23 December 2014 16:54

Denzel Heath's Diary of a travelling bartender (#9)

Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans, Louisiana - Episode 2

What it Means to be a CAP

I applied for the first time for the 2013 program after hearing about the Tales of the Cocktail Apprentice Program in France from my good friends, bartender Cari Hah and Mike Tomasic, at the Gin Connoisseur Program held annually in Cognac and hosted by G'Vine Gin. Unfortunately, I was not successful on my first application, but no hard feelings. Back then I don't think I would have been ready for it in any case. So, earlier this year I applied again, but this time with the very necessary endorsements of Philip Duff and ex CAPS and bar brothers James Goggin and Mad Mike. Low and behold – they picked me!

Since its inauguration in 2008, the program has seen no more than 400 of the top industry bartenders proceed through the grueling week as an Apprentice at Tales, including the likes of Don Lee (Cocktail Kingdom), Mike Ryan (Sable Kitchen & Bar), John Deragon (PDT) and Leo Robitscheck (NoMad, NYC), who run the program . So what is a CAP? From a practical aspect, the CAPS are the physical mechanics behind the production of each and every cocktail that is drunk at each seminar taking place at a Tales. And at NOLA Tales, the largest of the lot, we cater to over 20,000 delegates and produce over a thousand different cocktails to seminar goers. During Tales we prepare, batch and serve tens these cocktails without being seen and we do a hell of a job at it.


But being a CAP is more than just an Imperial Cocktail Shaker. It's a family. And in my opinion, that is what makes the CAP program the most coveted bar program that the world has to offer. During the week as a CAP, you are divided into different platoons and squads. Right at the top, you have the WHITE coats, the above mentioned BOSSES, if you will. Under them, you have the BLACK coats, comprised of returning/repeat CAPS with loads of Tales experience. Then you get the GREY coats – first return CAPS in charge of the newbies, the RED coats! The system is sort of military-meets-fraternity, and it works oh so well!! You know us bartenders; we love ego, but respect authority.

An average day will start at 6am with you and your fellow colour coat ensuring you wake up, freshen up and get your ass down to the daily brief that starts at 7am. Not a major issue you might think – BUT WE ARE BARTENDERS! We sleep during the day and live at night! Yet only a small obstacle, considering that you slept 3 hours (if you are lucky). A quick briefing and the day starts at 8am. In your platoon you are on a daily basis responsible for different parts of service: Back of House Prep, Front of House Service, Front of House Prep and Batching... Just saying the word Batching and thinking of Tales gives me the heebie jeebies! Imagine having to batch (make a big cocktail to serve 200 people in big buckets) for Head Bartenders and proprietors of esteemed venues like the Dead Rabbit, and ensuring it tastes exactly the way he intended it to taste... Like I said, cold shivers.

Service ends around 6pm depending on where you are and what you are doing, and the day continues at 7pm with a closed door seminar with industry giants like Alex Kratena, David Wondrich and Dave Arnold. At 8pm you are cordially invited to the biggest, baddest, craziest party you dare not miss, sponsored by different liquor brands and YOU are a VIP guest! At 11pm you may decide to leave the party and proceed to get a feel for the French Quarter of New Orleans. Imagine 20,000 likeminded industry professionals, all in one place at the same time, all having drinks, catching up and networking... I mean really – who goes to bed before 3am??? Not happening!

Repeat this for a number of consecutive days and you will see why we call the CAP program a family! CAPS stand together and make sure the job gets done. Never does 1 CAP fall to the way side and not make it to a shift! Never does a CAP wander the streets of New Orleans by him or herself! And everyone works together till the last bit of work is done and then parties together. It's kind of like finding out you were adopted at birth and then what's more, you find out your newfound brothers and sisters are exactly like you are! Till this day, we keep in touch, share photos, memories, ideas and accomplishments... And PS – the CAPS I got to work with were some of the most revered bartenders in the world.

I don't want to give too much away about the program, so I will leave it there. All that's left to say is that my week as a CAP was one of the best weeks of my life and I would be nothing but honoured and humbled to be accepted back in 2015! I have my new brothers whom I love, waiting for me with open arms, whenever I hit State side, Canada, Italy and even Australia.

Visit talesofthecocktail.com to find out how to get your applications in!


Until next time, keep mixing!

The Travelling Bartender (Denzel Heath)

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