Competitors in MCW's kickoff, the Agave Gauntlet: Casa Noble Cocktail Relay, will be paired off into teams by drawing straws the night of the competition. Some are longtime pals, some are relative newcomers; some gregarious, some a touch reserved: we figured we should level the playing field by helping them, and you, get to know each other a little better a head of time.
CONTENDER: MIKE LU
Mike Lu honed his craft behind the bars of Merchant and Tory Miller's Graze/L'Étoile while studying Environmental Studies at UW-Madison and applied gardening at Sherman Middle School. Eventually, the precocious lad graduated to join the opening team of Miller's Estrellón as bar manager.
He presides over the cocktail program at the tapas and small plates restaurant, where he channels Spanish inspiration through the bounty of Wisconsin farms, and works alongside the kitchen to make the unctuous, elegant. You know, that chorizo cocktail.
Lu has the distinction of kicking off our February event series as a competitor and conceiving the graceful finale, as he and Miller team with Pierre Ferrand for a cocktail pairing dinner.
Place you work + your shift schedule:
Who do you consider a mentor? Most important lesson they taught you?
R Mocanu. He taught me that cocktails are dead. Although, in all seriousness, he taught me a lot about balancing cocktails and had a huge influence on my palate.
I think the most important lesson he ever taught me was that, even when you become a bartender, you never forget what it's like to be a barback. There is a reason that bartenders get paid more, and part of it is because they can do all the work that a barback does and then still bartend.
What sensations/emotions does the phrase "personal brand" immediately invoke?
Persistent. Something I executed really poorly in my early 20's.
Is it too late to say "Sorry"?
Favorite work of art:
Dragon Ball Z
Tequila: sip neat, or in a cocktail?
I prefer cocktails. Otherwise, shots are always nice.
MSG: Parmesan or Uncut Powder?
Parmesan, dawg! Sarvecchio all day on EVERYTHING. Hnnngghh!
Setting aside lime & orange – what are go-to flavor combinations for agave distillates?
Bitter, vegetal, savory/spicy, salty tears of joy.
What's your favorite Wisconsin/Midwestern source of acid – something tart/tangy to balance a cocktail?
Prickly ash berries. They taste tart, bitter, and have some serious tannin. They're also a pain in the butt to forage, so they can be hard to come across. Otherwise, sorrel and rhubarb are easy to come by during the growing season.
Over-under on how soon Wisconsin will be wine country:
Your favorite tool (bar... or life):
Favorite vessel you've sipped out of:
My favorite vessel is a porron – loaded with Daiquiri, gangster style.