Interview with Gaetano Cutrignelli – Professional Barman Classic; Technical Training Collaborator

Born in Bari in 1971 Gaetano (Nino) Cutrignelli is a professional Barman and a teacher-trainer for young people aspiring to the profession of Barman. His career started way back in his early teens, when he developed a passion for liqueurs, their history and provenance. At the age of eleven, he began collecting small bottles of liqueurs of various labels. He spends his days literally hanging from the counters of the bars in the centre of Bari, spying on the master barmen of the time. He was fascinated by their immaculate white uniforms and elegant black bow ties. The composure, elegance and subtle austerity of the Masters attracted him and captured his imagination, marking the decisions that would condition his future life. In 1985 Gaetano enrolled at the Istituto Alberghiero Statale “Armando Perotti” in Bari. After the first three years of practical training, he completed the following two years, acquiring skills and competences in administration and management accounting, and the diploma of Qualification of Waiter and Bar Operator: a certificate recognised at European level. During his time at school, Gaetano spent his summers working in the best hotels in the area. During the winter periods, in addition to his ordinary lessons, he follows his teachers in additional courses promoted by AIBES (Italian Association of Bartenders and Supporters). He accompanies them to the premises where they provide evening service. The tasks are the simplest and most humble, but for Gaetano they represent the first steps into the world to which he has always dreamed of belonging. Between 1985 and 1989, while at school, he worked at the five-star Villa Hotel in Bisceglie in the province of Bari, as Commis de Bar. This was a very important experience for Gaetano, which gave him unforgettable moments, such as the pleasant encounter with the singer-songwriter Vasco Rossi. In 1989, at the end of his study period, he took part in a Master’s course that took him to Frankfurt to work for the Sheraton hotel. It was a long trip where Gaetano learned the fundamentals of mixing techniques and perfected his skills as a bartender, working alongside two pillars of the profession, Vincent Bertrand and Mark Wagner.

After his military service in 1990-91 Gaetano actually entered the world of professional work and was hired as First Barman at the well-known “Divinae Follie” club in Bisceglie: a nationally known discotheque frequented by many top artists of the time. The collaboration lasted five years, during which Gaetano held roles of great responsibility, dealing mainly with the Prive’ service, for the most famous guests, and the management of their reception. In 1995 he took part in a stage of the famous “Drink Festival“: a national competition featuring the best Italian barmen, placing him among the top ten finalists and receiving positive reviews from the magazine “Bar Giornale”. In 1996 Gaetano presented a Cocktail of his own creation at the same competition, named “Remember a Day” in honour of the Pink Floyd band, of which Gaetano is a great fan. His resourcefulness, skill and preparation were rewarded by the jury of experts who awarded him the highest step on the podium. An unexpected turning point for Nino’s professional career. The first sponsors arrived, such as ‘la Cointreau’, and he subsequently took part in national and international events. In the same year he took part in the European finals held in the Maltese capital Valletta, winning the bronze medal. With the positive results came the first important job offers. In 1996 he accepted his first important job at the Blue Music Club in Bari as First Barman. At last Nino realised the dream he had had since he was a child and which catapulted him into the world of professional barmen. Gaetano perfected his skills by serving in the best hotels and cocktail bars in Italy. This experience also took him to the Veneto region, to the city of Jesolo. The Venetian land captures and adopts Gaetano’s heart and will become his home in the not too distant future. During this period Gaetano went to the island of Cuba where he stayed for a long time and dedicated himself to the study of some classic Cuban drinks and their preparation. He perfected his knowledge of the famous Daiquiri cocktail by learning the best preparation techniques. In 2000 Gaetano accepted a job offered to him by the marketing manager of Cointreau, moving to the Riviera Romagnola and becoming First Barman of the famous American Bar Luxor chain in Rimini. This marriage lasted thirteen years and enriched him as a professional and as a trainer of young barmen. After the closure of the historic bar in 2013, Gaetano moved permanently to the Veneto region, rediscovering the land that had fascinated him so much. He accepted a job as a barman in charge of the “American Bar” sector at “Le Caprice“, a restaurant and lounge bar just outside Noventa di Piave. Today Nino continues his work with the same spirit as the young boy who climbed the bar counters, collected mini bottles of liquor and dreamed of becoming a professional barman. He also dedicates himself to the training of young people, collaborating with several local hotel schools and passing on his long experience.

Who is Gaetano Cutrignelli?

Gaetano, known as Nino, is a 50-year-old man born in Bari in 1971, to Daddy Michele and Mummy Daniela. I have a sister Marina and three wonderful nephews whom I adore and to whom I love a world of good. I consider myself a very humble person, reserved, meticulous and dedicated to my work and not particularly attracted by the spotlight. I like to call myself a “Nomad”: a man with a suitcase in his hand. I have spent most of my life travelling around Italy doing seasonal work in different regions. Tuscany, Umbria, Trentino, Emilia Romagna, my native Puglia and Veneto, my second home, are the ones I hold most dear to my heart. I am a sociable and polite person, I like to dedicate myself to study, updating myself on new preparation techniques and training young aspiring barmen.

When and how did your passion for this profession start?

My passion goes back a long way. When I was a child, I loved collecting ‘Mignon‘: small bottles of spirits and liqueurs that looked exactly like their bigger sisters. I had reached an impressive number: almost six hundred examples. I would go out to everyone: friends, clubs, bars, markets, always looking for new labels to enrich my collection. I used to spend my days, after school, going into the bars in the centre of Bari to watch the ‘Old Master Bartenders‘. I was fascinated by their work, their skill and the elegance of their bearing. I remember hanging out at the bar counter to watch, spy and steal the secrets of the trade. I would travel with my imagination and see myself handling and mixing liqueurs and serving them to customers. I would spend entire days among my little Mignons pretending to be a professional barman. I would follow this path.

What did you study to become a professional?

Obviously driven by my passion, after completing compulsory schooling, I decided to enrol at the Armando Perotti State Hotelier Institute in Bari. The institute, named after the famous writer, journalist and poet from Puglia, had, and still has, a history of great prestige. I attended the three years of practical training, concentrating my energies on the restaurant and bar sector. I then obtained a diploma of qualification as a Bar and Restaurant Services Employee, recognised at European level. I then attended and followed master’s and training courses for a long period in Frankfurt, where I had the good fortune and honour to learn and improve my skills and cocktail preparation techniques from two sacred masters of the American Bar: French Master Vincent Bertrand and German Master Mark Wagner.

Do you remember your entry into the world of work?

I entered the world of work as a teenager. While studying at the hotel school, I spent my summers working in hotels in the province of Bari. My first experience, and definitely the most significant one, was at the Villa di Bisceglie hotel in the province of Bari. A five-star hotel where I worked as a Commis de Bar. I fondly remember Prof. Scaramuzzi who took me under his wing and taught me many secrets of the trade that I still jealously guard. Those were different times, learning was not easy. Master barmen did not give advice easily and everything you wanted to learn you had to ‘steal’ with your eyes between one service and another. I started with very humble but dignified tasks. I remember that before I could pour my first aperitif or make my first cocktail I must have washed thousands of glasses. But I was a patient, enterprising guy, and the desire to realise my dream paid off in spades. After three seasons as Commis de Bar, I moved on to the role of second barman with more specific duties. I like to remember my experience with singer-songwriter Vasco Rossi, a guest at our hotel. While I was serving breakfast in my room, I received an invitation from Vasco Rossi to play water polo in the hotel pool. We spent the whole night playing together with his band the “Steve Rogers band”, an unforgettable memory. After finishing my studies, and after a period abroad, I returned to Italy and got my first real job in the world of work. In 1992 I was hired at the “Divinae Follie” disco where I was finally able to measure myself against the real challenges typical of our profession. Work organisation, speed, the ability to resolve difficult situations, customer relations, etc. I was entering the dimension to which I had become accustomed. I actually entered the dimension to which I felt I had always belonged.

Was there a particular experience that left a lasting impression on you?

Yes, of course. After my time at the “Divinae Follie” disco – during which I took part in several competitions for barmen, obtaining excellent results – I received several job offers. In 1996 I accepted a very important job at one of the most famous American Bars in the province of Bari, the Blue Music Club in Valenzano, as First Barman. Mr Luigi Lerario, the owner of the bar, gave me carte blanche and told me to equip and stock the bar. It was the opportunity I had been waiting for. My mind travelled back through the streets of the neighbourhood and the rooms of my house: when the imagination of a young boy painted a picture of a future life. I suddenly found myself totally immersed in the world I had always aimed for. It was like becoming a child again and experiencing an ecstatic emotion. I could see my passion taking shape. My small bottles transformed into three hundred references of liqueurs and spirits ready to be served. The great masters, serious and unreachable, would appear and observe me. But now I was one of them. At last I was on the other side of the counter and would carry out my task with the same elegance and professionalism that had fascinated me so much. Together with Mr Luigi, we grew to become one of the most popular and well-stocked restaurants in Bari, and we were able to satisfy every customer request. During my four years of service at the Blue Music Club I grew professionally and in character, learning new mixing and staff management techniques. I had realised my dream, I was to all intents and purposes the professional barman that little Nino had imagined.

What difficulties do you encounter in your profession?

In our sector, as in many others, difficulties exist and must be faced. The relationship with customers can be difficult, you have to be ready, and try to meet the needs of the customer. Obviously, this job entails sacrifices and renunciations. Choosing to work in the hospitality, tourism and entertainment sector means being at the service of the customer on days and at times that do not correspond to the standard of a typical working day. The management of premises and the relationship with one’s collaborators can represent challenges, sometimes difficult to overcome. In our profession we are often subject to change and travel. These situations should not be an obstacle to our career, but should be experienced as a professional and personal enrichment, useful to face and overcome future challenges and obstacles.

How do you overcome difficult moments?

Only through thorough and professional preparation can obstacles and difficulties be overcome. Study, experience, practice, awareness, humility and stubbornness are the indispensable characteristics to face our daily challenges. Inspiration and talent are sometimes not enough if they are not supported by teaching and learning. Passion and love for my work have always helped me throughout my career. Even when everything seems insurmountable, we must remember what drove us to take this path. Find the driving force within us, our passion, our courage and our self-esteem.

The Barman of yesterday and the Barman of today. What has changed?

Things have changed a lot since I started in this business. The liquor and spirits sector has made great strides in the last 30 years. Today we have an unlimited range of references. We have a variety of products from all over the world and of excellent quality. Once we had references such as: Gin London Dry, Gin Bombay, Tanqueray, etc., was like displaying jewellery in a shop window. There were no syrups of any kind or taste; everything was made by hand by the Barman himself. Even the tools underwent a drastic evolution. Just think of the simple “Jigger”, the measuring cup for dosing, or the “Metal Pour”, applied to bottles to balance the pour. None of this was used; it was all the result of teaching and experience. Today, the glassware, the glasses and the bottles themselves have shapes and volumes designed for every need. Even the figure of the barman himself has definitely changed. Yesterday more elegant, more refined, more professional, almost austere. Today it is more dynamic, more colourful, more striking. Two worlds in comparison that I have fortunately been able to observe and experience and from which I continue to absorb old and new skills.

The world of drinks is constantly evolving. New needs and demands are increasingly demanding and sought after. How do you manage to stay up-to-date and current?

As I said before, our sector is constantly evolving. New recipes, new combinations, new fields of application, such as wellness and health. We are studying natural, organic and non-alcoholic cocktails that can be consumed by the majority of people. It is of course very important to keep up to date, to carry out research and to participate in courses and information conventions.

What, according to Gaetano Cutrignelli, is the perfect relationship or behaviour to follow with customers?

Customers should be pampered and catered for as much as possible. Having a cocktail should be a moment of relaxation and pleasure. Sometimes it is necessary to make small compromises on preparation and service. We must not stop at the orthodoxy of the manuals. But we must be creative and accept even the most extravagant requests. The true skill of a professional bartender is also measured by these small adjustments to make our drink and our customer’s experience unforgettable.

You have managed many premises and staff. Your relationship with your staff?

My relationship with colleagues and co-workers has always been excellent. Every action I take, both in my professional and personal life, is based on mutual respect and help. In my career I have had the pleasure of working with people who are more experienced and with young people who are less experienced than me. I have always tried to pass on my knowledge and personal experience. During my apprenticeship, receiving support or concrete help was not so easy. The ‘old’ masters were not used to giving free advice. Everything was ‘stolen’ with the eyes and a lot of patience. Today things have definitely changed and I personally find it very stimulating to be able to teach and share the secrets of this wonderful craft.

What is the perfect drink according to Gaetano?

For me, there is no specific classification of drinks. Each cocktail has its own history, its own ritual of preparation that makes it unique and fascinating. However, if I had to choose, I would say that there are three of my favourites. One is undoubtedly the Daiquiri: a famous cocktail of Cuban origin made of amber rum, cane sugar syrup and lemon juice. I was lucky enough to go to Cuba to study the composition and preparation of this drink, discovering its history, origins and variations. The second is, without a doubt, the Manhattan Cocktail: one of the most famous cocktails in the world. Its recipe is very simple and is based on a mixture of Whisky (preferably Canadian Whisky), Vermouth Rosso (an aromatic wine of Italian origin from the city of Turin) and Angostura (bitter bitter obtained from the infusion of aromatic plants). The Manhattan is served on Cocktail Cups as an aperitif: its flavour, elegance and colours represent the essence of the American Bar style. Lastly, I must mention the world-famous Italian cocktail par excellence, the Negroni: an aperitif cocktail created by Count Camillo Negroni in Florence, served in an old-fashioned glass, composed of red vermouth, Campari bitters and gin. Its unmistakable light red colour is unrivalled in the world and represents the style and liveliness typical of the Italian people.

Often the average consumer matches food exclusively with wine. But there are pre-dinner and after-dinner pairings based on aperitifs and sophisticated cocktails. Why do you think this very important aspect of the restaurant industry is not emphasised?

Cocktails and spirits are generally not paired with food, although this is a mistake. In fact, there are very important studies that aim at refined and selected combinations: Food Pairing. We should not underestimate this aspect and the importance of aperitifs, cocktails and spirits on the process of welcoming, serving and leaving the customer. These drinks welcome, accompany and greet the guest. Here I could give some examples of tried and tested pairings that have been very well received. For example, the famous Daiquiri goes perfectly with a shellfish dish. A Negroni cocktail is ideal during a tasting of selected cheeses. The tequila-based Margarita is best when accompanied by spicy dishes.

What is Gaetano (Nino) Crutrignelli’s secret?

There are no hidden or jealously guarded secrets. The only secret to succeeding in your profession is hard work. I am often asked how to become a professional barman. The only answer I can give is that you can only achieve certain goals through study, passion and dedication. Starting from the bottom, even with the most menial tasks. Observe and respect those who offer us their help. Don’t stop and never think you have arrived. Ours is a constantly evolving sector that requires constant updating and training.

Why did you join the project

I joined your project because I think it is important to tell and share passions and experiences. We often stop and look at images or videos in this digital age. But we do not realise that behind every product or service there is a story, made up of sweat and sacrifice. tells all this, sending out a message aimed at young people and those who want to embark on a career or a high-level professional profession.

Plans for the future?

I love this work and I intend to continue on this path. Together with other colleagues, we are working on a teaching project for young people. Training courses covering the whole chain of catering, hospitality and entertainment. I am fascinated by the idea of being able to pass on to future generations some of the knowledge and experience that has shaped me over these long years of my career.

What advice would you give to young people who want to pursue a career as a barman?

First of all, I advise not to underestimate the study part. A good educational background is the basis for a successful career. Follow more experienced people and respect the teachings they give us. Do not be in a hurry to learn or to reach the top of the pyramid. Everything has its own time. I tell young people not to be afraid to make mistakes, to try and try again. Don’t give up in the face of the first obstacles. Follow your passions with courage and dedication. Transforming a dream into reality is possible and depends only on us and on the strength we have inside.

Interview and writing of Abiti Luciano ; Layout Matteo Durante