Work It! Cecelia Strick9: Mixologist, Artist, and Blogger

You may already be familiar with Ms. Cecelia as a regular contributor here at Ms. Behaved. What you may not know is that I initially approached her because I wanted to interview her for the Work It! series,  and she wound up sending me some awesome essays to boot! In addition to being a great writer, Cecelia is highly respected in the male-dominated field of Mixology, placing in cocktailing competitions as well as working as a representative for local brand North Shore Distillery. She has also degree in fiber arts, enjoys pole dancing for swagger, and is an all around super smart hot mama with big plans for the future! 

Name: Cecelia Strick9

Age: 27

Location: Chicago

What do you do, in your own words, and how long have you been doing it?
Really, I’m just a bartender. I’ve been doing it since I was 21. Others might call me other fancy, schmancy things, but I just make drinks.

What was your first job?
Ha! I was a car hop at Dog n’ Suds. It was a seasonally open, old-school 1950’s style car hop. The woman who owned it was a tyrant who wore control-top panty hose in July.

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
Apart from aforementioned first job, my most entertaining/weird job was working in a sex store in Phoenix. We didn’t have booths or a theatre or anything like that, but the store was GIANT. Like the Wal-Mart of sex toys! Rows and rows of toys. Most of them were pretty awful quality, as I would come to find out much later.

What led to you pursuing your current work? What training or mentorship did you receive?
I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for 11 years. It’s always been my fall-back, if you will. The restaurant industry carried me through 4 states and 3 different colleges. It helped me attain my degree and helped me get to Chicago.

Harvesting agave in Tequila, Mexico

Once in Chicago, I stepped up my game by attending the “Academy of Spirits and Fine Service.”  The course is taught by (legendary mixologist) Bridget Albert, who takes you through each spirits category and teaches you how to taste them, talk about them, and use them to make classic cocktails with fresh ingredients. It was the smartest thing I’ve ever done, and I recommend it to every bartender I meet.

I also attended Bridget’s “Advanced Culinary Mixology Academy.” Our first ‘class’ was held in Tequila, Mexico, where I learned a lot about the importance of locality and quality when it comes to ingredients.

What exactly is the difference between a mixologist and a bartender?

 For most people, the difference is this: A mixologist is akin to a chef; that person creates the cocktail menu, selects ingredients, does ordering and inventory for the bar/restaurant, works behind the bar, and sees that recipes are executed correctly. A bartender executes those cocktails, but doesn’t have anything to do with recipe creation or management. There’s also your “shot and a beer” bartender, and that’s just as legit.

This is always a sensitive subject for me. The original term “mixologist” was actually coined somewhere in the late 1800s, and was actually a derogatory term. It referred to bartenders who took their jobs too seriously, and a lot of that ‘nose in the air’ business happens today. Mixologists and bartenders alike need to remember that their job is one of hospitality, making the customer feel comfortable. You can’t turn your nose up at someone for ordering a Cosmopolitan. What you can do is earn that person’s trust by making the best damn Cosmo that person has ever tasted, and encouraging them to branch out from there.

You went to art school before becoming a bartender. Tell me a little bit about your creative work. 

Embroidery by Cecelia: cervical cancer cells

The work I did (and still do, recreationally) as an artist is fiber-based. I have my BFA in Fibers from Arizona State, with a minor in Art History. I concentrated mainly on surface manipulation (dying, silk-screening, incredibly dangerous chemical treatments) and embroidery.

After a while, I started focusing on smaller, more intimate pieces and taught myself how to embroider with what has become my signature pattern. My work revolves the idea that social classes can be identified through their most common infectious diseases. It’s kind of deep. I feel that my art education really helps a lot with cocktail creation; it’s given me an understanding of balance, both in visual presentation and in creating flavor profiles.

You’ve written before about the challenges of shopping for a work uniform. You have many gorgeous tattoos all over your body, have you had to cover them for jobs? What do you like to wear outside of work?

You know, I’ve been INCREDIBLY lucky.  More employers are realizing that they have to be tolerant of body art  in order to get the best possible staff.

As far as outside of work, I like to wear things that appear futuristic in nature but are still really feminine. High-necked sweatshirts and sweaters, patterned fishnet stockings, boots of all sorts. i love mixing more masculine, architectural clothing with soft, flowing, feminine pieces.

What triumphs and challenges have you experienced as a woman in a largely male-dominated field?
The challenges are innumerable. I’ve actually had customers say things like “You’re a woman, you don’t know what you’re doing. I want HIM to make my drink,” and I know that I am far from the only woman in my field that has dealt with this phenomenon. I’ve never personally dealt with disrespect from my male counterparts, but I know ladies who have. Chicago has an amazingly talented pool of under-recognized female bartenders and mixologists, and we need to acknowledge how fantastic we all are.

What is your favorite thing to drink when you’re not mixing?
Hands down, sparkling wine. A nice, decently-priced bottle of Rosé Cava, Prosecco, or Champagne is always guaranteed to find its way into my belly when I’m drinking with friends or at home.

What are you most proud of in your career?
The thing that I take most pride in is the knowledge I’ve gained, and being able to share that knowledge with others. I’ve been told by numerous people that I have one of the best palates for spirits in Chicago, and that’s incredibly flattering. I am also really proud of the fact that I worked for Illinois’ first licensed craft distiller since the prohibition era, North Shore Distillery.

What do you love about what you do? What do you dislike?
I love the types of people that work in restaurants and bars. I love the chance i’m given to flex my creative muscles on a daily basis. Also, third shift (3p-11p or so) is my ideal shift. That never hurts.

Things that irk me could go on a list that’s a mile long; restaurant owners who don’t know how to run a restaurant, pompous management that gets angry when you know more than they do (I’m the booze expert, that’s why you hired me!), customers that treat me like their personal servant.

Also, people who don’t know how to tip.  It is 2012, folks. 20% of your bill. It is not 1987, 15% does not cut it. It always amazes me when people don’t realize that service-industry workers don’t make living wages, and in some states, that wage is as low as 2.13 an hour.

What do you like to do in your free time to keep your life in balance?
Well, I  blog here and there, and I dance. I dance about 4-6 hours a week. This isn’t to lose weight, but it’s necessary for me to decompress. Bartending is INCREDIBLY hard on your body, and you truly need to take care of it. I also read a lot, and watch a lot of Star Trek incarnations with my best friend/roommate.

What are your favorite cocktails to mix?
My favorite cocktails are whiskey-based, and I love making traditional Old Fashioneds (no muddling, just whiskey, simple syrup, bitters, and orange peel), and Manhattans. Someone once told me that my Manhattans are magical, and that’s one of the coolest compliments I’ve ever gotten.

What is your favorite era in booze history?
To be honest, I have a soft spot in my heart for Tiki drinks, and the kitschy 1960s and 1970s cocktails. I don’t mean Mad Men-esque Gin Martinis and Rob Roys. I mean Grasshoppers, Pink Squirrels, Brandy Alexanders, Harvey Wallbangers, and Golden Cadillacs. A lot of people in the industry are resurrecting these drinks and doing them in beautifully balanced ways.

What future projects do you have planned, and what are your long term goals?
I’m planning to go back to college and grab a second degree in sustainability studies. I’d really like to focus on food policy; being in the industry that I’m in, I’m constantly exposed to food and food politics, and believe that the way this country eats and drinks is tragic. I’d like to help change that.

What advice would you give to women looking to get into mixology?
It always perplexes me when people tell me they want to get into bartending or mixology. For me, and a lot of people in the industry, this was a completely unplanned career. Be prepared to hustle, hustle hustle. The grind is non-stop, and it is always on to the next. On to the next project, the next biggest thing, the next place to leave your mark. Be on your game, know your shit. People are going to be constantly challenging you, and you have to come correct or else you’ll get walked on.  Read books by David Wondrich, Tony Abu-Ganim, Bridget Albert, Dale Degroff. Read books on spirits. Read Boozehound to know all the crap that goes on in the land of spirits and marketing. Take care of yourself. Don’t let people dictate who you are. And for the love of all that is sacred, have fun and don’t take things too seriously. It’s only booze, after all. 🙂

Read more from Cecelia here. 

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Comments

  1. That embroidery is the tits!

  2. you ladies are way too sweet! xo

  3. voidboyd says:

    Your embroidery is AWESOME! I had no clue! And I think i can guess at least one person who digs your Manhattans! 😉

  4. Hello to every , as I am in fact eager of reading this weblog’s post to be updated on a regular basis. It consists of good data.

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