Meet CAP Red Coat Paige Walwyn

We're highlighting our 2017 CAP Red Coats and their favorite memories from Tales.
Paige Walwyn was a first-time apprentice in Tales of the Cocktail's Cocktail Apprentice Program.

Developed in 2008, the Cocktail Apprentice Program (CAP) offers skilled bartenders the chance to work alongside industry veterans in the high-volume environment at Tales of the Cocktail®. By working directly with seminar presenters, program apprentices hone their skills while simultaneously learning about both the history and future of their craft. After the festival, apprentices are able to apply their new skills to their home and work environments, making the experience of being a CAP member a long-term investment.

This year, the incoming class of Red Coats hails from 19 states and 10 countries, including Kenya, Greece, China, Canada, and the Cayman Islands. Apprentices were selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants based on recipe submissions, teamwork skills, and their level of experience within the industry. The team was selectively chosen in order to promote global diversity and ensure that a balance exists between newer and more experienced professionals.

For more information about the CAP, including bios of this year’s team and information on how to apply for next year, please click here. And now, meet 2017 CAP Red Coat Paige Walwyn from New Brunswick, NJ.

Where do you currently work?

Stage Left Steak and Catherine Lombardi Restaurant in New Brunswick, NJ.

How did you first hear about CAP?

I heard about CAP from my boss Francis Schott. He recommended the program to me, knowing how prestigious it is and thought it would be a good fit for me, knowing I’m looking to become more integrated in the industry.

How was your Tales experience?

The entire Tales experience exceeded my hopes, thoughts, and expectations. The Tales experience was honestly spectacular. New Orleans is the perfect backdrop to the Tales experience because of the amount of history, culture, heartbreak, and triumph. New Orleans in many ways mirrors the trials, tribulations, and accomplishments of the industry.

As for my experience as a CAP, it was indescribable. Two weeks later, it is still difficult for me to put into words the amount of love, support, and mentorship I experienced over the course of one short week. This program has changed me for the better and has reminded me why I love this industry, flaws and all.

What did you learn through this experience?

Communication. I learned about the power of communication and how effective communication can shape an organization for the better. I thought the communication over the course of this week was impeccable.

The CAP program was one of the most organized programs I have ever been involved in. The military set-up of the teams on paper seemed quite odd, but in action, tied everything together and allowed for everything to run smoothly. This system is something I will take with me if I ever plan something to this scale. It allowed for everyone to be accountable and silently made sure nobody was left behind.

I also learned how powerful words can be. I learned to have more awareness in the public eye, especially considering there is always someone watching. The CAP program is diverse and is only getting more and more diverse, which I greatly appreciate!!! I learned how important it is to be aware when talking to people of different cultures and backgrounds. The CAP program also reminded me to check my privilege, and realize that not everyone has access to the same resources I may have access to.

Finally, I learned to be a more compassionate and understanding person. If I never worked behind a bar another day, I would still look at this program as one of the most beneficial and life-changing things I have ever done. It is easy to be nice to the person on the other side of the bar, but it takes a special person to be friendly and supportive to the people you work with so closely 100 percent of the time. It is just assumed, and in many cases accepted, that under high-pressure people will begin to lash out. That was not the case at any point in New Orleans. That positive energy and reaffirming nature, I will keep with me forever.

Would you recommend this experience to other bartenders? Why or why not?

Yes, I would recommend this experience to other bartenders. With that said, I would not recommend this to every bartender because I believe this program is truly not for everyone.

In my opinion, this is for the bartender that is willing to put themselves aside and think bigger picture. I would recommend this to bartenders willing to put their guard down, forget all about the fancy syrups and infusions they are making, forget about their high-end barspoons and shakers, forget the competitions they have entered and won, and just focus. I would recommend it to individuals who strive to meet people from different walks of life, with unique struggles, complex stories, and various inspirations. I would recommend this to anyone who is willing learn everything and anything they can about not necessarily being a better bartender, but being a better person. I would recommend this to people capable of being vulnerable and sharing stories, ideas, and failures with people who are strangers because that is the only way they can become family.

Any favorite memories from TOTC 2017 you'd like to share?

My favorite memory of the entire CAP experience was the discussion on diversity, respectability politics, heteronormative culture, and emotional abuse within the industry. I appreciated the open and honest discussion as well as the safe space created. It was uncomfortable for many but it was necessary to enlighten those who may not deal with oppression, as well as support those, like myself, who do.

It was not a topic I expected to be focused on but the short discussion will stay with me forever. As an African American woman in this industry, there are not many people that look like me. There are situations where I am the only person of color and times in which my accomplishments have been downplayed. It can be a blow to my confidence trying to move forward. I am honored to be in a community that does not welcome these beliefs. This discussion gave me confidence and, more importantly, this discussion helped me start to understand there is a place for me in this industry.

The discussion made me feel more comfortable holding those who I am working with accountable for their actions in uncomfortable situations. It made me realize I did not have to accept certain comments or actions from guests just because I am the bartender.

Lessons like these are uncomfortable, which they should be. There is no right time or place for these discussions, but they must happen. Lessons like this are necessary to achieve our overall goal. Honestly, my only complaint was this discussion was not long enough and I hope that in the future, discussions like this can be held on a larger scale.

Will you be re-applying for next year?

Yes, I definitely plan on reapplying next year, counting down until the applications go live!

What's the best thing you ate (or drank!) during your time in NOLA?

I LOVED the Ya-Ka-Mein! It was everything that I loved and everything that I needed at that point in the week in one bowl. I would eat that everyday if I could.

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