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Monday 23 October 2017

Master mixer: Angostura bartender goes global

Raymond Edwards is still basking in the afterglow of his selection into the Tales Global Attache Programme, an initiative which exposes the Tales audience to some of the overlooked cocktail regions from around the world.

“This appointment will absolutely broaden my horizons as a mixologist,” an excited Edwards, 35, tells Spotlight.

“It allows bartenders to come together as one global community sharing ideas, concepts and trends. We are a small island but we are connected as a region. The region from which gave birth to one of the most versatile yet misunderstood spirits, rum.”

The chief mixologist at House of Angostura, Laventille, Edwards was among 100 industry professionals who were selected for the attache programme on the basis of their strong influence in the community.

Tales of the Cocktail is an annual gathering of cocktail and spirits industry professionals, which was established in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 2002.

The Attache Programme was established by Tales marketing manager, Jeremy Thompson.

In his new role, Edwards assumes the status of an embassy official with the responsibility to promote cultural relations between the Tales of the Cocktail brand and smaller jurisdictions throughout the globe. He will be called upon to provide Tales of the Cocktail with ongoing insight into the local cocktail community.

This may take the form of local cocktail recipes, bartender spotlights, spirits, or any other distinguishing features of a given community.

Saying his first act as attache will be to connect with all of the other members, Edwards said he also intends to put together a local team that will be responsible for providing him with “valuable content that I can share with the international community.”

Edwards said Leesha Alexander, commercial manager, House of Angostura, nominated him for the attache programme, in April.

“One week later, I got an e-mail from Jeremy Thompson informing me that I have been accepted into the attache programme.”

It’s a signal honour for Edwards, who emerged from modest beginnings in the small, north-east coast community of Toco, to become one of the stars in local mixology.

“My mind is always resting at home (Toco),” he said with pride.

“It’s where this journey all began for me many years ago. We take it for granted a lot of the time but I am truly blessed in having a slice of both worlds: the opportunity to hear the waves running ashore, the fresh breeze from the Caribbean sea fills my lungs, the laughter of my countrymen reminiscing from experiences from the nearby forest or at sea.” In fact, the celebrated mixologist, who attended Toco Secondary, features prominently on the institution’s Wall of Fame, an exhibition of alumni who have done the school proud over its 40 years in existence.

Among those gracing the wall are Olympic gold medallist Keshorn Walcott, soca artiste Patrice Roberts, retired cricketer Mervyn Dillon and the school’s current principal Verona Davis-Modeste.

Edwards congratulated Toco Secondary on having achieved its 40th anniversary but said the institution was in dire need of an upgrade.

“The 40-year-old structure still stands but her walls are weary. Calls for an upgrade have all landed on covered ears. So many talented young minds and athletes has been part of those 40 years. I am so happy and privileged to be a part of this group.”

Edwards spoke glowingly about his life in picturesque, seaside district - one in which the village, to a large extent, still raises the child.

“It (Toco) has taught me a lot. My upbringing was not only the responsibility of my parents but the responsibility of the community,” he said, adding he returns to the community to visit family and friends at every opportunity he gets.

mixer continues on Page 23A

However, Edwards said for young people who wish to venture out of the area in search of opportunities, the change can be quite onerous.

“Coming out of Toco is not easy for most students. Change can be the hardest thing to deal with but I have learnt to adapt to the change in my environment.”

Edwards admitted there aren’t many opportunities for young people living in communities along the north-east coast

“You can either become a public servant, fisherman or farmer.”

He recalled, though, the genesis of his introduction into the world of mixology began with a hospitality course in the Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme.

Edwards admitted that, at first, he did not take the class seriously.

“I attended two classes. However, where the classes were being kept was right next to a football field, which was a bad idea,” he said.

“I would often not go to class or sometimes leave class early to facilitate my addiction for the sport.”

Edwards recalled the lecturer for the course, Khan Maharaj, came to the football field, one day and told him he needed to make a decision.

“He thought I had what it took to excel in the hospitality industry and he wanted to have me enroll at the hotel in Cascade.”

Edwards said he was forced to relinquish the familiar for the unknown.

“Stepping out in to the unknown can be a terrifying experience to many. You have to hold the bull by the horn and hope for the best.”

Surprisingly, football was Edwards’ first love.

“My goal was to represent club and country at the highest level because I had captained my school’s football team for two years and was also a member of North East Stars Pro League team.

“But, in Trinidad, it’s not easy coming from the countryside. Having the connections and network is critical when it comes to advancing in this field. Life became so difficult and redundant I had to make a decision. It was one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make.”

Edwards said he had never set out for career in mixology.

“It (mixology) actually chose me,” he said.

“Mixology is liquid art. It has taught me a lot about history and the days of old. It has challenged me, allowing my mind to travel into the future. It has taught me humility and patience.”

Edwards has officially been with the House of Angostura since 2007. However, he joked that the company’s products, bitters and rums, has been a part of his household for as long as he could remember.

Edwards said as chief mixologist, “my role is to carry consumers on a journey from the cane fields to bottle and beyond.

“There is always a story to tell and an experience to share. The experience has been phenomenal.”

He said he has travelled extensively, visiting various markets and educating industry professionals on the mixability and versatility of TT’s rums and bitters.

Edwards said one of the highlights of his career has been the opportunity to experience a classic cocktail, The Queen’s Park Swizzle, which was created in TT at the then Queen’s Park Hotel during the early 1900’s.

“Seeing this cocktail as our national drink will be my dream come through. It’s ours - our claim to fame in the cocktail world. It has an unforgettable story that takes you on a journey through time.”

Edwards said his team at Angostura is working towards making the Queen’s Park Swizzle available at all trade outlets that serve cocktails.

He has no regrets about being involved in the field.

“I believe it was written long before the creation of the world - our roles and purpose.

“My passion for mixology was born from my love for hospitality and service. There are some traits that hospitality cannot teach and this comes naturally. It’s what I was chosen to do and become.”


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