The Bartender: Vanessa Proctor Wall

April 14, 2013

No question, Son of a Gun is one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. My favorite dishes are the linguine and clams made with uni aglio-olio, chili and breadcrumbs, and the fried chicken sandwich made with spicy b&b pickle slaw and rooster aioli… (My mouth is watering as I type). My other favorite dish is the ray of sunshine bombshell behind the bar who mixes and serves drinks as if there is nowhere else she would rather be. Just by observing her at work you can see that love and care are the two most important ingredients that go into every single concoction…

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You don’t need to speak with Vanessa to know that she loves her job. To see how happy she is when she’s working is to want to know more about the bombshell behind the bar…

where are you from?
I was born and raised in great ‘ole state of Texas. Born in San Antonio and raised in a suburb in North Houston called Spring. Man, it’s hot there, I start sweating just thinking about it! I moved to Santa Monica in 2006 and currently reside here with my husband and two Sphynx kitties.

what did you want to be when you were a kid?
Well, I was OBVIOUSLY planning on being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, of course!  I actually found a questionnaire I filled out in elementary school where i said i wanted to be a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, an actress, and own a gas station! (probably so I could have unlimited access to candy, I imagine.)

what do you do now?
I am a bartender at Son of a Gun Restaurant. I’m also preparing for graduate school submissions.

what do you love about your job?
I love that no day is EVER the same. I love that I meet and get to chat with new people all the time. I like that I work with people that are very passionate and so knowledgeable about what they do, and that I, inadvertently, pick up massive amounts of knowledge along the way. I have met so many people working in the industry that I respect and admire, and many wonderful friends.

I like that food and wine/cocktails are generally accompanied by a sense of community. I am constantly witnessing first dates, anniversaries, birthdays, and friends catching up. Being able to guide folks along in their experience always feels good. I like finding out what guests are into and what they don’t like, and hopefully I can introduce them to something they will love and have never had before (but if they want the same thing they always get, I am happy to do that too!). I honestly enjoy describing dishes and cocktails/wine. People have jokingly said I sound like I’m describing lovemaking. It would make sense, I am rather a sensorial person. I truly enjoy dining out and trying new things as well.

Bartending is an almost timeless profession, but it has changed and evolved so much in the ten years that I have been doing it. If you had asked me ten years ago (while making Jägerbombs!) if I saw myself hand cutting ice, geeking out about wine, and worrying about proper cocktail dilution, I most likely would have laughed in your face. But here I am now, doing those things on a nightly basis. It’s pretty great, every night is like a One Woman Show, and the show is always on the fly.

what do you want people to know about bartending?
That I am a BARTENDER. The term “mixologist” makes me feel uncomfortable. I tend to the bar, I tend to you. I’m a people person, I love bars and restaurants…mixologist just sounds so….scientific. Yes, there is a little bit of science involved, I suppose, but that is why I am so lucky that my bosses are obsessed with creating and they educate me along the way.  I’m not the bartender who wakes up in the middle of the night yelling, “Aperol and strawberries, by George, I’ve got it!”. I don’t enter cocktail competitions. Every now and then I wish I was, but I’m not and I’m OK with that. Now, thank goodness there ARE bartenders who do those things, because they are fantastic at what they do and I learn a lot from them. I wouldn’t have a job bartending without the guest who requires a drink. I always come back to that. And it isn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes you are ten tickets deep on a Friday night, and the guests you are taking care of might be…difficult. It can be tough, you know. Sometimes I might not have the best day, but I know when I get to work I have to dig way deep down and snap out of it. Most times you will have so much to do that it really gets you out of your own head. Bartenders wear a gazillion hats. The good ones do so, and make it seem effortless, almost second nature.

what role did your family play in helping you realize your career goals? 
Growing up, there were always parties at the house.  I can remember them clear as day. Always music playing, food cooking, and beers and drinks. Swimming and dancing, the constant singing and laughter…it really solidified my sense of community and hospitality. When I was little, I often fell asleep amongst the neighbors and my family late into these gatherings and had to be picked up and put in bed. To this day, it is hard for me to fall asleep when its quiet and dark, much to the chagrin of my husband.

My whole family has always been completely supportive of anything I wanted to do. My parents always said that they didn’t care what I did, as long as it made me happy. I feel like that gave my amazing freedom to explore what my passions were. They encouraged me in all sorts of activities that I strove to excel in…some I would realize halfway through, were not for me. But they always made sure that I finished what I started. Unconditional support and making me stick to my guns has helped me cultivate nice work ethic.

what do you want to be doing in five years?
Oh, wow. Scary question to answer! I would like to have completed my Masters in Clinical Psychology and be well on my way to completing my hours for licensure. Towards the end of that 5 year mark my husband and I hope to be having our first child. It’s a complete turnaround from where I am right now, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit frightened, but I am also extremely excited.

what are a few of your favorite food and drink spots to visit in LA?
Of course, I love Son of a Gun and Animal. Being a westsider, I also enjoy A-FrameFreddy SmallsCraftRustic CanyonSauce on HamptonBaby Blues BBQ, and Tasting Kitchen…always on the search for great west side eats.

what do you collect?
I would collect Sphynx cats if I could! I already own two, but my husband says that is enough. So yes, I am that CRAZY person constantly taking pictures of my little hairless goblin cats.

will you share one, or two, favorite seasonal drink recipes?
I usually stick to drinking pretty classic cocktails. During the holidays, you can easily tweak recipes to make them more seasonal.

Merry Maple Sour:  Whiskey Sours are one of my go-to cocktails. Here, we are substituting vanilla maple syrup for simple syrup, and Bourbon for Whiskey.

To make Vanilla Maple Syrup combine:
1 cup maple syrup,1 cup water, 1 vanilla bean (sliced open along the center), peel from one orange,and 10 whole cloves.
Heat all ingredients in a sauce pan until it begins to boil, then take off heat and let steep for about ten minutes. Fine strain the
mixture. You can store covered in the fridge.
What you need:
2 oz Bourbon
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz vanilla maple simple
1 egg white
Angostura Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and dry shake (with no ice) vigorously. This will help to break up the egg white and give the cocktail a beautiful texture. Then add ice to the shaker and shake again. Strain cocktail into glass. Gently top with bitters. This can be served up or on the rocks.

Hot Buttered Apple Brandy:  This one came along because I thoroughly enjoy a nice hot drink in the tough, cold, LA winters! It’s much lighter on the palate than a traditional Hot Buttered Rum, and sans the caffeine that might keep me up with a delicious Irish Coffee.

What you need:
1 1/2 oz of Apple Brandy (I used Laird’s Apple Jack), or you could use a Calvados
2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tbsp butter
4oz hot water (this amount just fills up my Irish coffee mug after the other ingredients are in the glass)
1 cinnamon stick

Combine apple brandy, brown sugar,butter and cinnamon stick in mug. Heat water in a kettle then add to mug. Stir till butter is melted.

Santa’s Sangria: I love Sangria. Almost everyone I know, bartender or not, has their own Sangria recipe. This is just a spin on your classic hot Mulled Wine.

What you need:
1 bottle red wine (I used Cabernet)
1/2 cup Spiced Rum
2 whole orange peel from 2 large oranges (you can squeeze them for the OJ)
3/4 cup OJ
1 can (12oz) Ginger ale
1 bag frozen berries (I used strawberries and black berries, but use what you like!)
15 whole allspice
18 whole cloves
10 cardamom pods
2-3 cinnamon sticks
1/3 cup honey
1 orange cut in half and thinly sliced into half moons for garnish.

Combine wine, rum, honey, and spices in a large sauce pan on medium-high heat until almost boiling…let slowly simmer for 10 minutes. After allowing it to cool a bit, fine strain the wine mixture into a pitcher or punch bowl. Put in fridge and chill thoroughly. When you are ready to serve, add the OJ, ginger ale, berries, and slices oranges. Ladle into glass (add ice if you like.)

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