Mixologist and Director of Outlets, Hilton Hawaiian Village
How did you get to Honolulu? Via Pittsburgh, Chicago, then to Waikiki to open the Trump Hotel.
How did you start making cocktails? By accident! (laughs) Originally, I was so focused on wine. I was very lucky to have studied under two great master sommeliers at Charlie Trotters in Chicago – Jason Smith and Serafin Alvarado – but when we opened Trump, we held a bartender competition. We were short a bartender and I whipped up some homemade cinnamon and star anise and made a quick cocktail, and I won the contest.
You’ve been winning competitions ever since. Yes, it seemed like I got invited to a whole bunch of competitions after that, and always placed in the top three. Then I won the title of World’s Best Mai Tai.
At HHV you are in a truly inspiring setting for creating cocktails.
Yes, and that’s our focus now at our bars and restaurants. We are celebrating the old-school-type of cocktails started by local bartender Harry Yee, who created the Blue Hawaii. We have the original recipes of drinks created more than 50 years ago.
So who did make the very first Mai Tai, Trader Vic or Donn the Beachcomber? That battle doesn’t really matter – the truth is, we have the best one in the world right here!
Where do you like to eat when you’re not working? We try to go to different places all the time. Gyu-Kaku on Kapiolani is a big favorite. We love Roy’s in Hawaii Kai.
What do you drink when you go out? That’s a hard one. I am really particular about cocktails.
Do you cook at home? Yes, I love to cook. Coming from Italian grandmothers, I learned how to make a true lasagna and great spaghetti sauce.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in the industry? I have always loved the restaurant industry. My dream is to have a bed and breakfast when I retire; have a garden out back and make homemade jams and jellies and apple butter to sell at farmers’ markets.
With whom would you most like to sip a cocktail? Probably Harry. I’d make him a Blue Hawaii and a Tropical Itch to just check in and see how we’re doing, and then I’d make him my own Mai Tai just to see what he’d think.