June 2015 Bartender of the Month: Tenzin Samdo
Name: Tenzin Samdo
Establishment: Mixologist at Trade - Boston, MA
Recent Gigs: If bartender backgrounds are always varied, Tenzin Samdo’s is still definitely less typical. He grew up in India, a Tibetan refugee after his parents escaped Chinese occupation. And he might have stayed in India, but his parents won a lottery to come to the United States, landing Samdo in America in 1996, a high school student in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Being in close proximity to Boston’s bar scene didn’t make him spiritually ready for it. Samdo became a theater student, studying set design, film, and photography. He worked at a bar only to make extra cash. As Samdo tended bar, he noticed his attention to detail turned his drink-making into a tiny obsession. When a friend introduced him to Instagram, Samdo half-enthusiastically posted a picture of one of his creations. The next morning, he had 100 followers—and soon after, followers of high caliber, major spirits companies.
When his Instagram account blew up, so did his job prospects, with job offers coming in left and right. A food lover by heritage, too (with lots of family in Tibet and Italy), Samdo had always been an admirer of Jody Adams. So when he heard Adams was looking for a bartender, he jumped at the chance to turn the unlikely outcome of his travels and travails into a full-time, blossoming career.
Why did you become a bartender?
Fifteen years ago I started bartending to pay the bills; it quickly turned into my passion. I love that it allows me to be creative because I love learning and creating new things. It also allows me to interact with new people every day.
What are some fun flavors you’re working with?
Right now I'm working with a lot of smoked ingredients. Like cedar wood and smoked cigar. Let me explain about the cigar: I torch a cigar and let the smoke collect in a jar. I then pour a cocktail inside the jar, creating a quick smoke infusion. This gives the drink a unique smokey flavor, similar to the smokiness of mezcal but more complex.
What are you doing different from the norm in your beverages?
I'm a Tibetan refugee. I was born and raised in India and moved to the states when I was about 17. Growing up in India gave me a lot of knowledge and understanding of teas and spices. I love using them in my cocktails, not only do they add diverse and intense flavors, they make for great infusions and also have many health benefits.
What’s in the mixing glass or shaker for your customers?
What are you sipping on and why?
Mezcal - it's a rare spirit, it's usually sold in small batches and is made by a small group of farmers who produce it. These producers have been making Mezcal for centuries and producing is very labor intensive. I really respect their work and it's a delicious spirit.
What are you dancing to while mixing?
Every Day I'm Hustlin' by Rick Ross
What are some quirks/quotes you are known for?
Quality matters. To that effect I believe garnishes matter just as much as the drink. If you take a look at my instagram feed @bostonmixdrink, you'll see the garnishes I use and containers I use to display my cocktails are just as colorful and interesting as the drinks themselves.
Plato is famous for saying "He is a wise man who invented beer." What's your beer mantra?
After a long shift, there's nothing better than a crisp cold beer.