New Jersey native Kitty Bernardo talks about her aspirations of living and bartending in NYC
A little background; where are you from, what inspired you to become a mixologist?
I’m from New Jersey, but it’s always been a dream of mine to live and bartend in New York City ever since I was a kid. A lot of people find it odd that a child dreamt of bartending but that’s what you get when you stay up late to watch Coyote Ugly and see what you perceive as a cast of strong, awesome women having fun at their job. At least that’s what I took out of it, I haven’t seen the movie since.
Favorite drink to mix at the bar?
My favorite drink to mix is the one you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Old Fashioned or a Lemondrop, if it’ll make you smile, I’m happy to make it. I always kid around with my co-workers that we’re not making drinks, we’re making memories but all jokes aside, that’s what we’re here for. We’re here for you.
Blanco? Reposado? Or Añejo?
I love Blancos to get a sense of terroir and the passion the distillers put into the production but Reposados and Añejos are fun to play around with because of the different notes you can highlight. They’re great spirits to test the waters with for people who are adamant about not liking tequila, until they realize just how nuanced the world is and flavor profiles of tequila can be.
Have you been to Mexico? If so, tell us about your favorite memory
I’ve been to Mexico a handful of times as a child but never as someone old enough to pass for drinking age. However, the fun was not lost on me even then. Outdoor markets, with their vibrancy full of life and color, drew me in with sights and smells that seemed almost familiar in their similarity to the markets I saw when I went to visit my family in the Philippines, but distinctly their own. The most treasured memory came in the form of a concha dipped in coffee– one morning’s salvation after an arduous overnight drive to Mexico City.
What inspires you for new cocktail creations? (examples: following trends, learning of new ingredients you want to try, reimagining classics, seasonal change….etc.)
It’s been inspiring to talk to other bartenders about sustainability and how we can use our own cultural backgrounds to shape the drinks we put on our menus. Seasonality and hyper-local focus on produce has been a running practice throughout all the bars I’ve had the opportunity to work at, but being able to connect the dots between my heritage and using its flavor profiles to innovate on American classics has been a huge driving force. It’s taken me a long time to get to the place I am now where I feel comfortable with the pride I have for my culture and how I can sustainably and appropriately draw inspiration from it to share with others.
Do you have a mentor or someone who you look up to or people to thank?
I have endless gratitude to Leanne Favre of Leyenda for helping me get my start here in New York and giving me a chance to start off on the right path with good people around me. We met at a competition when I was still bartending in New Jersey but kept in touch, she even helped me when I was setting up the bar program for an Agave/Rum-focused program in Princeton. I can’t thank her enough for her kindness and genuine personality. In terms of the person I owe everything to when it comes to my bar upbringing, I am proud to say Adam Flocke is both a friend and a mentor. In New Jersey when I was still cutting my teeth, Adam helped me understand the importance of making meaningful connections with guests during service and always striving to be better than you were the day before. He came into my life from New York when I was still just dreaming about working in the city and has pushed me to be better in so many ways — I can’t thank him enough for that. He’s one of the most selfless and supportive people I know and I don’t think any words I say of his magnanimous nature could ever do him justice. If you’re ever in the Philly area, I hope you have the pleasure of meeting him.
If you could have drinks with anyone dead, alive or fictional, who would it be what would you both be drinking?
Recently I’ve been really getting into Pre-Colonial Filipino folklore and learning about different mythological creatures and goddesses. I think it’d be cool to sit and have a nice night time chat with Mayari, goddess of the moon and night; as well as combat, strength, beauty, and war. I’d love to ask her about her experience watching the Earth from afar throughout the centuries and see where the conversation goes from there, fueled by tequila based Vesper variations like the Santiago y Santiago — I feel like she’d appreciate that.
What does the concept of Hiatus mean to you?
For me, Hiatus represents relationships. The relationship you have with yourself, your friends, your work, and so on. In the same way the founder of Hiatus needed to take some time off in order to understand what tequila means to him and his relationship with the spirit, Hiatus as a company has emphasized the importance of the relationships we have with what we choose to put into our bodies ultimately by evaluating what gets put into Hiatus as a tequila. Agave’s relationship to the land, the cultural ties of tequila to the people, and our relationship with those people as consumers of their product all come up for me when I think of Hiatus– ultimately, Hiatus recognizes all these relationships take time and it’s with time that they grow stronger.
Did you discover anything new or unique while working on the Fall Hiatus cocktails?
In working on a range of different cocktail styles for each of the different Hiatus expressions, I found it essential to pick apart the flavor profiles of each one and break them down into single tasting notes. By focusing on one or two notes for each expression in each cocktail category, we were able to create a number of different drinks that worked well to highlight the multifaceted flavors of Hiatus’ Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo expressions without having any of our drinks taste too similar to one another. Usually when working on a 12 cocktail menu, you try to bring different flavor profiles to every drink by setting different spirits as the base, so this was a welcome challenge that turned into a very educational and inspiring experience.
Don’t forget to follow Kitty Bernardo on Instagram @viddy_kitty and click HERE to check out some of her cocktail creations for our fall cocktail program. Enjoy responsibly.