers in Mixology | Part One

In Chefs, Drinks, Innovation, Restaurant on March 27, 2011 at 5:49 pm

It’s early Tuesday morning at the W Union Square.  Well, 9 a.m., not early, but bartender early.  Pernod Ricard is hosting 120 of the most influential mixologists in the Northeast on the first leg of its “Pioneers in Mixology” series, to hit Chicago & LA sequentially.  The day launches an engagement program with bartenders certified by BarSmarts, the only comprehensive spirits & mixology education-and-certification program in the U.S.

After being greeted with coffee and offered a Kahlua topper, I’m taking my seat next to the head bartender of James Beard award-winning chef Jose Garces’ Village Whiskey in Philly, who just arrived in Manhattan via Bolt Bus.  In front of me is an airplane-bottle sized Absolut and pitchers of fresh-squeezed OJ & Grapefruit juice.

Absolut Grapefruit and Orange Juice

An Absolut Good Morning

This 9-to-5 business day will not be a typical 9-to-5 day.  Although judging by the talent in the room, they clearly mean business.  I’d just wrapped up a discussion with chef Jean-George Vongerichten’s leopard-print patterned hair-dyed head bartender of Market in Boston, when the lovably puckish Gary Regan, master of today’s ceremonies and author of many bartending books including The Joy of Mixology, flips on his lavalier mic, takes the stage with a spa-esque zen sound-scape emanating from the speakers  and begins talking about “mindfulness,” a recurrent theme of the day, only to follow with a brief mass meditation exercise and only then onto an overview of the day’s agenda.  All this doled out with expletives worthy of bleepings like the memorable Old-Man-fighting-the-furnace scene in “A Christmas Story”.

Centered, humored and with heady focus in check, we see that Gary has organized the day to be administered mostly by legends of London’s mixology scene, including:

Nick Strangeway | 2008 Tales of the Cocktail “Best Mixologist/Bartender in the World,” the man behind many notable cocktail programs around the globe including the impressive “always fresh” cocktails at London’s HIX, and “colonial” cocktails at New York’s famed Pegu Club, a seminal institution in reviving the mixology movement in Manhattan.

Tony Conigliaro | Proprietor of a two-story venue in London at 69 Colebrooke Row, which drew global attention for introducing molecular mixology to both the vernacular and the palate, all despite initially having no name, only an address.  Upstairs is his cocktail lab where he also does much of the R&D tinkering for DrinkFactory, his global cocktail consultancy.  Downstairs his innovations meet patrons, in what has been termed the coolest lounge in London.

Dushan Zaric & Aisha Sharpe | Dushan, hailing from Eastern Europe, owns Manhattan’s acclaimed Employees Only, and Aisha is a veteran bartender of many bars and a trainer with the aforementioned BarSmarts program, which puts her in a peer set with Dale DeGroff, F. Paul Pacult, Doug Frost and Steve Olson.

Today, this marquee-worthy talent will administer three hour-and-a-half long sessions, each covering one unique aspect that is currently pushing the frontier of the already rapidly expanding mixology culture … and again, interestingly with an overarching theme of Zen mindfulness:

  • Mastery of Service | Dushan & Aisha | a sort of metaphysics of bartender-hospitality
  • Scientific Methods Applied to Bartending | Tony|  bringing even more avant-garde ideas to an audience that already discusses applying the Sous Vide process to hand-crafted bitters amongst themselves
  • Craft of Bartending Using Local Ingredients | Nick | You’ve heard of “farm to table;” meet “field to glass.”
Pernod Ricard Brand bottles

A few more bottles

While I typically like for each post on Stewps to be full of information you can use immediately, in this case I feel like the introductions of this crew and day alone are worthy of a post.  Over the next few posts, I will share the distilled insights, guidance and mastery of these Pioneers in Mixology sessions.  For now, feel free to click the links above to get to know more about these leading forces on the international cocktail scene … and if you’re interested in delving in deeper into the world of mixology knowledge yourself, definitely take a look at BarSmarts.

Check out my take on Tony’s “Scientific Bartending” and Nick’s “Field to Glass” presentations.

%d bloggers like this: