• Jarnard Sutton

Behind the Stick with Antonio Orozco of Florent

Florent, located in the heart of downtown San Diego, is serving up some award-winning cocktails. With the help of their bartender Antonio Orozco, they took home the Chefs and Shakers award for their creation of the Pineapple Espress. Antonio Orozco shares his recipe for this espresso-infused tequila libation and chats with us about his journey leading up to his bartending career at Florent.

Pineapple Espress

1.5 oz espresso-infused tequila

1 oz simple syrup

.75 oz pineapple juice

.75 oz lemon juice

Cinnamon-infused cognac float

Garnish with pineapple leaf and 3 espresso beans

What's the story behind Pineapple Espress?

The story behind the Pineapple Espress begins with Tim and I working last minute to make an appearance at the Chefs and Shakers pairing contest at the Lafayette Hotel. The theme of the contest was Pineapple. The contest is judged by guests who attend the event, so approachability is key. We bounced ideas back and forth, and after a couple hours we had our rough draft ready to go. Our chef’s dish was a foie gras el pastor. We wanted to pair it with something of similar origins, so we decided to use tequila to match the Latin influence and cognac to match the French influence. I ran to Ralphs and purchased some espresso and cinnamon sticks. Came back and started infusing 12 bottles of tequila and three bottles of cognac. We made sure to order 20 pineapples so we could make our sweet and sour mix, and then went home to get some rest. This was all the night before the contest. The next day, I met with Tim, Jared and Chef. We finished up our batching and headed out to the hotel. Unfortunately, Tim had to work, but was able to make it back in time to help me carry the Best Cocktail award back to Florent that night.

Describe the taste?

The taste of the Pineapple Espress is delicious. Warming smells of cinnamon greets you on the nose, followed by a smooth bright citrus flavor on the front, and finishes wonderfully with the amazing taste of espresso.

What's the key component?

I don't believe any cocktail has a key ingredient. I believe that balancing flavors is the most important aspect of creating a great cocktail. Knowing the nuances and intensity levels of the flavors will allow you to understand how much of one ingredient to use. Also, knowing how to give a good shake and a solid stir goes a long way.

What reactions do you get from customers when they try this cocktail for the first time?

Most people get a big smile on their face when they try it, and they say, “Wow, I can really taste the espresso flavor!” I think when they see the cocktail, they are not expecting the flavor of the espresso to be present because it’s vibrant yellow with a beautiful orange float. Color is not commonly associated with coffee.

What's a good dish to pair with this cocktail?

My personal favorite would be the Popper Tacos we have on the menu at Florent. The spiciness of the jalapeños is a nice welcoming party to the citrus of the Pineapple Espress.

What's the process of infusing espresso with tequila?

Espresso infuses very quickly which is especially nice when working in a high volume restaurant. The process is very simple, like all the great things in life—open a silver tequila and pop in about 20-25 beans. Give it a good shake and let it sit overnight.

Is the process the same with the cinnamon infused cognac float?

The only difference are the ingredients. Use full organic cinnamon sticks, throw them in the cognac, and let them rest overnight.

Watch as the lead bartender, Antonio Orozco, makes this award-winning cocktail.

What kind of experience can guests get at Florent?

At Florent, we aim to give the highest level of customer service to ensure that our guests leave feeling charmed, exceptionally satisfied and special. With a variety of spirits, craft beer, wines, and a beautiful food menu, we promise to provide an experience that you will not forget!

About Antonio Orozco

Are you from San Diego?

I’m from a small town in California called Angels Camp. It’s a real place, I promise. I’ve lived in San Diego since I graduated high school in 2008.

How did you get into bartending?

How I got into bartending is one of my favorite stories to tell. It started when my sister moved down to San Diego from the Bay Area. While searching for an activity to do together, we found an ad on Groupon for Bartending School. Two weeks and three-hours-a-day later my sister and I were closer, and I found something that really interested me. Having had no prior restaurant experience, I set out downtown wearing a collard shirt, resumes in hand. Eventually, I found myself in front of Lucky Bastard Saloon. I was lucky to catch Casey Jones, the GM, and he interviewed me. I remember asking him if I had the job because I didn't want to waste his time or mine. He said if it were up to him I'd be hired, but he had bosses, too. He told me to return in an hour. When I came back, I was met by Nicole Dahm (if you don't know who she is, Google her). She hired me, and I felt like the luckiest of all the bastards. I made it to bar-back at the Saloon, and worked under some awesome people that provided me with a very solid foundation in the industry. Special thank you to Todd Moore for pushing me to pursue my goal.

After about eight months at the Saloon, I was able to get my feet wet bartending at Nicky Rottens on Coronado. Another special thank you to Chris Bates, Katie Ekema, and Aaron Kahn. Shortly after I found myself working at Prohibition, a speakeasy style craft-cocktail lounge, as well as Florent Restaurant & Lounge, the place which would become my one true love. Having three jobs was rough. I didn't know what day it was—all I knew was I was working a double.

A couple months passed, and I sat down with my GM, Jared Vallon. We talked about the future, what he wanted from me, and what I wanted from Florent. I decided then to focus all of my energy into Florent. The high quality of the establishment had me wanting to play a larger role in it’s operation. I considered: Florent is downtown, offers a variety of alcohol to allow me more creativity, showcases diverse styles of music from acoustic sets to fist-pumping DJs, carries twenty draft beers to boast San Diego’s amazing beer scene, and most importantly, had room for me to grow career-wise.

As time went by, I continued to demonstrate to my managers and co-workers that I was determined to obtain that notorious bartender title. On August 11, 2015, I sat with my bar manager at the time, and he told me I would be bartending full-time. I will never forget that feeling of accomplishment.

What do you like about bartending and how has it evolved since you've started in the business?

I really enjoy bartending because it’s new everyday. Everyday your sales start at zero, your tips start at zero, and the amount of satisfied guests start at zero. How those numbers change is completely up to you. Also, the feeling of making someone’s day better is awesome, and knowing that you provided great service feels rewarding. I haven’t been in the business that long, but I do know one thing, and that is if you come with your A game everyday, you won’t have a bad day.

What trends are you seeing in SD?

Tiki-style cocktails and rum are making a pretty awesome appearance on the scene. In July of 2015, my coworker and great friend, Tim O’Connor, and I transformed half-off draft beer night into Tiki Tuesday. Beautifully crafted and refreshing cocktails poured into a variety of glasses ranging from parrots to coconuts, and garnished with an array of bright citrus fruit and pineapple leaves brings the night to a fun, colorful, and enlivening level.

What has your journey been like leading up to your current position at Florent?

It required a lot of hard work. Overtime, extra time, and determination. You can never fail if you never give up.

What's your favorite thing about bartending?

Putting smiles on people’s faces and having the opportunity to be creative.

What's your favorite spirit?

With my grandpa, it’s sipping scotch. Tequila with a Corona to match on Wednesday at Sidebar. Disaronno with Mr. Buttons, or La Poire vodka when the turn-up is real at Cake. A nice burley rye with my boy Timmy-Two-Times to get the juices flowing! Jamo and a Watermelon Dorado with Bobo Jones. Spirits are like friends: each one promises a different experience, but all can promise a great experience.

Define the perfect cocktail.

One that makes you smile after your first sip.

Who is your mentor in the bartending industry?

I don’t think I have one mentor. I feel like I have a bartender family that I am able to learn new things from all the time.

What trends are you currently seeing in San Diego?

Tiki is making a big come back! Rum based cocktails with brilliant juices and ornate garnishes take you to paradise.

What are your favorite spots for a cocktail?

My first stop is Florent of course. After that I love going to a bunch of places to see familiar faces and enjoy a couple drinks. Rob at Greystone always has something cool up his sleeve that he knows I will enjoy. Mike over at 1919 is great for his quick whit and ability to make people laugh. Mallory at bootlegger has been a friend of mine and always has a SD Reader and a political point to make. I could go on. There are so many awesome people who work downtown, it's hard to have a favorite.

What do you do in your spare time when you're not creating cocktails?

Photography would be my favorite. Especially working with someone who is passionate about what they do. I did a documentary-style piece on a friend of mine who was going from amateur boxing to his pro debut. As the project unfolded, I learned a lot about myself through the project and I applied the things I learned from him to my own life. It taught me to pursue what I wanted with all my heart. Don't stop, don't quit and don't rest longer than you absolutely need too. If you want something go after it relentlessly.

What's next for you?

I am going to continue to grow as a bartender and learn how to be better at my passion. I love where I work and who I work with so I think the next step is going to be owning my own place. I have always thought that great bartenders become great bar owners.

Florent

672 Fifth Ave., downtown San Diego. (619) 595-0123 or florentsd.com

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