In honor of Tales of the Cocktail’s 15th anniversary, Tales founder Ann Tuennerman is highlighting fifteen bartenders whose lives and careers have been impacted by attending the event, and whose work has elevated the industry as a whole. First up: Cris Dehlavi of Columbus, Ohio, who manages the bar program at M Restaurant. Cris has been involved with the CAP program since 2010, rising up the ranks to White Coat in 2016. Below, she chats with Ann about some of her proudest moments and lessons learned along the way:
Where were you born and raised?
Born in California, raised in Tucson, Arizona.
What attracted you to becoming a bartender in the first place?
My father owned restaurants and is a brilliant chef, so I grew up in the business. I always loved cooking and being creative, so bartending seemed the perfect choice.
Was it planned or was it a temporary gig that evolved into a career?
Neither — I was already in the restaurant business, serving, but when I started bartending in a craft cocktail setting it flourished and I fell in love with it.
What and where was your first bartending job?
My very first bartending job was in a high-end cowboy steakhouse in Tucson when I was 19.
Was there a moment when you decided that bartending would be your career?
Working in Columbus at my current restaurant, I fell in love with craft cocktails, and then it just became more of a “job” and I realized it is what I wanted to do.
Was your family supportive of your decision to pursue bartending?
For someone who wants to pursue bartending as a career, what top 3 tips would you offer?
Do BarSmarts. Join your local USBG chapter. Remember that hospitality is the core of everything we do.
How did you first learn about Tales of the Cocktail?
My friend Erin told me about it back in 2009, and encouraged me to go.
Were there any challenges you had to overcome to attend Tales the first time?
Yes, I had to pay my own way, but I knew it was going to be an investment in myself and my career so I figured it out.
Tell us about your first Tales experience and what it meant to you.
I had never been to New Orleans. I stayed in a hotel about five blocks from the Hotel Monteleone, signed up for three seminars a day, and walked to and from the hotel every day. I was there Thursday through Sunday. I learned so much, got to meet all of the people whose books I had read cover to cover, and was super inspired by everyone in the community. The parties were amazing, and the awards on Saturday felt like I was at the Academy Awards. I saw the little worker bees behind the scenes — the CAPS — and knew I wanted to be a part of that program.
What was it like to be immersed in the community of bartenders and cocktail luminaries from all over the world? Did it confirm bartending as your calling?
It was incredible! I 100% knew at that point I wanted to come back to Columbus and share my knowledge, grow a USBG chapter, compete, and apply to be a CAP.
Tell us your top 3 favorite moments from Tales.
1. My first year as a CAP, 2010: I learned so much and immediately knew I wanted to stay in that program for years to come.
2. The day Don Lee asked me to be a white coat, at the Bartender’s Breakfast in 2014.
3. Being inducted into the Dame Hall of Fame, at Tales of the Cocktail 2016.
Do you have a favorite ‘behind the bar’ memory in which you impacted or inspired a guest?
I met a young bartender named Nigal. He was working in a chain/mall restaurant, the type that doesn’t even carry bitters, but he was very interested in learning about cocktails and going into the craft cocktail world. I took him under my wing, and now, five years later, he is working in the top restaurant in the city, has done two levels of BarSmarts and his first level Somm, was a CAP last year, and is getting ready to move to Chicago to pursue his bartending career. I am super proud and happy I had a major role in all of it
How has Tales energized your career overall?
Being inducted into the Dame Hall of Fame for me was huge because the other ladies over the years are all huge mentors and inspirations to me.
Did you strike up any professional relationships at Tales through networking with fellow bartenders, spirits luminaries and brand managers?
All of them! I have been a brand ambassador for a few different brands, I was one of the judges for the BarSmarts Live in Ohio, I have judged spirit competitions and mixology competitions, and have traveled to both Ireland and Scotland. All of this was a direct reflection of my eight years of going to Tales of the Cocktail, and seven years as a CAP.
How would you sum up Tales to an aspiring bartender who is new to the profession?
Tales has seminars about everything from history, to techniques, to spirit education, so there is a ton to learn. You will be surrounded by an international community of bartenders, so no matter what your career goals are, you can network with everyone.
What is your go-to cocktail when you go out?
It honestly depends on my mood, the season, and where I am. If I had to pick one I would probably say a classic Negroni.
What is your favorite cocktail to make for friends and family?
Something in the form of a light refreshing punch, it is communal and can incorporate whatever spirit the group will enjoy!
Thank you, Cris!