Open that Bottle...with Jimmy Nguyen
Jimmy Nguyen was born and raised in Calgary by his mom, who had immigrated with just $20 in her pocket, and while it was a tough upbringing, he credits it with turning him into the person he is - upbeat, and trying to please everyone around him. It has had lasting effects; whether it’s work or a hobby, he goes hard into it – 100 percent.
After school, Nguyen took Open Studies and worked in security at The Stampede, which led to a stint with the Calgary Highlanders for a few years. Unsure of his path, and still trying to please his mom, Nguyen applied to Mount Royal University for a degree in public health and physical education, and left the military. “They gave me the ultimatum,” he says, “either you stay in the military or you go to school.”
Nguyen had been a bodybuilder; he competed, but had seen “Pumping Iron” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, where they took ballet classes for their posture. After his first class at the School of Alberta Ballet he was hooked, and dropped bodybuilding, training hard to get on stage. He performed three times in California, where he spent his last two years of university, as an intern with Sonoma County Public Health.
Needing to pay off his student loans, Nguyen had lied his way into becoming a bartender, working his way up through pubs and bars, eventually to The Nash. “It was a good time because Lauren Mote created the bar program, and she's got the most amazing palate on this planet,” says Nguyen. “I figured cocktailing might be for me. And I got to experience the food.”
“So then I needed to teach myself how to cook, teach myself knife skills, and do everything to become good at it,” he adds. To be the best, Nguyen competed, and while it started a little rocky, ultimately he qualified, and it snowballed. “I qualified for The Most Imaginative Bartender with Bombay Sapphire, I got to the Nationals, I got to the Regionals for Bacardi Legacy, and regionals for World-Class. And then all of a sudden I hit a wall.”
From the Nash, Nguyen had moved around, working at Whitehall restaurant before going to Sonoma County, opening up Dean House on his return, back to Sonoma County, and back to Dean house, before taking a break from restaurants altogether and running a bike store. “I love, love, love cycling, it's therapeutic,” he explains. “It’s always going to be part of my life, I'm obsessed.”
“After my hiatus I got back into the bar industry, and into a corporate role with WestJet, opening up the new lounge at the airport.” But then along came Porch: “It aligns with me because I don't want to take myself too seriously,” he says. “It's been an adventure, as we all highly underestimated what it was capable of. It holds 300, and it's fast-paced. I need to get those drinks out fast, and to make sure my guests are happy.”
So what is Nguyen’s special occasion bottle?
“Anyone that knows me knows that I absolutely love, love, love wine. I'm not a sommelier, but I do enjoy a great bottle,” he says. “This is a jeroboam, perfect for a bottle I can store for five to eight years, and it’s from Champagne Duménil. The grapes were actually growing over a lot for peach trees, and you still have that reminiscence of those peaches there. I love bubbles and champagne is my favourite thing - if you offered me a glass of champagne, I will drink it,” he continues. “It's just beautiful to see the influence of something in the past still have an influence on a bottle today. I like to have a story behind every bottle that I drink.”
When might he open this bottle? “I like to host guests at my place and cook as well, and for the right people I'll open it then,” says Nguyen. “A jeroboam is four bottles, so if I'm going to have four guests - I think a person can have a bottle to themselves.”