Kevin Brauch Interview

Who would have thought that playing "radio" in his basement with his older cousin Jennifer all those years ago in Ajax, Ontario would have led to having one of the most envied jobs in the world today? Kevin Brauch may have had humble beginnings as a make believe disc jockey but can now testify to being one of the most travelled and well respected spirit professionals in the world. And while you may think that it is all about quaffing and analysing every drop, Kevin Brauch takes you on a journey of discovery, adventure and most of all fun. Leave your inhibitions at the bar door because we are taking our own journey with the "Thirsty Traveller".

The first thing you notice about Kevin Brauch is how easy going he is. He exudes a level of approachable confidence that you don't regularly see in a man that some people say has the best job in the world. It all started back in high school when as the undesignated social planner for his friends; his "Van Wilder" style parties gained much kudos from the other students. As a member of the student council he had access to the best photocopiers in the school, churning out fake ID's for his upcoming events. This mischief has definitely followed him through life, his wry smirk and twinkle in his eye as he sips his drink shows that if you let him he will take you on a journey through the cities bars and clubs until the weary hours of the morning. This charisma and thirst for general misadventure leads Kevin all over the world drinking and tasting some of the weirdest and most expensive food and booze that people can offer.

For Kevin, he wanted to write and produce television, he never thought of himself as a presenter or a host. His curiosity for the craft of television drove him to attend Ryerson but soon realised that the whole course was dated. The teachers had their heyday years long before when TV was still black and white; he hated it and soon returned to bartending. He had bartended around Toronto through school for years and was happy to be back behind the wood. He juggled the long, alcohol fuelled nights with pitching projects but soon realised that as you get older that all your friends settle down and all the people you work with stay the same age. It's this point in a lot of bartender's life that you need to get out and Kevin's thoughts were no different. But as it turned out, his big break was just around the corner.

After doing a little radio for CFNY in Toronto, he made the move to make his break into TV. MTV was doing a North American casting call in the early 90's and Kevin saw this as his opportunity to showcase his talents. He sent in his demo, got an audition and showed up at The Sheraton Hotel in a suit, something that you wouldn't think about when auditioning for a VJ spot on one of the world's most funky music channels. Sticking out like a sore thumb with thirty other applicants all looking punk and rock 'n' roll was maybe a reason that he was asked back for a second audition. The second time round he dressed as himself and all of a sudden the talk of Green Cards, first class tickets to NYC or LA& one year condo deals started to swirl around in his head. The producers told him that there were two Canadians in the running and four Americans left in the race, obviously he just missed out but better things were just over the horizon.

Kevin got involved with TVOntario children's programming as a host, actor, producer and writer. This relationship garnered Kevin two Gemini Award nominations, one for Best Performance in a Children's/Youth Program in 1998 (STUFF) and in 1999 for Best Host in a Lifestyle or Performing Arts Program (Canadian Gardening Television). Then he got the call he had been waiting for, a call from the Food Network. The pitch was for the "Thirsty Traveller" but Kevin had misheard them and thought they wanted a host for the "Thursday Traveller", a premise that Kevin didn't quite understand but went with it. His thoughts was that it was a three day weekend, how far can you get, how much fun and trouble you could get into before getting back to work on Monday. He was up for it, when they told him it was the "Thirsty Traveller" he realised that was even better and so the "Thirsty Traveller" was born.

Kevin globetrots sometimes up to 250 days out of the year. He doesn't travel with a posse, a small crew of two guys namely his sound and camera guys Mike Myrden and Brad Schewaga who are there every step of the way through his never ending imbibing of booze and food. The secret behind Kevin's success as "Thirsty" is the manner he comes across, he doesn't make the beverage that he is fortunate enough to drink that day pretentious, he just tells it how it is. He may not love everything that he is fortunate or unfortunate enough to taste but he will appreciate the hard work and passion that goes into making it and not cloud it with the sometimes unnecessary rubbish that some spirit, beers and especially wine bring with them. He is known as the guy with the best job in the world, but when you are asked to taste Snake Baijiu from Taipei, Taiwan, reconsider that thought. Snake Baijiu is a distilled rice or sorghum spirit with the glands, testical and penis from a King Cobra. This may be the worst thing that Kevin has ever tasted but at least he can say he has, which in essence makes him the "Thirsty Traveller".

Along the way, Kevin has been able to expand his repertoire to other shows including Iron Chef America where Alton Brown and himself banter and commentate on the tournaments progression. They don't ask for much from Kevin on the show, no scripts, no phony small talk, Kevin is told the secret ingredients and left to his own devices. Iron Chef America's secret ingredient can always throw Kevin a curve ball. Take for instance the time that it was offal (the edible internal organs of animals) or when visiting Iron Chef Sakai from the original series made Yellow Trout Ice cream which came out grey and left the worst, longest lasting aftertaste he had ever had in his mouth. Even when given these off-the-wall ingredients his simple, authentic technique makes him one of the most watchable stars on the Food Network and they know it. As it currently stands Kevin has a foot hold in at least eight shows at different stages of production, not much left for free time but he finds a way.

In between flying, filming, drinking and eating around the world, Kevin likes to hunker down at his favourite local for a pint and to catch the latest telecast of an Arsenal soccer game, his favourite team for many, many years. You can often see him sitting in the corner, pint in hand with one eye on the game and another flicking through bar magazines that he has collected on his travels. Kevin likes to keep up with the latest cocktail trends that are appearing around the world. He believes that Canada is on the verge of a cocktail and mixology explosion. He believes that there needs to be more professionalism in the industry and less cute well endowed, university students behind it with little or no training. While he thinks that it works both ways, if customers aren't going to complain about subpar cocktails from the local "corporate" restaurant then bartenders are not going to push themselves to become better. That being said though, Vancouver is leading the way with Toronto and Montreal rounding out the top three but nothing like he has seen in New York, London and Sydney. The main change that Kevin says needs to happen is more bartending style events something similar to "Tales of the Cocktail" in New Orleans. Education is the key to pushing forward our bartending industry.

With all of Kevin's travelling he always has the opportunity to experience the best and worst of every country and city. From the Snake Baijiu to drinking at the Chateau of Courvoisier in Jarnac, France, an experience that Kevin classes as one of the best spirits he has ever drunk, tasting cognac blends that represent 200 years of their history, an expensive but ultimately memorable experience. Kevin has an insight to the latest international cocktail trends that most of us can only envy and read about. The hottest trends that Kevin thinks are shaping the mixology landscape right now are cocktail flights being 2 or 3 mini cocktails themed and served in styles, the wonderful concept of bar chefs using the freshest ingredients with more prep and 'kitchen work' done both prior to a shift and more 'food stuffs' at the bar incorporated into the experience of the cocktail. The funky trend of designer ice, made with either specific water (e.g. Evian) or, large spherical ice balls or ice-initials (Bar "j") or ice-icons (football shaped ice) to keep drink cool but allow less surface contact to keep drink from watering down and finally, the two stage cocktail, started by one bartender or a bar back - finished by and served by the main mixologist/bartender.

The biggest trend that Kevin is watching in the industry right now is molecular mixology; he says "that MM is riding the line between trend and serious long-term success story. Obviously, execution of MM is paramount and only certain bartenders and mixologists are going to be able to do this and do it well. Customers will pay higher prices only to a point - and people will only wait so long for a cocktail to be prepared - there will always be a breaking point. At the end of the day it may survive (and I hope it does) but with many things in life, humans can have a tendency to overdo them and many mixologists already are overdoing their cocktails: Midori caviar balls floating in my rosemary smoked-infused pomegranate tequila, anyone? (I just made that up). Dive bars will always exist regardless of how well MM does - who doesn't want or need a cold can of PBR and a shot of whiskey every now and then?" Either way he is going to be watching this trend very closely.

While people may think he has the best job in the world and he travels three quarters of the year, there are still places Kevin wants to visit. India is at the top of his list, Goa in particular. He has only heard good things from the various ex-pats that inhabitant the area. Of course there is some spirit that has also got his attention, in particular a chestnut liqueur they make there. His favourite place in the world is of course his home town of Toronto but places like Jamaica, Russia, New Zealand and Taiwan all come up trumps. Of course if you ask him tomorrow it would probably be decidedly different. When it comes to straight up drinking pleasure, Kevin can never decide on just one place but the beer tents at Munich's Oktoberfest rank in his top three with Turino and New York rounding out the three.

Wherever Kevin Brauch is, he is always making friends, drinking and eating his heart out and always doing it with a smile on his face. He is one of the most genuine, approachable, honest people you will ever meet and a character that shows the television viewing public how to drink and enjoy everything for what it is, not the marketing gimmick that goes along with it. If you ever cross paths with Kevin, buy him a pint, turn an Arsenal game on and talk to him about the latest trends in the industry and you will have a friend for life. The Thirsty Traveller still has a lot of drinking in him yet.

Shawn Soole