Tastemaker: Trevor Burnett

Trevor Burnett has a taste for the finer things in life – fine spirits, fine friends, and a love for his fine city. A Grey Goose certified creator of fine cocktails and a recent crafter of the new cocktail menu at the Grey Goose Lounge at Muzik, this Toronto ‘Bon Vivant’ also sports some fine parole. So let’s hear what he has to say about all of the fine things that he loves…

Trevor-Burnett-(PHOTO-CRED-Zach-Slootsky)

Photo by Zach Slootsky

Give us a snippet about you. What should people know?
People often ask me what my title is for work; bartender, mixologist, brand ambassador, spirits lecturer? I do all of these things but those labels don’t really define who I am. If I were forced to give myself a title it would be Bon Vivant. I love life and people, and I try to embrace the challenges and blessings that come with each moment whether it be personal or professional.

Finish this sentence: I love Toronto because…
…right now we are really finding our cultural identity as a community. When my parents emigrated to Canada from Guyana in the late 60s, they were part of an influx of families that started a new life here in hopes of giving us a quality of life that they felt could not be found anywhere else. Toronto has fulfilled its promise to my family – I have memories from my childhood filled with walks through Kensington, St. Lawrence Market, Chinatown and countless other neighbourhoods. As a kid, I remember walking past the Honest Ed’s sign at Bloor and Bathurst in amazement, or Sam the Record Man and A&A Records where we would find any genre of music you could imagine. On an extra special day they would take my sister and I for dinner at Ed’s Warehouse on King Street where my dad was required to wear a jacket and Ed Mirvish had an unbelievable collection of Hollywood memorabilia and celebrity photographs. They weren’t just celebrities, these were legends that chose to visit our city long before TIFF put our film industry on the map. Then there are a plethora of other festivals, concert halls, museums, theatres, comedians, musicians and artists who have all been a part of what defines our city’s unique identity as a whole. I love our city because it is maturing with age, just like a fine cognac.

What are three things you simply cannot live without?
My family, friendships and food.

How did you get involved in the world of crafting fine cocktails?
I really started applying myself when I was bartending at Victor Restaurant located in Hotel le Germain where I worked with Chef David Chrystian and Sommelier Mark Moffatt. They both encouraged me to be creative and they gave me license to work with the kitchen to experiment with different infusions, syrups, garnishes and spirits on a daily basis. I would read as much as possible to learn the history of classic cocktails so that I had a solid foundation for creating new ones. Then after a few years, I was recruited by Grey Goose Vodka to travel the globe as an ambassador. That experience opened my eyes to what was going on in New York, Paris, London and other cities large and small.

Pick up to three spirits, two mixes and one garnish – now craft us the perfect cocktail.
The Mint Julep is my go-to libation these days. Ever since my friend and fellow Bon Vivant John Cruse showed me the proper way to craft this southern beauty, I realized just how special it is. It’s a cocktail steeped in history and tradition. It is an iconic cocktail that symbolizes friendship and hospitality. Most often fixed with bourbon, it can also be crafted with your favourite rum, rye whisky, cognac, and I have even seen bartenders use vodka. Grey Goose La Poire makes a compelling substitution in a Julep because it marries well with the peach and mint. The key to preparing this cocktail is using a lot of fresh spearmint or peppermint, none of that embarrass-mint you find covered in black spots, brown leaves, wilting away in the back of the fridge sitting next to the limp cucumber wrapped in cellophane. That’s unacceptable, always use fresh ingredients for a superior cocktail! Here’s my recipe…

Anjou Julep
2oz Grey Goose La Poire
1/4oz simple syrup
1/4oz peach schnapps
10 large mint leaves
3 mint sprigs for garnish

Method
Place the mint in your hand and clap it to release the oils. Add the leaves, and the simple syrup to a Julep cup or Old Fashioned glass and stir/bruise the mint with the base of the bar spoon, making certain to work the leaves up the side of the glass. Fill the glass with crushed ice, then add La Poire and drizzle peach schnapps over the ice. Top with more crushed ice.  Garnish with a straw, and a healthy bouquet of mint. If you have fresh peaches or pears while they are in season I strongly recommend you garnish the crushed ice with a few slices, it’s a nice touch.

What do you think will be the hottest (or coolest) drink this summer?
This summer look for the comeback of frozen drinks. People will be dusting off the blenders and slushie machines that have been in storage for at least 10 years. Drinks that you would never expect are going to be iced; Bucks, Mules, Sidecars, Mojitos and more. They’re unpretentious and perfect for patio season whether you’re drinking with friends at your local or hanging at home. I especially like a Missionary’s Downfall.

What’s your favourite drink/cocktail and where do you go to get it?
My favourite drink changes all of the time depending on the environment and the people I’m with and most importantly, who’s making it. When I have a chance I really try to visit Rob Montgomery at Miller Tavern on Bay – that guy knows his drinks. I met him a few years back at the Grey Goose Pourmasters competition. I can ask Rob to fix me a cocktail with any base spirit; vodka, rum, gin, bourbon, tequila, cognac, you name it. He’ll add an ingredient to that cocktail that you’ve never heard of or seen before and then he’ll wax poetic about it until you cry “Uncle!” Last time I went to his bar for lunch he not only blew me away with his drinks but he paired them with a Sri Lankan dish that was phenomenal – totally unexpected. Then when I was ready to leave he shows me his Get Jiro graphic novel by Anthony Bourdain – I told him I had never seen it before and he sent me away with it! So to answer your question, it’s less about favouring the cocktail, it’s about finding a bartender that embodies hospitality and who knows the art of cocktail creation. I really respect people in the business who engage with their guests and who value the craft and Rob certainly is one of those people.

What’s your favourite restaurant and why?
For casual and upscale dining there are so many to choose from in Toronto and the choices are as diverse as the people. This makes it a very difficult decision; however, a guilty pleasure of mine is the Meatloaf Sandwich at Dundas Park Kitchen. Not too many people know about this hidden gem in the city. Chef Alex Tso does amazing work there experimenting with seasonal produce and his partner Melanie Harris has an arsenal of pastries and desserts there that are impossible to refuse. Her Mini Brownie Bundt Cake and Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookies are neighbourhood favourites.

Who’s your favourite designer/brand and why do you sport their fashions?
I tend to buy Jack Victor suits. I discovered them at Century 21 across from the World Trade Center in New York and while I was hunting for a suit off the rack, I realized Jack Victor was a Canadian brand based in Montreal. They are still family owned – 100 years old this year – and they have an outstanding collection. I was also born in Montreal so I like the fact that they are made in my other hometown. For accessories I just met a really cool cat in New Orleans with a line of neckties, bow-ties and pocket squares that are truly unique. His name is Micaiah Bethune and his brand, The Wildlife Reserve, is solid. He’s grassroots, smart and talented. His pieces are ideal because I’m a sucker for a searsucker; I’ll look for any excuse to wear mine.

Let’s get social for a mo’. How can people stay up-to-date with your latest creations?
In 2010 my partner Whitney Munro and I founded Tipicular Fixin’s – we specialize in all things cocktail. You can follow us on Twitter and friend us on Facebook where we post all of our events, recipes and photos.

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