We sat down with Parker Luthman of Providence’s the Eddy and the Dean Bar to chat about his work, cocktail competitions, and his cocktail for February’s Daijoubu Box, the Seoulful Sour!
S&S: How did your journey lead to the Dean Bar?
PL: So, I first started bartending at the Eddy in 2016, right after I graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Entrepreneurship. Throughout college, my plan was to study Culinary Arts after earning my B.B.A., but I actually decided against it in my senior year. I ended up falling in love with the beverage industry, and found an internship at the Eddy during my final trimester, and that led into a full-time prep position and part-time bartender position right away. I had an amazing mentor who taught me everything from square one, since I had zero experience, and I was fortunate enough to earn a full-time bartender position there for the past 3 years. When I heard that the Dean Bar was taking over a previously-established cocktail bar in the Dean Hotel, I was very interested in the opportunity to build their cocktail program and team. I was initially brought on as a consultant, but this quickly led to me becoming a part of their team, while also assisting as their head bartender for the cocktail program.
S&S: What is your creative process typically like during recipe formulation?
PL: My background in cocktails really revolves around classic cocktails. These were obviously the first recipes that I learned in the beginning of my career, and understanding the different styles of cocktails was really important to me. I’ve taken this foundation and use it as the wireframe for my cocktails today. Typically, I focus on an ingredient or a flavor that I really want to showcase, and then I create little diagrams in my notebook as I research and find classic flavor pairings for that ingredient. I also always try to find one unexpected ingredient that will surprise someone when it’s found on the menu. I then decide which style of cocktail I think will have the best structure and format needed to prioritize the flavor that I am trying to set as the star of the cocktail. After that, the rest is just trial and error until I am satisfied with the overall composition of the cocktail. It sounds super complicated, but it’s typically just a lot of bad recipes that eventually turn around.
S&S: The savory elements in your Seoulful Sour really stand out! How did you come to choose those particular Korean flavors?
PL: I really just wanted to create a cocktail that would pair well with Korean Fried Chicken or that could act as a banchan, or side dish to a family meal. The cocktail obviously needed some spice, so the ingredient I focused on was gochujang, an essential Korean red chili paste. I also knew I wanted it to incorporate vinegar in some way, and the Som cordial was the perfect addition to add enough zing and a tropical note. The rest of the ingredients honestly just fell into place, as they are very common in Korean pantries as well.
S&S: Does the cocktail’s name have any particular meaning or resonance?
PL: When I was born in South Korea, I was premature, three pounds, and abandoned. For six months, I was raised in a foster home in Seoul where they cared for me and got me to a proper weight. When I was adopted by my beautiful family, my foster parent flew with me to deliver me in person to my new parents in the United States. I chose this name because it is my way of showing respect to those in Seoul who worked hard to provide me with an opportunity for a better life, and as a reminder to myself that I carry that responsibility to be the best version of myself each and every day as thanks to them.
S&S: What an amazing story! And what would you say is your favorite thing about the Seoulful Sour?
PL: That it is extremely approachable for those who may have never tried these ingredients previously. The spice isn’t too aggressive, and the vinegar cordial lends a small amount of zestiness from the acetic acid that makes you want to drink more. I literally dipped a spring roll into it when I made it, and it honestly worked, so its ability to pair with many different types of food also excited me greatly.
S&S: Are there any particular food pairings that you would recommend to go with the Seoulful Sour?
PL: Korean Fried Chicken (duh)! Korean BBQ. Stone Pot Bibimbap. Beef Bulgogi. Really any Asian meal that leans towards the richer side, as this cocktail reminds me of your typical dipping sauces.
S&S: What’s your favorite thing to drink with Korean food?
PL: I really do enjoy a nice cold beer with Korean food. The dishes are usually so intensely flavored, and you’re usually eating numerous things at the same time. Therefore, all I want is something super clean and carbonated to help wash it all down before I go for the next dish, while appreciating the complexity in the food instead.
S&S: The Daijoubu mission is partly about bettering the bar industry representationally. What are some of your personal goals as you navigate your career?
PL: Goals have always been a very foreign concept to me, especially in my career. I mean I tend to focus on my own growth and education a lot, but I really enjoy going with the flow. I haven’t been in this industry for a long time, and I am honestly still discovering who I am as a person, so I’d say that my main goal in my career is to take every opportunity that I find, while also ensuring that I am representing myself properly as a queer and adopted Korean American.
S&S: Would you say your experiences participating in bartending competitions have helped you out behind the bar?
PL: I think that bartending competitions are excellent opportunities for bartenders to test themselves. You have these opportunities to create something that is entirely yours, and you get to present it to a panel of industry veterans. That alone forces you out of your comfort zone, and you have the chance to compare yourself to others in your industry. That can be a very humbling experience at times, and it teaches you a ton of lessons that you can take back to your bar. I used to be so incredibly nervous in front of every guest because I was very insecure that I wouldn’t be able to communicate well with them, but competing in various cocktail competitions have helped me become more confident behind the bar, and most importantly, these experiences have taught me how to be level-headed at all times. They also taught me to focus on enjoying the moments in front of you, because sometimes that’s all you need to do.