Austin Dean - Bar Manager at Chan Seattle
Austin Dean is the Bar Manager at Chan. A Seattle transplant originally from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - Dean has brought a creative flair to Chan in developing new twists on old classics using Asian ingredients to pair cocktails with Korean food. Learn a bit more about Austin in this Q&A interview:
Where are you from originally?
Oklahoma City - I lived in Norman for about five years after and I moved out here for college. I got into the restaurant industry and was turned on to bartending at a little family restaurant back in Oklahoma. It was all margaritas and stuff like that.
What did you go to school for?
I originally went to school to become a music teacher - and I still like to do that on my own time. Eventually, I'd like to open up a recording studio. But right now it's more of a hobby than a way of making money.
How long have you been tending bar?
For about five years now. When I was growing up I'd always wanted to be a teacher. I still don't know exactly what I want to teach but I've had a lot of thoughts about training new bartenders at Bartending school. There's a ton of knowledge that goes behind art of making drinks.
How did you get into the industry?
The original place I worked at was called Interurban in Norman, OK. There was a train that ran from Norman to OKC and it was called the Interurban - and hence the restaurant was named after it.
There was a bartender there that really pushed me out of my comfort zone and to become more aware of what I had in my bar and what I could create. He taught me a lot about flavor combinations and he would try to push me to make things I didn't really know how to make. There I was slinging premix margaritas and I didn't really know what else to do. So he taught me about different flavor profiles and that really opened my eyes to how to create cocktails based on different flavors.
How did you get connected with Park?
I love cocktails and music and I needed a change of scenery - so I kind of came here on a whim. One of my favorite bartenders of all time is Jamie Boudreau (from Canon) and I learned a lot from his videos and reading. And Seattle seemed like a good place to be.
Starting with Park was kind of random. I was trying to find a server job and I got turned onto Tray as it had just opened up. I was actually a server to start and I just stuck around and outlasted folks. Eventually, I became the bar manager over there and Park gave me the reins to be creative. He had a lot of confidence in what I was doing and gave me the leeway I needed to run the bar program.
What are some of the interesting things you are doing at Chan with the bar program?
We've started to make a lot of fun craft cocktails and incorporate Asian influences in them. I wanted to do a non-alcoholic shrub menu as well. If you're a non-drinker - it gets very boring whenever you go out to dinner and your only options are Coke and Sprite.
I definitely believe that you can have just as interesting non-alcoholic drinks as with alcohol. Shrubs are an awesome way to enhance things. The cold methods, hot methods - being this close to Pike Place Market is awesome. You walk a block away and you can find anything.
What are some of the challenges in pairing cocktails with Korean food?
With Chan being Korean-based cuisine, we have to incorporate some Asian alcohols and flavors into the cocktail menu. For example, we use the Lychee alcohol from Kai and we like to integrate them into something that works. I use as few variables as possible with a new booze like this. We're looking at seasons and simplicity - not over the top blender drinks.
What's your approach to making a great cocktail?
I try to do a some more 'tips of the hat' to old school cocktails. You'll see this on the menu - we have a cocktail called the Steve Z - which is a nod to a Negroni.
The Sun Also Rises is a variation on the Hemingway Daiquiri. He was notorious for ordering daiquiris with double the booze and half the sugar. Bartenders thought it was horrid but they would add a Maraschino cherry liqueur and grapefruit juice. I thought it would be fun to skip the grapefruit juice part and use bitters instead. It's awesome and I prefer it to a regular daiquiri.
What's your 'secret' to making cocktails?
I make every new spirit as an Old Fashioned to try it. Traditional recipe. Gives you a really quick example of how that spirit will react in a cocktail.
How much of a challenge is it to pair beverages with Korean food?
The spices make it the most difficult. Trying to find the right wines for Korean cuisines is a challenge. There are a lot of meats and bold flavors and a lot of spice.
I always think that with spicy food you try and go as light as possible and not overpower a cocktail. We make more spring and summer-style drinks. Even through the winter months, I'll add some warm spices into summer style drinks because you have to keep it light. Otherwise you'll flood everything.
What is makgeolli and what are you making with it?
Makgeolli is a Korean rice wine which contains about 6% alcohol - some call it rice beer. It has a nice tanginess to it and a cloudy viscosity. It looks milky but it's not. It can be tough to use but we make a Ginger Makgeolli cocktail that is pretty good (see recipe below).
What can customers find at Chan that they should come in for specifically?
I would say to try something they've never had before. If you've never had makgeolli I'll have them try that because you just don't see it in a lot of restaurants. Or try one of the soju based drinks - don't be scared of it. You're not going to get something that sucks here.
This is a place where variety wins. Try a shrub and see what you think - it can be a hard concept to swallow (pun intended) when being told it's a sweetened drinking vinegar. And I was skeptical before I tried them but once I tried them I was sold.
Any plans for future bar program development?
I've always been a fan of a small bar. I don't know if I'll do too much to change this. We'll change seasonally but we're not going to be a bar that has 30 whiskeys - and not every bar has to be that. Our focus will be on local spirits - there are so many awesome distilleries in Seattle proper. Tasting these can be cool if you're coming from out of town - and there are so many good things around here that there's no reason to not be showing them off.
Ginger Makgeolli Cocktail recipe
3 oz Makgeolli
3/4 oz Ginger Syrup
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Triple Sec
*Combine ingredients in a cup filled with ice and stir.