Michael Holiday (he/him) of Washington D.C., affectionately known simply as ‘Holiday‘, was announced the Grand Prize Winner of the Portland Cocktail Week My Way USA Challenge sponsored by Hennessy. After being selected as one of the six Finalists alongside Nigal Vann, Christina Mercado, Mark Coulter, Chandler Tomayko and Bryce Tomberlin, judges were presented all cocktails at a live virtual finale and scored Holiday and his cocktail, The Hennessy Southside, as the Grand Prize Champion. His win will take him to Cognac to experience Hennessy alongside the other finalists and Holiday will also get a featured Guest Bartender Shift in Paris and a full scholarship to Portland Cocktail Week 2022.
Michael is a partner at 600T, a cocktail bar located in Washington, DC. At 600T, Michael focuses on crafting delicious and innovative cocktails. As partner at 600T, Michael has implemented a community building fund raising program “Cocktails with a Conscious”. Through this program, Micheal has partnered up non profit organizations and spirit brands to raise money and awareness through cocktail sales. Michael is also Co-Founder and Platform Curator of Chocolate City’s Best, a non profit that advocates for equity in the hospitality industry by providing mentorship, educational tools, and platforms for exposure in a system of support for the Black and Brown communities.
Michael Holiday speaks on his My Way USA win:
How did the My Way USA competition speak to you?
Hennessy was always present at all of my family’s cookouts and celebrations. Often mixed with apple juice or cranberry juice, I myself preferred the former. Whether at the spades table, the local bar, or at the VIP table of the night club, Chicago summers always included Hennessy and apple juice. Taking the skills that I have acquired, I wanted to create a Hennessy cocktail that represents where I come from, while showing where my passion is taking me. In doing so, I appreciated Hennessy for giving me the opportunity to step into this challenge unmasked, honoring people and memories that mattered the most to me. I started with the idea of Hennessy and apples, but wanted to marry it with the classic cocktail, Garibaldi, so I incorporated the use of a bitter Aperitif along with frothy granny smith apple juice. To further enhance the experience I wanted to pair the raisin, grape, and prune notes with fennel. The final product represents my cultural values, and reminds me of my family tradition, while showing that I will never stop chasing my passions.
You explained in the competition that your previous training as a chef informs your pairings and flavour choices. What made you leap from BOH to FOH?
Although I don’t have any formal training experience as a chef, I have been passionate about cooking since I was seven years old. I grew up a very shy and introverted kid on the Southside of Chicago. Being in the kitchen with my mother, Vanessa Y. Holiday, my uncle, Punch, and my grandparents, equipped me with a way to communicate my emotions to my loved ones. Due to the lack of representation, I did not know that becoming a chef was a successful career path for a Black person. Versions of legitimate success looked more like professional athletes, police officers, doctors, lawyers, etc., so I did not pursue culinary school. But, I continued cooking, reading cookbooks, vistiong spice shops, and going to farmers markets (which were only in the suburbs). Now, things seemed to have come back full circle. I’m a partner at one of the best cocktail bars in D.C., 600T. My team at 600T is my family. The same emotion that was invested in my mothers, uncle, and grandparents’ kitchen is the same love that we are putting into the experience being had at our bar. I feel like my ancestors have been guiding me to this place and time. Despite all the challenges and self doubt, I have found myself pursuing my love and passion in the culinary arts through cocktails and experiences.
Did your experience with Chocolate City’s Best help you prepare for My Way USA? If so, how?
100%, undeniably, definitely, YES! I’m the Co-Founder and Platform Curator at Chocolate City’s Best. The team consists of Kapri Robinson, Denaya Jones-Reid, and myself. Chocolate City’s Best is a platform to enhance the careers of people of color in the food and beverage industry. This is all done by providing these individuals with more accessible doors to opportunities and networking events that will elevate one’s career path. Chocolate City’s Best elevates these career paths through forms of competitions, educational classes, art, panels, and career growth focused workshops. Throughout the growth of our organization, we have developed relationships with amazing mentors, artists, and beverage producers who have all aided in me becoming who I am today. We host Chocolate City’s Best Cocktail Competition annually, which is the first of its kind. The competitors are connected to mentors while engaging in educational seminars, workshops, panel discussions, and competitive activities. The competition focuses on education, skillset and network building. We push the competitors to become the best versions of themselves and equip them with tools needed to shatter all glass ceilings.
What advice do you have for anyone who is on the fence about taking on a challenge like My Way USA?
Success is a combination of preparation and opportunity. Most cocktail competitions come with strict stipulations. Opportunities to create and share your story “your way” are rare. In the food and wine industry as a person of color, you have to advocate for yourself. Challenges like My Way USA give an opportunity to advocate for yourself and open doors of equitable opportunity.
Other than winning the Grand Prize, what are you most proud of regarding your journey in the My Way USA Challenge?
I am a person who appreciates family and community. The PDXCW My Way USA Challenge, sponsored by Hennessy, allowed me to share a part of who I am while honoring the people who guided me here. Through traditions and time shared with friends and family, I was inspired to step out of my introverted nature and allow myself to be vulnerable. I am overwhelmed with emotion when I think about the great potential of our industry together. I am thankful for the PDXCW team, Hennessy, and Thirsty Magazine for allowing bartenders to share our stories through our craft.
What are you looking forward to most about visiting France?
There’s so much to look forward to. This will be my first trip to France. I just completed the WSET Level 3 with my Chocolate City’s Best crew under the tutelage of Rob McCaughey. Having the opportunity to learn more about the fermentation, distillation, and maturation of Hennessy in Cognac is such a privilege. I am looking forward to bringing back that knowledge to share with my community. I’m also looking forward to creating great memories with new friends from around the world. Hopefully they love food as much as I do. I can’t wait to go to all the local markets, such as Marché d’Aligre, and as many great cafés and restaurants as my belly can handle. Visiting local gardens, parks, and of course, The Louvre would be inspirational. When I am trying to create a new experience through cocktails, I am inspired by art, nature, and culture. When creating cocktail experiences I find referring back to these elements enhances the story and design of the cocktail. Oh and, of course, while I’m in France I will be responsibly (wink, wink) sipping Hennessy the entire time I’m there.
The Hennessy Southside
- 2 oz Hennessy V.S.
- 1 oz Salers Aperitif
- 1.5 oz Frothed Granny Smith Apple Juice
- 0.75 oz Fennel Honey Syrup
- 0.5 oz Lemon Juice
- Wild Fennel Sprig
- Apple Slices
Garnished with wild fennel fronds, sliced granny smith apples, and apple fennel foam.
Juice 2-3 Granny Smith apples. Froth apple juice with frother. Build in highball glass over ice. Garnish with wild fennel sprig and sliced apples.
Add 5 grams of Fennel seeds to 50 grams of neutral grain spirit. Mix in a jar. Seal jar and let sit for 48 hours. Strain seeds from liquid with a coffee filter.
Honey Fennel Syrup:
Mix 1 part honey with 1.25 parts boiling water. Add 2.5 ounces of fennel tincture to 10 ounces of warm honey syrup, stir to combine.
Apple fennel foam:
- 3 oz of granny smith apple juice
- 1 ounce of lemon juice
- 2 drops of Organic Fennel Essential oil Supplement
- 1 bar spoon of Sucrose Esters
Method: Mix all ingredients well with frother or immersion blender. Allow mixture to settle.Finally collect the foam from the top of the mixture and place on top of the cocktail.
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