INTERVIEW:  BRITTANY KELLUM [DOGWOOD SOUTHERN TABLE]

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INTERVIEW: BRITTANY KELLUM [DOGWOOD SOUTHERN TABLE]

Brittany Kellum Photo by Robert Christopher Interview by: Tamu Curtis

Brittany Kellum
Photo by Robert Christopher
Interview by: Tamu Curtis

Brittany is a relatively new face on the Charlotte cocktail scene but who's quickly gaining a solid education in the industry and destined to enhance the cocktail offerings in the city.

TC:  Where are you from?

BK:  Jacksonville, NC. I’ve been in Charlotte for 13 years.

TC:   How long have you been bartending?

BK:  I bartended a little at Dressler’s Metropolitan, but Dogwood is my first official bartending job, so 1 year and some change. 

TC:  How did you choose bartending as a job?

BK: To be honest, I didn't, I was given the opportunity to be a part of the opening team at Dogwood and the creation of a fantastic bar program. One that is ever changing, evolving, and always keeping me on my toes. I love it. 

TC: With that being said what is the best part about working at Dogwood Southern Table?

BK:  Innovation.  Dogwood is constantly testing/encouraging our team and Charlotte's food/beverage knowledge as a whole. Every day I am learning something new and being pushed to be better. I love the challenge and being surrounded by people who push the boundaries. 

TC:  When you're entertaining  friends at home how crafty do you get with your cocktails?

BK:  Currently, I'm on a bourbon kick so you can expect to get some fun  Bourbon cocktail variation with what ever I can find in my apartment. 

TC:  Do you have any tips to offer the at-home bartender to help them impress their guests with simple but sophisticated cocktails?

BK:  Sometimes simplicity is best. You would be surprised by how many ingredients are in your kitchen that can be incorporated into cocktails. It's all about having fun and experimenting, which is  a tipthat I’ve taken home from my time at Dogwood. 

TC: Finally what we all want to know is what song are you grooving to when you’re killing it behind the bar?

BK: No Diggity - Blackstreet. Best song ever. (I'm a 90's baby)

Well alright then... Shawty we like the way you work it... No Diggity!!

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INTERVIEW: BRIAN "THE HAMMER" LORUSSO [DOGWOOD SOUTHERN TABLE]

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INTERVIEW: BRIAN "THE HAMMER" LORUSSO [DOGWOOD SOUTHERN TABLE]

Brian Lorusso (@BarKeepBrian on Instagram) Photo by: Robert Christoper Interview by: Tamu Curtis

Brian Lorusso (@BarKeepBrian on Instagram)
Photo by: Robert Christoper
Interview by: Tamu Curtis

I have a special place in my heart for Dogwood Southern Table.  When I sent out the initial email to pitch restaurants on joining the first ever Cheers to the Queen City Cocktail Tour this past summer, General Manager Tim Buchanan was the first to respond with an enthusiastic, yes, they would love to be involved. Filled with all the confidence in the world after securing my very first restaurant I made my way to South Park one afternoon to sit down with Tim who introduced me to Brian "The Hammer" Lorusso who manages the bar program at Dogwood. To the crew at Dogwood, Brian is known as "The Hammer," a title that one might imagine would be bestowed upon the intimidating type but what I found during our first meeting was quite the opposite.

Standing behind his bar which is stocked with an impressive array of jars filled with various house made infusions, spices and bitters, I met Brian, a soft spoken fellow with a deep passion and knowledge for his craft. Brian is always willing to talk about new recipes he’s experimenting with, share a taste of a cocktail ingredient he's cooking up or offer a whiff of a spice combination he’s put together. Since I first met Brian on that afternoon last summer, I’ve come to see his bar at Dogwood flourish with a lively gaggle of South Park residents who faithfully gather around the bar to imbibe on his righteous cocktails.  Get to know the barkeep who has made the Dogwood Southern Table bar the place to be on any given night.

TC:  What interested you in this profession?

BL:  It’s all I’ve ever done.  I’ve been in the restaurant business ever since I was 16.  It’s all I know. 

TC:  How did you get your training? 

BL:  I mess up a lot, people who say they don’t mess up aggravate me because I learn way more from messing up than getting it right. Either you get better or you don’t, it’s free to pay attention.

TC:  How did you come up with your style which I would say is partly focused on traditional cocktails but elevated with house made infusions, syrups and interesting spice combinations?

BL:  I would say endless research.  My wife and I cook a lot. I have an extensive cookbook collection and I’m just constantly learning, whether it’s websites, books or videos.  I just have an insatiable quest for all things food and beverage related. 

TC:  How often do you consult with the Chef when crafting a new cocktail menu?

BL:  All the time, that’s my favorite thing to do. I’m sure sometimes they get annoyed with how much I’m back there but that’s just like my favorite thing in the world, to let them try stuff because I want feedback, seriously, who has a better palate than someone in the kitchen.

TC:  So "Hammer", how did you get that name?

BL:  (laughs) I have no idea, I’ve asked Tim that 1,000 times and no one has ever given me an acceptable answer.  It’s Tim that came up with it. Yea, I don’t think there really is a good reason.

 

TC:  What can we expect for trends in spring cocktails in Charlotte?

BL:  Man, that’s pretty tough. I just think as Charlotte becomes a more educated city you will see more people using local as much as possible.  So more bartenders using products from farmer’s markets which is all pretty awesome.

TC:  What is your bartending philosophy?

BL:  Don’t take yourself too seriously, it’s just bartending. 

TC:  Do you preferred to be called a mixologist or a bartender?  Why?

BL:  Bartender.  Bartenders have always been around.  Mixologists are someone who will not be bartending next year.

TC:  Ok then, what’s your definition of a mixologist?

BL:  A mixologist is.... (pauses) Oh, man, I don’t want to get in trouble.  I’ll just say a mixologist is someone who takes themselves too seriously.

TC:  What do you think about people using molecular chemistry and such in crafting cocktails?

BL:  I think its great.  There should be no limits.  Anything you can do to push the boundaries of flavors and the craft is awesome.

TC:  For you what is the best part of tending bar?

BL:  For me it’s hospitality.  Above all else its about hospitality and if you don’t understand that aspect you shouldn’t be bartending.

TC: Final question, when you’re behind the bar and you're in the zone serving up cocktails left and right what is your theme song?  The song that's playing in your head?

BL:  Man, it constantly changes but right now it’s Meek Mill, Dreams and Nightmares.

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INTERVIEW: COLLEEN HUGHES [CREPE CELLAR KITCHEN & PUB, SEA LEVEL]

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INTERVIEW: COLLEEN HUGHES [CREPE CELLAR KITCHEN & PUB, SEA LEVEL]

Colleen Hughes (@ColleenMakesDrinks on Instagram) Photo by: Uprooted CLT Interview by: Beth Mack

Colleen Hughes (@ColleenMakesDrinks on Instagram)
Photo by: Uprooted CLT
Interview by: Beth Mack

From the second I opened the door at Crepe Cellar and saw Colleen behind the bar, I knew we would be friends. I had a long day of herding kittens at work and she had liquor. Colleen has a soft smile and bubbly personality, but don’t be fooled; She doesn’t play when it comes to cocktails. Having had the pleasure of imbibing craft cocktails from some of Charlotte’s best bartenders, thanks to the Liberate Your Palate’s curated cocktail tour, I have come to find Colleen as one of Charlotte’s best, in a male dominated scene. Not to sound too fan girlish, but if Charlotte had a dream team of bartenders, Colleen would definitely be on it. As Colleen was working her magic, I got the chance to pick her brain a little bit.

BM: So you are around liquor all the time, what is your liquor of choice?

CH:  Hmm… that is a hard one because I love so many! A nice rye whisky would definitely get my attention, but you will often find me sipping Sambuca neat most evenings unwinding from work.

BM: You are the bar manager at Crepe Cellar and where else?

CS: I also manage the bar at Growlers Pourhouse in NoDa and the soon to open Sea Level in Uptown.

BM: I fell in love with Moscow Mules a couple years ago when I had one of yours at Crepe Cellar, what do you think the next big cocktail trend will be?

CH: Great question! I would say something with Fernet-Branca. Fernet’s is really hot right now in the cocktail world. For a simple drink, you could mix it with coke. Underberg is another liquor that is on the move right now as well, which you can find in my Over Under cocktail at the Crepe Cellar.

(For our readers, Fernet’s is a bitter, herbal liquor…very unique taste. Not sure of mentholic is a word or not, but I would say Fernet’s has a mentholic taste to it. I have yet to sample Underberg, but I have read that it has a herbaceous and licoricey)
The Over Under (photo by Uprooted CLT)

The Over Under (photo by Uprooted CLT)

BM: So what is the drink of choice for the cocktail guru herself?

CH: My absolute favorite cocktail is a Corpse Reviver #2, a classic gin and absinthe cocktail that is perfect for all occasions. I would appreciate anybody who would want to buy me one, or have one with me and it will be on the new Sea Level menu! 

BM: What is your hair of the dog recommendation…asking for a friend?

CH: Well besides water, for a hangover I would recommend a Pimm’s #1 Cup with ginger beer and cucumber. It's refreshing and lower in alcohol and helps bring you back from the dark side.

BM: Here is one out of left field for you—hypothetical question—you open the door to Crepe Cellar to a roaring crowd chanting your name awaiting for you to take your place behind the bar to start slinging drinks, what is your entrance song?

CS: Hmm…this is a tough one! I have a lot of favorites but I think I have go with MIA's "Bad Girls” to set the tone. 

BM: Nice, I am picking up what you are putting down.

Moral of the story, if you haven’t had one of Colleen’s drinks you are doing it wrong. We're looking forward to the release of the cocktail menu from her newest venture, Sea Level, which is slated to open first week in February in the Hearst Tower Uptown. Be sure to follow Colleen on Instagram (@cshughes) to see what she comes up with next.  Also, check out Seal Level on Instagram (@Sealevelnc) for updates on the opening. Cheers!

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