On May 2nd, the James Beard Foundation will recognize the nation's top food and beverage industry professionals at its annual award gala that honors excellence in the restaurant industry. From chefs to beverage professionals alike, securing even just a James Beard award nomination is one of the most coveted honors in the food and beverage industry, and a win can cement 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 numerous categories will be revealed on Tuesday at the annual awards ceremony.
Meanwhile, we sat down with Head Bartender of Arnaud's French 75, a James Beard nominated beverage program, who shares with us his answers to six quick questions.
The Quick Six
Foodable: How did you first get your start in the beverage industry?
Chris Hannah: 18 years ago, I was asked to barback at a bar that had just opened up down the block of a restaurant I was cooking at. My friends who opened the bar knew me and wanted to bring in my work ethic, and good social attitude and morals, knowing I'd get along with the current bartending staff. I later became the bar manager and opened the liquor program at the same bar. The bar is still open in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Foodable: What has been your most surprising or unexpected pairing?
CH: My most surprising pairing would probably be vinegar, hot sauce and sugar, and having that syrup/shrubb married to a Cachaca cocktail.
Foodable: Favorite local spot to grab a drink after work?
CH: There are two spots I prefer going after work. Erin Rose if I want to stay in the French Quarter and Barrel Proof, which is on my way home.
Foodable: If you could only drink one drink for the rest of your life, what would it be?
CH: Not to sound cliché, but if I could only drink one drink for the rest of my life, it would have to be the French 75. It's a refreshing and bold cocktail marriage of cognac, lemon, sugar and champagne, and can be enjoyed in the morning, afternoon and the evening
Foodable: What has been the biggest career challenge you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are now?
CH: Working at an already successful restaurant of 98 years and convincing management, as well as owners, to welcome a cocktail program. 12 years ago no one knew the influence the cocktail movement was going to have on the service industry and here we are, celebrating the fifth year the James Beard Foundation has recognized and awarded bar programs
Foodable: What advice would you offer to others looking to follow in your footsteps?
CH: I would offer a few pieces of advice, including: 1. hospitality first; 2. stay relevant with the seasons, use local ingredients and themes; 3. always have a Rolodex of a variety of drinks and styles so when talking to guests you can offer something they'll happily enjoy while sitting in your bar. And last, but not least, be involved in and supportive of your local bar community. It shouldn’t just be a competition, it should be a healthy competition.