Lauren Mote: Wordly Wise

08 August, 2017


In 2007 she moved west to Vancouver – at the time Canada’s best kept hospitality secret. By now a gastronome, the place was made for her. She landed a role at fine dining restaurant Lumière – which might have had stars if they had Michelin in Canada. “They told me I had to create a menu as inspiring as the food. They didn’t really care what I did, as long as I didn’t mess it up.”

Far from it. But when the restaurant’s legendary chef Rob Feenie unexpectedly left she decided it was time to move too. Goldfish Pacific Kitchen – one of a large group – came next, followed by Chow, a sustainability-focused venue.

Both saw her develop cocktail programmes, but it was at aptly named The Refinery that her skills were honed. In the two and a bit years she was there, The Refinery became known for having one of the most forward-thinking drinks offerings in Canada.

“We did a cocktail menu of 10-12 drinks that changed every six weeks for two and a half years,” Says Mote. Back then, this was unheard of – a bold approach that threw a spotlight on to Mote and her bar. The Refinery was dubbed the Cocktail Kitchen, on account of its house-made bitters, vermouths, infusions and fermentations. It wasn’t that Mote had more budget than any other bar manager, she just had more freedom. “I was a Jill of all trades, I did all the PR, everything.”

Mote is a tour de force. One of those rare creatives with follow-through. Her speech darts from one idea to another, drawing on her passions for drinks science and culinary arts.

It’s what attracted her husband, Jonathan Chovancek, to her. A Vancouver chef with food science leanings, the first day they met it was clear from the outset they would either end up working together or living together. They did both.

Kale & Nori (land and sea lettuces) was their first events company – “we did the ampersand thing before it was hipster” – and then there was their underground restaurant (what better way to use your partner’s unoccupied flat?).

Projects were coming thick and fast. But Bittered Sling – a cocktail bitters firm born from her experiences at Chow and The Refinery – was the one they made count. Mote had been making bitters at The Refinery for some time – not for commercial distribution, just for the bar. But in 2012 they decided to commercialise and launched at the Tales of the Cocktail satellite event which pitched up in Vancouver for a second time in 2012.

With the help of show organiser Ann Tuennerman (“she’s done a lot to help me in my career”) they officially launched their bitters brand, which to Mote’s knowledge is the first Canada-wide range of bitters ever. Riding the Tales platform, they took Bittered Sling to the US, and are now in six markets – and counting.

But back in 2013, the fledgling brand wasn’t quite profitable enough to support two salaries. Mote took a manager’s job at Vancouver bar Uva – again transforming the bar programme – and in 2015 she entered Diageo’s bartender competition, World Class. It was a decision that would transform her career. She won the Canada competition, cementing her reputation as one of the country’s leading bartenders, and competed in the global finals. Mote was too precious for Diageo to give up lightly. Diageo Canada made her an ambassador for World Class and she spent the following year mentoring bartenders and promoting the competition nationally. Her background in drinks science, food, business, bartender training and programme creation made her good at it. Diageo agreed.

Mote still part-owns Bittered Sling with her husband but that’s now down to him to run. Right now, she faces the small matter of telling the world about cocktails. She’ll likely be good at that too.

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