“Would you like to be on a TV show making Martinis?’ she asked. How could I say no?
Thus started a whirlwind few days late last year when Kathleen from Nip of Courage reached out to me say that the producers of the most popular show on Foxtel were seeking an expert with some on-camera personality to mix amazing Martini’s for an episode for the 2015 season.
So sworn to secrecy, I wasn’t even given the address of the shoot until that morning, and signing a confidentiality contract, I got ready to do my thing for a global audience.
My brief was to prepare several cocktails, including the classic Martini and Vespers using the great range from Nip of Courage’s portfolio.
So I spent the weekend perfecting the recipes, designing the menu, getting last minute props for my bar prep and thinking through the set-ups they briefed me on.
Being a reality TV show means that whilst not scripted, the scenarios in each episode are set up and then they get enough raw material to massage into final product in the editing/production phase.
My job was to run the bar, interact with the cast and generally be stylish and fabulous. I was miked up and did my best to look the part.
Don’t worry I won’t be giving any spoilers here if you’re a fan of the show. I confess to not having watched it before and it wouldn’t be my first choice of show (I’m more a BBC kind of guy), but I happily went along for the ride.
But imagine following around several socialities living the lifestyles of the rich and famous around Melbourne enjoying the best of everything.
The show is exported to several countries, including the USA, and gets around 200,000+ viewers each episode, so its one of the channel’s flagship shows.
On arrival at the mansion about midday, I was met by the crew, shown about the set-up and then allowed a few hours to get ready. There was a chef preparing crew meals I was invited to share and they were super helpful and on the ball, not surprisingly being from Matchbox productions
I was able to sneak a few photos of the spectacular setting which belonged to one of the characters in the show in Mt Eliza.
All the furniture was internally lit, so in the show you’ll see the bar glowing.
Happily my own props + prep was a perfect match for theirs, so it all looked the part.
Although I was a hospitality professional for over a decade front of house, I’ve not actually worked behind a bar full-time before. I was a maitre’d or manager of fine dining rooms mostly, and I was engaged for this gig for my Martini expertise. But knew enough to get my mis en place organised professionally, and ensure everything was geared towards both looking good but efficient as well.
As it turned out my two waiting staff I thought would be helping didn’t eventuate, so it meant I had to do it all- mix and serve all the drinks all night, plus get some help from the crew to wash glasses for me.
I worked my proverbial tail off!
Besides pumping out the cocktails and keeping the bar immaculate, the other challenge was not having a cool room on a hot afternoon / evening, so just using tubs of ice to keep everything chilled, especially for the Martinis was tricky, but I managed.
There was some 5 camera’s at once, plus a drone (which was very cool) and on occasion you’d do a set-up twice, for example, the guests would be asked to come up to the bar and ask for a cocktail and we’d ad lib chatting. Then we’d do it again from scratch for the drone shot.
The guests were all suitably glamorous, with serious bling wearing serious frocks, heels and plenty of tanning products. They all treated me with respect and courtesy which was nice.
The planned for close up of my mixing a bespoke Martini I’d created for one of the characters didn’t end up happening as the shoot has to go with the flow to a large extent.
So basically they come up to the bar, choose from my menu, I’d mix them up and occasionally cruise about, keep the areas tidy, take some orders, or top things up. I would be given instructions to do such and such, or asked to prep for something in 15 minutes time, then given the nod to do my thing.
They certainly didn’t go thirsty and knew how to party.
The brief from the producers was keep the drinks rolling and pretty much started to run out towards the end of the night unsurprisingly.
At times one felt you were in a music video clip, and a touch surreal. But basically I just played it straight and professional and aimed to make the best drinks possible.
Martini’s, Vespers, Espresso Martinis were all popular, as was julep-style drink with fresh mint and Belgrove White Rye + soda, called the Indian Pacific.
In case you were wondering, all the cast and their guests were just lovely to me. Always respectful and friendly, and they were a pleasure to serve.
The Perfect Dry Martini – Gin or Vodka, stirred, naturally.
Bespoke Whisperer Martini – Gin and special ingredients of my own crafting.
The Vesper from Casino Royale- Gin, Vodka + Orange infused Vermouth
I used the excellent gin + vodka from McHenry in Tasmania for all these Martinis.
Espresso Martini –Vodka + cold pressed coffee: skaken very well.
The Indian Pacific Cooler – Crazy Uncle ‘Moonshine’ from Whipper Snapper, Apple Juice: shaken over ice and served with fresh Mint + Lime:
Mornington Mojito –Belgrove Distllery White Rye, Mint, Lime and Sugar Syrup
Not a strict recipe, but fun to use the unique White Rye from Belgrove Distillery. Oh yes, plus shots + champagne!
For my part I certainly came away with new found respect for any bartender and the effort that goes into keep your area sorted, engage positively with customers, stay looking immaculate, keep your stock organised, and of course crafting a decent cocktail on the fly all night long.
Keep things chilled on a very hot night was a challenge and I always had about 10 glasses filled with ice at all times.
The filming wrapped at around midnight and I was completely spent, but the feedback from the crew was that they were very happy with my efforts.
As it turned out in post-production, not all the close-ups got used, focusing naturally on the main characters, so I didn’t get my 15 minutes of fame, 15 seconds mostly, but a night I won’t forget in a hurry.
The episode screens on April 26, on Arena Channel, Foxtel, at 8.30pm
UPDATE POST BROADCAST 30/4/2015
Well, it turns out that there wasn’t much cocktail action to be scene alas in the episode. You get to see the back of my head, and walking about serving drinks etc, but unless you’re a die-hard fan of the show you have my permission to save yourself an hour and mix a couple of drinks for yourself instead. Still, a fun ride whilst it landed. As they say in TV land, don’t call us, we’ll call you!
I was a paid guest appearance for Matchbox Pictures using alcohol supplied by Nip of Courage distributors.