- interview by Sara Gorelick
Todd Richman's reputation certainly precedes him. He joined Sidney Frank Importing Co. Inc., as their Corporate Mixologist in February, representing their cornucopia of brands, including Jagermeister, Gekkeikan Sake, American Harvest Organic Spirit, Michael Collins Irish Whiskey, Barenjager Honey Liqueur and JC Cognac. He develops cocktail recipes, trains, educates staff, trade and consumers and serves as an Ambassador for the brands. In his free time, Todd guest bartends at some of the best cocktail spots in the United States.
Todd comes with over seven years worth of experience in the F&B industry. He holds a degree in culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute and has worked at some of the top kitchens in New York. His undergraduate degree is in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin. Todd also is a member of the USBG, a graduate of the BarSmarts Advance Program, The Liquid Lab and a Level One Certified Sake Specialist.
Sara spoke with Todd about his career, cocktails and more.
SG: How did you come into bartending?
TR: For graduating high school, my parents got me a two-week course at a local bartending school. It was pretty funny; we were making Pink Squirrels, Golden Cadillacs, Singapore Slings... using colored water and white paint for cream drinks. I ended up barbacking a country club the summer after freshman year of college and bartended a bit more during college. It was lots of two-component drinks, sour mix from the gun and the last Ladies Night in Madison Wisconsin. We were big on customer service and making our customers happy, even if that meant making dozens of Rum and 7 Up's for toothless "Ladies" and getting my ass pinched on occasion. It was pretty funny, especially when I had to break up a donnybrook between teams in the Tuesday night dart league. After that, I really didn't do much bartending, just some restaurant gigs here and there.
SG: Tell me a bit about your history behind the bar and what led you to where you are today at Sidney Frank.
TR: My history behind the bar is brief. I didn't really do a lot of craft cocktail drink making until a couple of years ago when I was the national Brand Ambassador for the Specialty Spirits Division at Frederick Wildman and Sons. Working with spirits like Chartreuse, Ilegal Mezcal, Sheep Dip and Pig's Nose Whiskies allowed me a lot of access to cocktail bars and all the bartenders were super patient when I asked technical questions. I also learned a lot as a guest bar(pre)tender (As I am not a career bartender and don't claim to be, I call it that in a very tongue and cheek way.) at different cocktail bars across the country and I still do to this day. I had a chance to make drinks with the brands I proudly represent at places I never thought I'd be able to and am really grateful for their hospitality, since it can throw a kink into their service to have a guest bartender and change the normal rhythm of their night. I always appreciate the accommodating nature of the places I've been able to make drinks at. When I made the move to Sidney Frank, I was really excited to concentrate on making cocktails and trade education. It's been an amazing experience, the company is incredibly supportive and I'm really humbled to work with amazing co-workers at Sidney Frank. I get up every morning loving the fact that I have one the best jobs in the world.
SG: Do you find your culinary education comes in handy in your current role?
TR: Absolutely. Having the privilege to work in restaurants and cook for a few years helped develop my palate (which is always a work in progress and can always use more developing) and work on making drinks that make sense flavor-wise. Also cooking for a living helped me get organized, work under pressure, make sure every drink I make is consistent.
SG: What spirit takes your breath away?
TR: Too many to choose from! However, I will say I've developed a new appreciation for Jagermeister since I started working with the company. Especially after visiting the distillery in Wolfenbuttel, Germany, I was able to see the rich history of the brand and how handcrafted the spirit is.
SG: What's the best cocktail you ever created and why?
TR: I don't know if I have a best. I'm a tough critic of myself so I look to everyone else for feedback and have no problem hearing the positive as well as the negative. When I'm doing R and D for new drinks with our portfolio, there are always a few clunkers which look good on paper that just don't work. Trial and error is part of the process. I'm really proud of a drink called "Tea Time with the Bee Baron" and it's going to be published in a friend's cocktail book and I don't want to spoil the surprise...I'll give you my other favorite, called "Anarchy in the UK," which is based on a Megadeth cover of the Sex Pistol's song. Naming and coming up with this drink was a result of some R and D with Fred Dexheimer, when we were working on heavy metal themed cocktails with Jagermeister. Cheeky, fun and delicious.Anarchy In The U.K.
In a Collins glass, combine all the ingredients with ice and stir gently. Garnish with a lemon slice and a mint sprig. Sip while watching John Lydon tell off various interviewers, or make a big pitcher during a screening of "Sid and Nancy."
SG: Nice. What can't you live without behind the bar then?
TR: I can't live without good music, fresh juice and great people to work with.
SG: Favorite moment(s) behind the bar?
TR: Seeing an "a-ha" moment when someone tries a drink I suggest that they normally would not. I don't get to guest bartend all that often, so when I do, I always try to make people really happy. Other favorite moments include meeting people and getting time to chat with them. I always like when my co-workers and friends are having fun when I'm behind the bar.
SG: Favorite part of the job?
TR: I love what I do, all of it. I love being part of the Sidney Frank family and part of an amazing industry. I love the teamwork aspect of my job. The fact I make drinks and train people about spirits for a living is amazing, especially in these challenging times. The travel is fantastic and I love being in a new city and not feeling like a stranger (thanks to social media), because there's always someone to visit or a member of the company to work with. I like making drinks. I like seeing what people are doing, being exposed to new techniques, learning from the masters and spending time with industry peers all over the country. I love making a drink for a member of the company/industry peer or mentor/consumer who is attending an event and getting them to come back and see our brands in a new light. While I don't do cartwheels when it's time to make a new PowerPoint presentation (due to the fact that I'm not great at it), I do it with a smile because I see the importance of it. I love the meetings, emails and the coordinating with sales and marketing to create maximum impact with my role. I love the fact I am not flying solo and am part of a team.
SG: If you were doing anything else, what would it be?
TR: I can't think of doing anything else. I'd love to see the country from behind the wheel of a 1964 convertible Dodge Charger.
SG: That sounds awesome. What else would we be surprised to learn about Todd Richman?
TR: I'm a total recluse when I'm home. If you come over, I'll make you an amazing grilled cheese.
SG: I'm there! Any advice for those aspiring to get behind the bar?
TR: I'll leave that question to the men and women who are professional bartenders, I can't really answer that because I am not a professional bartender. If you were hanging me off a bridge and demanded an answer, I'd say the same principles for any job. If you're not five minutes early, you're late. Work clean, work smooth and smart, take any ego out of it, always take care of your customer, and most importantly have fun!