We’re counting down to the New Year!! So many of my highlights this year revolved around the bustling Chicago food and drink scene. Think about it…happy hours, celebrations, date night, girls night…revolve around eating and drinking. It’s only fitting we end the year shining the spotlight on Assistant Bar Director, Jarmel Doss. Jarmel works at one of the hottest cocktail lounges in Chicago… The Aviary.
The Aviary is part of the world famous Alinea restaurant group and they’re known for their craft cocktails. The Aviary even has an innovative book out called “The Aviary Cocktail Book.” I saw the book in person and it’s beautiful! The photo’s are absolutely stunning and I love the recipes are made for single and batch cocktail drinks. Perfect for the cocktail enthusiast or wanna be mixologist in your life. 🙂
The bar industry has transformed over the years. Craft Cocktails are a huge part of the bar scene. To create the perfect drink is a science now, which is fitting for Jarmel since she majored in Biochemistry at the University of Chicago. In college Jarmel started working in the service industry, like so many others, because the money was really good and she was putting herself through college. Bartending in nightclubs was the way to go back then because you could make a ridiculous amount of money in one night. Jarmel started working at a nightclub in the suburb of Country Club Hills. She ended up running the bar there for about six years and saw how closely related biochemistry is to bartending. She needed to mix the correct ingredients to get the right taste and aromas. Mixology and chemistry go hand and hand!
Jarmel absolutely loves her profession. She spent several years working in Chicago hospitality management before joining the Alinea Group in 2015. During our sit down interview we discussed everything from Jarmel’s favorite spirit to what the industry is like for an African American female. Check out our interview below!
Tavi J. One on One Interview with Assistant Bar Director of The Aviary – Jarmel Doss
Are you from Chicago?
I am, but from the suburbs. I’m from Joliet.
I know that your profession is very different from the typical 9 to 5. Can you describe to us what a bartenders lifestyle is like?
I would definitely say that most bartenders I know do not wake up early. Our days start typically after noon. For most people depending if you’re in a nightclub or a later night bar your day is starting later and it’s going a lot later than most people. I find it’s a lot harder maintaining a healthy lifestyle doing this job. You’re working really long hours and you’re probably not getting as much sleep as you should be. It’s not as easy to eat healthy. It’s a struggle. You definitely have to put some thought into being healthy if that’s what you’re trying to do.
When you’re off from work what’s your go to spot or what do you like to do?
I think I work so much that when I’m off I tend to just spend a lot of time with my friends and family. I’ll try to meet up with a friend for dinner. Otherwise, I’m spending time with my family. I work a lot!
Let’s get into cocktails!! I know this is going to be a general and probably hard question, but what is your favorite cocktail?
Ummm….if I had to pick a favorite it would either be a Negroni or a Daiquiri. They’re both really simple cocktails, but surprisingly not easy for people to execute properly. Both of them are 3 ingredient cocktails, but you would be surprised how often you get them and they’re not balanced.
What’s your signature cocktail that you’re known for?
I have some drinks on the Aviary menu and I have a cocktail on The Office menu. (speakeasy within The Aviary) If I’m actually standing behind the bar and working it’s usually in The Office and it’s pretty much people telling you what they’re in the mood to drink. I usually come up with something based on what they say on the fly. I don’t know if I have something people ask me for on a consistent basis, but it’s all about giving the customer what they’re in the mood to drink at that moment.
What drink are we all sleeping on right now that we need to try?
Right now Old Fashion’s are making a massive come back and almost everyone serves a version of an old fashion on their menu. I feel like highballs are also making a comeback and you’re seeing them more and more on menus. Highballs are also another one where as simple as it is… if not done right they’re just okay. It’s really interesting….it’s so crazy to think that such simple cocktails can be hard for people to make sometimes.
Do you think in order to make a proper cocktail you have to use certain equipment or tools to measure everything?
It really depends on the person. I don’t want to step on toes. I came from a background of free pouring. I feel like even with free pouring you’re still measuring though. There’s a lot of counting involved. You have to be very accurate at free pouring. So I don’t want to say you have to have jiggers or tools like that to measure, but I think it’s important to be able to in some way shape or form be able to measure what you’re putting in because it helps with balance. Your palette is the most important tool. You have to have a pallet that you trust and you have to try a lot of things. You have to work through a lot of different cocktails to find your pallet and once you do you have to trust it.
What’s your favorite spirit you normally gravitate towards?
Whiskey is my thing…I don’t have a particular brand…I just love all things whiskey! I drink it neat. For me it could be whiskey, scotch, bourbon, rye, I’m kind of about all of it. I just like to drink whiskey.
As an assistant bar director can you explain to us what a typical day is like and what your job entails?
It’s kind of all over the place depending on the day. On the weekends I’m very focused on service more than anything else. During the week when we’re a little bit slower I’m looking out for staff, working on cocktail developments, and working on different ideas. I’m lucky enough to work with people with loads more experience than I have. I’m in the kitchen and behind the bar and there’s loads of information. In general if I have an idea I can figure it out by asking questions and work through them with trial and error. I didn’t come from craft cocktails so I’m still very new to it. I’m learning and playing around with it and having fun.
Well you’re obviously doing a great job because you won the inaugural Star Mixology Competition hosted by the National Restaurant Association!! Can you tell us more about that?
I did!!! Yeah…I started competing about two years ago. It was a tool for me to grow in craft cocktails. When you’re competing you learn how to combine flavors and play around with ingredients. The competition gives you specific criteria that you need to meet, which challenges me versus an open ended do whatever you want. You have to use a specific spirit in a specific way and make sure you’re still highlighting that spirit. It makes you really learn to taste the spirit. Between the nose and mouth…the actual taste. ….figure out ways to still highlight the spirit in the flow of other ingredients.
Do you remember which cocktail you won with?
I do! It’s actually on our menu right now at The Aviary. It’s called “Keep your friends cloche” It’s a rye based cocktail with ancho chilies, maple vinegar, banana, and chocolate.
Random question, but you’re usually told not to mix your spirits. Is that something that’s still relevant today?
Oh no…not at all. You’d be surprise how many cocktails are made with split bases. You might end up with a tequila and gin based cocktail.
I look forward to Choose Chicago Restaurant Week First Bites Bash every year and I saw this year you’re going to be one of the host!
I am!! I’m really excited.
What are you most looking forward to? Do you know what you’re doing yet?
Not entirely, but I do know I’ll have a specialty cocktail. Chef Joe Flamm is also a host and he and I will be preparing for the bash together. Will be having signature food pairings and a cocktail. I’m really excited because we’re supposed to hang out at Spiaggia and get some ideas going. My goal is to be able to develop a cocktail for the event that compliments his food. So that should be a lot of fun!
Last question I ask everyone I interview…Why are you a Chicagoan we should know?
Oh man…I don’t know! I love my city! People ask me all the time why I’ve lived here my whole life. I have thought about moving. Opportunities have arisen, so I definitely considered it, but in the end there’s no place like Chicago. The bar and hospitality industry are booming here. There’s so many incredible and awesome things happening in the city between women running all these incredible programs and people of color really coming to the forefront and showing what we’re capable of doing. It’s an exciting time! You have groups like “Causing a Stir” that are really working hard towards inclusion and equality across the hospitality industry for people of color and for women. It’s exciting to be a part of it! I remember when I started off in this industry it was hard to get a bartending job in nightclubs. There was only certain nightclubs I could work for because they didn’t want somebody who looked like me. Now so many opportunities are being presented for women and people of color. I look forward to seeing the diversity in the industry continue.
Follow Jarmel and her mixology journey on Instagram @mello_j9
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