Two NYC Bartending Veterans Share Their Secrets

Contributor
NoMo Kitchen's Xavier Herit and Grey Goose's Julien Lafond talk New York, restaurants, cocktails and more
Nomo Soho

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The Nomo Soho Kitchen

Created by the Sidney Frank Importing Company, Grey Goose was named the world's best-tasting vodka within two years of its founding. In 2004, the French vodka not only became the best-selling premium vodka in the United States — selling more than 1.5 million cases that year — it was also acquired by Bacardi. Grey Goose remains popular as ever in 2017 yet also continues to experiment with new varieties; Grey Goose Le Melon, for example, came onto the market in summer 2014, as made with Cavaillon melons from the Provence region of France.

To learn more about not only Grey Goose but also New York City restaurants in general, The Daily Meal caught up with Xavier Herit and Julien Lafond. Herit is the beverage manager at the NoMo SoHo hotel. Lafond serves as a North American brand ambassador for Grey Goose, and provided two cocktail recipes: Spiced Pear Martini and the Guilty Husband.

 

The Daily Meal: Where was your first gig as a bartender?

Xavier Herit: On a golf course in the suburb of Paris. I was probably 18 years old, I was pouring mostly beer on the tap and mixed drinks as vodka sodas. The craft of the cocktail came a little later.

Julien Lafond: My first gig as a bartender — cocktail bartender — was in Paris, in one of the oldest cocktail bars there, Bar Le Forvm, owned by the Biolatto family since 1931.

 

What is a typical day like for you at the establishment? How much of the day are you usually behind the bar?

Herit: With my managing position, I am not behind the bar as much as I would like to. I kind of miss it! My typical day starts with responding to my emails in the morning, then I have to attend to a few meetings with liquor or wine suppliers. Once all the meetings are over, I have to make sure we have all the beverage stocks in the house up to par for the rest of the week, mostly ordering/receiving/inventory. I would say 40 percent of my time is administrative and I usually spend 60 percent on my time managing the floor and the bar during the service. And of course I am always working on some new cocktails with the bar team...

Lafond: I usually wake up around 6.30 or 7 a.m., or when my son feels like waking up, really. We have breakfast together, and then my day starts with e-mails and office work until meetings or presentations in the afternoon followed by bar-hopping to visit the various accounts we’re working with.

 

Do you like the term "mixologist?" Is "bartender" more appropriate?

Herit: I think the term mixologist really helps define the art of creating cocktails, but let's not forget, we are all bartenders first.

Lafond: They both have a place! I had the chance to spend a lot of time with “King Cocktail,” the legendary Dale DeGroff. And not only he is an incredible gentleman with a career spanning decades in the hospitality industry, he also helped the cocktail renaissance we have seen in the last 10 years, mentoring most of the bar owners and leaders in the industry here in the U.S. He brought the term “mixologist” back to the public eye. The term “mixologist” has been used since the 1850s to define a bartender who is skilled at mixing craft cocktails, and it helped getting recognition for working as a “bartender” as a real profession rather than something you do in college or to make money. There are a lot more “career” bartenders now, and we are getting in a good spot, in which consumers take us seriously, very much in the same way as a chef. In essence, a mixologist would qualify someone who is specialized in creating and making beautiful drinks and cocktails, and a bartender is more generic term enrolling the different skills needed to “tend” a bar including a great sense of hospitality, which is the foundation of every great bartender.

 

Do you have a favorite cocktail on the menu at your establishment?

Herit: At NoMo Kitchen, our special Espresso Martini — which includes Grey Goose, Kahlua and a double shot of fresh espresso — is very popular. The combination of high-quality espresso beans with the Grey Goose, which is made from the same soft winter wheat used to make the finest French breads and pastries, creates a great combination of rich and smooth in an elegant cocktail. Patrons enjoy the upscale boost it provides, especially after dinner before their night out. Another must-try on our menu is the Pearfume. It’s a combination of Grey Goose La Poire, sage, and bergamot juice inspired by my love for Grasse, France, the world’s capital of perfume.

Lafond: Coffee-centric cocktails are rapidly-rising in popularity in New York and around the world. Coffee culture has evolved alongside cocktail culture, with bartenders picking up tricks from baristas to infuse espresso and other brews into artisanal cocktails. Espresso Martinis must be made with fine ingredients to create a quality cocktail. The combination of Grey Goose Original, single origin espresso — Nicaragua is always a favorite — premium coffee liqueur and a pinch of salt, makes for a perfectly-balanced and tasty cocktail.

 

Do you remember the first time you had Grey Goose?

Herit: The first time I tried Grey Goose, it was at the bar of the plaza Athene Hotel in Paris in 2001. I was working as a bartender.

Lafond: It was in a martini and I liked it! Which surprised me because I wasn’t necessarily a vodka drinker. But I liked the surprisingly soft mouthfeel and clean but flavorsome taste. To this day I prefer vodka to gin martinis.

 

How do you usually go about discovering new brands or bar trends?

Herit: I always check the media. From time to time, I would organize a bar crawl on a specific night and would select a list of new bars to see. Brooklyn has been growing a lot, I have to go check it out again!

Lafond: A blend of everything, really. Social media, trade press, spending a lot of time in bars and restaurants, and more importantly, exchanging with my peers.

 

What's coming up for your establishment?
Herit: I am working on the spring menu. I would like to involve more French spirits, as calvados, eau de vie, cognac… I think they are underrated

 

When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?

Herit: I have been a DJ in New York City for the past 12 years, which is my other passion. I usually try to spin once a week in different venues always connected to the cocktail world, such as Mace, Sanatorium, the Restaurant Show in Javits Center and many more. I recently took a new residency at the Tuck Room in New York on Saturdays.

Lafond: I try to spend as much time with my family as possible as I travel quite a lot. So at the moment there is a lot of playing in the park or walks with my wife and son. I also love soccer so I wake up very early, without fail every weekend to have breakfast with my son and watch my team.

 

Do you have tickets to any upcoming events or concerts?

Lafond: I got a pair of tickets for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and two trips planned to Europe — Paris, London, Berlin — in the next six months. I have a very demanding job, but I am lucky for it to be rewarding, as there is always a bunch of great events to work on and attend, like the Academy Awards, U.S. Open, Kentucky Derby, Miami Tennis Open, to name a few…

 

Beyond where you work, do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?

Herit: That’s a tough question. The restaurant scene has grown so much. Lately I have been going to Marta for pizza and the amazing wine and beer list, the new Rouge Tomate for their healthy food. Next on the list is Le Coucou, which is next to NoMo Soho!

Lafond: There are so many quality restaurants, I think probably more than anywhere else in the world, and I am really bad at choosing. But at the moment I am lucky to eat very often at Dante NYC, The Nomad and Saxon + Parole… so I will go with these three.

 

Finally, any last words for the kids?

Herit: I think the restaurant / bar scene in New York City is fascinating. There is an eternal recycling of places closing to give space to some new concepts and give the chance to new young talents. However, let's not forget that this is one of the most competitive markets. I always ask myself, what else can we do or change? You have to push yourself to stay put!

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Lafond: We’re in an incredible city which hosts some of the best bars and restaurants in the world. Make sure you experience the full extent of it. Research, learn about the chefs, the bartenders, understand what they are trying to achieve to get the best of the experience you have at your disposal.