We catch up with the winner of The Pro Chef ME’s ‘Bartender of the Year 2017’ award, Emilio Valencia, the bar supervisor at Weslodge Saloon, JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, to hear of the latest trends behind the bar.
Where did your passion for mixology start?
My first taste of mixology was at the age of 18 when a friend of mine hosted a party and we decided to give cocktail making a go – we obviously had no idea what we were doing, but I enjoyed it. Once I finished high school, I moved to London and landed myself a bartending role at a place called Punk, and that’s where my first real taste for mixology and hospitality started – I really fell in love with the industry.
Tell us more about your mixology background – where did you learn the skills required for being a mixologist?
My skills really heightened behind the bar when I moved to LA and worked at a Mexican cantina called El Carmen, where I was involved in the creative process of creating the cocktail menu with Gilbert Marquez, who was the global brand ambassador for Illegal Mezcal. Once I moved to Dubai, my skills were fine-tuned working at Ají with Jan Liska (World Class Bartending UAE winner 2014) and Laura Duca (World Class Bartending winner 2016) who are my biggest mentors.
Where do you find inspiration for creating new cocktail recipes?
Sometimes I find inspiration by reinventing the classics, by giving them a twist to create something completely new. But now, mostly I find inspiration through my Mexican roots. I like to think back on the flavour profiling that my mom taught me when we used to cook together, or from experiences from my past as well.
What are some of your favourite ingredients to work with and why?
Shrubs. They are a perfect for preservation and pack a punch in flavour that is impossible to beat. Sherries are also a big favourite of mine and agave distillates of course.
What ingredients would you say are trending in the bartending world now?
I’ve seen an increase in sherry being used in bartending competitions lately. Gin and mezcal have also been trending for a while now, as well as sustainable ingredients. For example, citrus oils made by using the peels of citrus fruits to create an oil that adds flavour and aroma to a drink such as a punch, is now becoming popular again.
What type of drinks can be found on the menu at Weslodge?
Our philosophy is elevated classics. We are working on a new cocktail menu at the moment that will be eclectic and suitable for all palates while still showcasing the talent and creativity of the team.
This summer, what kind of cocktails will you be making?
Everything on our new cocktail menu! But particularly, I’ll be making a favourite of mine called ‘Maria Mexico Mi Amor’, which was my winning cocktail for the Patron Perfectionist 2017 competition. It’s a refreshing take on a margarita with the spice of jalapeno jam, bright tea and deep plum.
What’s your bartending philosophy?
Always smile, remember that you’re there to provide fun – so have a ton of it, pass on knowledge and never stop learning.
What do you predict being the next biggest cocktail trend?
I think the trend will keep moving towards sustainable and responsible bartending, with the use of more home-grown ingredients.
For more information about Weslodge Saloon, check out weslodge.ae.