Every year, the James Beard Foundation recognizes a number of the nation's top food and beverage industry professionals with its annual award series that honors excellence in the restaurant industry.
Securing even just a James Beard award nomination is one of the most coveted honors in the food and beverage industry, and a win cements a chef or bar director's elite status for life. While the finalists for the awards have been announced, the winners in each of the categories are set to be revealed on May 2nd at the annual awards gala.
In the meantime, we sat down with two of the James Beard Award nominees and beverage industry pros Eric Johnson, bar manager at Bar Agricole, and Jeffrey Morgenthaler, bar manager at Clyde Common, to ask the duo six quick questions.
The Quick Six
Foodable: How did you first get your start in the beverage industry?
Eric Johnson: It was a better way to meet interesting people, especially in San Francisco, than continuing as a truck driver.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler: It was just a summer job while I was in architecture school. I had no desire to be a bartender past the end of the summer; I was just there to make some money and meet some girls. I was terrible at it, but by the end of the summer, I’d gotten pretty good and they asked me to stay. So, I did, and slowly over the next several years, I fell in love with it.
Foodable: What has been your most surprising or unexpected pairing?
EJ: Calvados and tonic, unchilled, in Normandy.
JM: If you told me 20 years ago that I would be enjoying a finely crafted Jagermeister cocktail, I would have told you to take a hike. That’s been a big surprise to me.
Foodable: Favorite local spot to grab a drink after work?
EJ: The patio behind my home, dog optional.
JM: I don’t really drink after work anymore, but when I do, it usually involves a glass of wine at home. I bought a house and moved out of downtown last year, so now I have to drive everywhere. No drinking for me!
Foodable: If you could only drink one drink for the rest of your life, what would it be?
EJ: A Daiquiri or a Martinez, depending on the angle of the sun.
JM: Sparkling wine. Hands down.
Foodable: What has been the biggest career challenge you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are now?
EJ: Remaining open to beautiful spirits in an ocean of booze that isn't.
JM: Convincing myself and the rest of the world that this is a viable career, a respectable career — that’s been the biggest hurdle. We’re finally at a place where we can say that it’s been accomplished, thanks to the hard work of so many people over the years. A decade ago, “bartender” was kind of a dirty word. Now, people look up to bartenders again.
Foodable: What advice would you offer to others looking to follow in your footsteps?
EJ: Learn from the source of anything by finding where it comes from; go there. Repeat.
JM: If you’re going to literally follow in my footsteps, get yourself a nice comfortable pair of Danskos; I’ve been doing this for 20 years now and they’ve saved my life. But otherwise, I’d say that if you’re doing it because you love it, you’re on the right path.