We often hear the same names of Vancouver hospitality titans in local media. They do very well to represent and have done so for years. We work up thirsts and appetites following their exploits and look forward to trying whatever it is they come up with next, but we seldom consider the individuals who toil in relative anonymity alongside them, and we’re often late in introducing those destined to join them in their starry pantheon. This series of short interviews looks to introduce our readers to this new breed, one blossoming talent at a time.
This week check in on Matthew Benevoli, the barman at Nomad on Main Street. “Benny” is a guy I think of anytime I think I work a lot or I find myself exhausted. I remember at one point he was working for at least two bars in town and one morning he wheeled in a box of fresh fish at the restaurant I was working at. I looked at him, stunned. What are you doing, Benny? “I work for these guys during the day doing deliveries,” he said. Because two night jobs didn’t keep him busy enough! The guy caught my attention pretty quick as he was the wide-eyed keener at every tasting, competition or bar-centric event held in Vancouver. The only thing bigger than his ear to ear perma-smile was his enthusiasm. People like Matt who have the gift of natural likability can rise up the ranks very quickly. And with a thirst for knowledge and a hard work ethic, look out!
Matt recently made the move to Nomad where he overseas the bar program. Catch him on the wood or keep an eye out for him delivering all the goodies from Snowcap around the city. Matthew recently won the annual cocktail competition at the Science of Cocktails event, a fundraiser put on at Science World with the CPBA. (Recipe at the bottom of the interview.)
Years in the Game: 10 | Current: Nomad Restaurant
Formerly: Blackbird Public House & Oyster Bar, Butcher & Bullock, One20 Public House, Westminster Club
Career Highlights: Main Street Cup Winner, Bloody Caesar Battle @ Cornucopia Winner, Science Of Cocktails 2017 Competition Winner
First bartending job? One of my friends was getting married and he knew I made drinks at home, so he asked if I would like to bartend his wedding reception. I accepted, but it turned out I would also be a valet driver and usher. It was lots of fun, everyone was chatty and drinking which made it easy for me. Little did I know one of the bride’s friends I was flirting with would one day become my wife…
The moment that it went from a part time “gig” to a career? I was always the guy making cocktails at family gatherings and house parties as something fun to do. Everyone always loved it and I would be asked regularly if I could bring my bar kit. One day I received a phone call from the GM of the Westminster Club. He asked me if I would like to work a private member’s party as an audition. I accepted. It was fun, intense, crazy and a blur. I thought I was going to get a thanks but no thanks but instead I got a high-five handshake and was told they had another event coming up for me. I stayed as lead barman until the business sold and closed its doors.
Advice for other up & comers? If they are fortunate enough to get a great leader/mentor, they should be a sponge to every bit of knowledge that is shared. Ask questions, lots of questions. Don’t just know how to do things but why you do them. There are so many great people with diverse experiences and viewpoints; take it all in and take the best from everyone you learn from and make it a part of you. Self growth is a key to success
Favourite three bartenders you’ve worked with? I don’t remember his name but there was a bartender in Cuba…I taught him how to make a Manhattan and he was blown away. Micah Dew and Greg Dickson. Micah mentored me and helped me in the beginning of my professional bartending career. Greg and I had the most amazing shift I’ve ever had; we were like Shaq & Kobe. Both Micah and Greg became close friends.
Three bartenders you’d like to work with? There are so many! But to name three, I’d have to say David Wolowidnyk, Tarquin Melnyk and Lauren Mote. I think there is so much I could learn from all of them. I’ve picked up a little something from each of them along the way.
Guilty pleasure in the beverage world? Blue Curacao! What can I say? I like blue drinks, like Romulan Ale (if you know me, you know what I’m talkin’ about).
If you could be a Brand Ambassador for any brand, which one would it be? Courvoisier. It was my first love in the spirit world. After visiting them in France, it gave me a whole new appreciation for developing such a complex and balanced spirit.
Favourite city in the world for food and drink? Fuengirola in the south of Spain. Freshly caught seafood in both classic and contemporary dishes, Spanish wine and sangria on the beach….ahhhhh…Sorry, I was somewhere else for a moment. The sangria is a must when in Spain.
Dive bar you love, and the beer you’re drinking there? The Station pub in Surrey; wings and Heineken.
Any bar in the world you could stage at? Little Red Door in Paris. It’s a cool little room, great drinks and greater hospitality filled with people from all over the world.
Biggest fear? Zombies! And I don’t mean multiple rounds of the cocktail. I don’t know why but I used to watch all the zombie movies and then it’s like a switch flipped and now I have nightmares. Between that and the drink chit printer going non-stop, I’ve had a few rough nights sleep.
A trend that should have been 86’d a long time ago? Salt and lime with tequila shots. If you can’t handle a tequila shot, I’ll give you fernet. I guarantee you’ll be able to shoot tequila no problem after that.
Best skill outside of work? I’m a goalie in hockey. I enjoy being the last line of defence and coming up big for the team.
Sidecar or French 75? I’m a Sidecar kinda guy…had a really awesome one in Las Vegas at the Montecristo Cigar Bar. It pairs well with a cigar. I loves me some cigars!
Good service or speedy drinks? If the service is good, I don’t mind waiting a few minutes for a great drink.
Favorite Vancouver hood? Main Street. I feel like the community is so diverse, inclusive and always evolving. I’m proud to be a part of it.
Jigger or free pour? Jigger. I really enjoy working on Japanese style jigger movements and the elegance of the pour. But sometimes you just need to pick up four bottles and go for it.
Favourite chef? It’s a close one between my grandma, my mom and my wife. Grandma cooks amazing Indian-African cuisine; my mom cooks the same with some Italian mixed in; and my wife’s German cooking is authentic Bavarian.
Favourite ingredient to work with? Vermouth, it can add so much complexity to a cocktail and is great on the rocks.
Go to bar for a “cheeky”? Portland Craft. They’re good people.
Facebook or Instagram? Facebook, but I should probably post more on Instagram.
Favourite Vancouver season? Summer. Warm long days and shorts at the beach.
Good customer who tips bad or douchebag who tips huge? I’d rather a good customer who I’m able to have a great time with; a laugh, a story, a conversation. You never know, they might not be in a position to tip a lot but would really like to have a little time where they don’t have to think about the usual day-to-day stresses.
American or Canadian Whisky? Canadian. Because reasons.
Bar tool you can’t live without? A good two piece tin shaker. I’ll figure the rest out.
Post-work drink — what is it, where is it, and who is making it? Butcher & Bullock, Negroni and sleeve of pilsner on a good night. Old Fashioned and stout on a rough night. Buda is making it! Sometimes Mike, but usually Buda.
Two others in your era you would recommend for The New Breed? Budamir Krga & Shane Ely.
THE CAMPFIRE by Matthew Benevoli
(Science of Cocktails 2017 cocktail competition winner)
40ml Buffalo Trace bourbon
20ml Dry vermouth
15ml Ginger syrup
10ml Lemon juice
2 Dashes Orange/Juniper Bitters
Torch cedar plank, place rocks glass upside down over flame to extinguish and coat glass with smoke.
Shake all ingredients with ice, double strain over fresh ice in Cedar-Smoked Rocks glass & garnish with flamed lemon twist