In case you somehow missed it, Hillary Choo won Eater's Bartender of the Year. She's the good looking gal slinging drinks your way at the whimsical SLS hotel's outdoor Bar Centro. Her love of the cocktail craft keeps her busy and constantly trying new things to experiment and improve. Eater sat down with Hillary for Cocktail Week to talk about her recent win, chat about cocktails, and see what she's got coming up next.
How did you get into bartending?
I've always wanted to work with food- I grew up in the kitchen with my mom who stayed at home and was always cooking ethnic foods. I started out event bartending as a way for extra money while I was modeling and really liked it, so I took a full-time job at the Fontainebleau at Bleau Bar when the hotel reopened in 2008. That's where I learned you could do different things with cocktails and fell in love with it. I started studying on my own, I have about 75 cocktail books. Really. A small library.
What do you love most about your job?
I like the creativity and interacting with people. I like being on my feet- physically working, moving. The busyness of it and the energy.
How did it feel winning Eater's Bartender of the Year?
It was really exciting. I was really humbled by all the support, the votes and the comments. The Bazaar is so happy, and it's awesome to be able to make them proud.
What are your favorite drinks to make?
It changes all the time, seasonally. But right now working with The Bazaar on their molecular aspect and making cocktails with liquid nitrogen and "airs" and caviars has been fun.
Are there any drinks you really don't like to make?
Not really because most of the time I just want to make a good drink. I hate making Long Island Ice Teas, mostly because of what it signifies more than anything. I don't mind making mojitos and that sort of thing though.
What's your personal drink of choice at the moment?
Rye whiskey is probably my favorite spirit right now. It's a great fall/winter spirit that mixes well with cocktails. And anything with St. Germain.
Where do you go for a good cocktail?
Cooper Avenue's got some great bartenders there, and I'm excited to have The Broken Shaker back soon.
Any upcoming plans with your new title?
Right now I'm studying for the CSS (Certified Specialist of Spirits) and on Monday, December 3, I'm competing in the Speed Rack competition in Tampa. It's in conjunction with LUPEC. Women compete to see who can make proper cocktails the fastest. I'm really excited about that one. I pride myself on being really fast, so I'm hoping to win that one and bring it home for Miami.