Food & Drink: Baron Stelling

Posted on September 7, 2016

National Restaurant Assn.

Day job: Bartender at Paragary’s Midtown Bistro, Shady Lady Saloon

Age: 28

Hometown: Sacramento

Bragging rights: Winner of the National Restaurant Association’s prestigious Star of the Bar competi-tion, in which he beat out many of the country’s best bartenders

How did your fellow bartenders react to your win? Sacramento is still an emerging market in the national scheme of things. So winning a national competition that brings a lot of recognition—not only to the establishments where I work but also the city as a whole—has been fantastic. In Sacramento, we’re a very close-knit community, so when one of us succeeds we all succeed. 

Do you have a favorite spirit? I try to be as nonbiased with spirits as possible. That said, I am a very big fan of tiki and rum. 

How has the rise of craft beer affected bartending? For cocktail bartenders, it has made it exciting to do things like beer cocktails. And it has paved the way for the resurgence of craft distilleries. That helps us, because it gives us so many different spirits to work with. 

Is there a cocktail that hasn’t been invented yet, or is everything just a riff on something from before?In general, there’s nothing new under the sun. I feel like the creative part is similar to how a chef would approach a dish: It’s all about finding flavors and balance that fit the general palate of the time and the place you’re living in. A daiquiri that people were drinking 10 years ago might not be the daiquiri that people are drinking now, just because the communal palate has changed. 

What do you enjoy most about tending bar? Hands down, making people happy. 

Did you always want to be in the hospitality profession? No. I bought a cocktail book once upon a time on a whim and read it cover to cover. That sparked the interest for me to keep researching and learning. What started as a hobby from an impulse purchase has turned into a passion and a career for me.

Any customer pet peeves? Although some people may be a little more challenging to deal with than others, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. If they’re not having a great day or don’t know the correct behavior when you’re in a restaurant or bar, I try really hard not to hold it against them.

What’s the most important quality in a great bartender? Being able to connect and relate to people. If all that people were really looking for was a drink that tastes good, they would probably make them at home.

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