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Brand Ambassador Envy

When I grow up, I want to be a brand ambassador. Travel around the world talking about a product that you theoretically love while getting paid. I observe them at launch parties, promotional events, tours and dinners. Their job is to seamlessly orchestrate their part of the event with the message.


Recently I’ve been to several promotions of spirits and food which have differed widely in scope and theme—from 1920s Havana at the Bacardi Bar with Facundo, Cognac in the gym with GM Titanium and Malaysian food in the kitchen. In their diversity, the orchestration of these events reminded me of the various parts of a symphony.


Allegro/Speed launch: GM Titanium Cognac

The folks at House of Marnier Lapostolle selected mixed martial arts champion Cain Velasquez as brand ambassador for GM Titanium. Velasquez is the first Latino to win the world heavyweight title in any major combat sport and is a two-time and current champion. Makes sense when the tag line is, “Show off your inner titan.”


For a big, tall man, Velasquez moves like lightening. I know because we “sparred” with him. The Bay Area launch of GM Titanium was held at Velasquez’s home gym in San Jose. The champ spent a half hour training with media, mixologists and bar owners in the gym room. He critiqued our attempts at the three moves he demonstrated. My favorite was the chest push-leg wrap. Though my husband nearly knocked me over when he tried it on me, the champ applauded my efforts, no doubt inwardly laughing.


Polite, respectful, strong, sweaty—an appropriate combo for an ambassador at the top of his game and passionate about the new GM Titanium. The spirit has a base of Grand Marnier spiced up with wild tropical orange essence, Asian calamansi citrus and a unique five-spice blend, rounded out by exceptionally smooth Cognac.




After the sparring, we lined up for some GM Titanium cocktails which included a “Cain and Stormy” with GMT, ginger beer and lime juice and the GMT Muy Thai with GMT and orgeat syrup and punch with cinnamon bark syrup, pineapple and apple juice.
I asked Velasquez about his early drinking experience. “My Dad gave me sips of tequila and I spit it out. In high school we bought the cheapest stuff available. I’ve tried many spirits since then, but I like GM Titanium. When I’m not training (he doesn’t drink eight weeks prior to a fight), I like Titanium and pineapple juice.”


I liked his honesty. He wasn’t trying to be a mixologist. The official press release stated that he drank GMT with juice and bitters. But Velasquez and his wife Michelle don’t need the fancy shmancy bitters, only the spirit and juice. I liked the GMT Muy Thai, but my husband went straight for the on-the-rocks version.

Adagio/Slower launch: Facundo luxury rum collection

In this warp speed world, it took the Barcardi family only 151 years to develop a group of four high-end sipping rums. Founded in 1862, the company launched the  Facundo Collection in Miami and New York in 2013, but it took a year for the brand to hit San Francisco. On a rooftop event space in the financial district, the ultimate brand ambassador, Facundo L. Bacardi, Chairman of Bacardi Limited and the great-great grandson of the Company's founder, spoke about the conception of the Facundo collection. “There were 800 family members at the 150th anniversary of Bacardi. Several of us agreed, ‘It’s time to make something special. Facundo is not a commercial product in our usual sense; this is homage to the founder, a tinkerer of recipes and innovator”


The brand and the bottle are all about history. Master Blender Manny Oliver, a 38-year Bacardi veteran, served as a fount of technical and historical knowledge—tasted me through the four rums. The bottle of the first entry, Neo, is a blend of rums aged up to eight years portrays the original El Edificio Bacardi building in Havana as a relief sculpture in the glass.  The Exquisito bottle for the blend of younger seven-year and matured 23-year rums is etched in jazz age designs evoking the Havana Riviera when Cuba was La Tropicale playground.


I wanted to sip the top-end Paraiso all afternoon. Presented in a Cognac-style bottle, Paraiso is a blend of dark rums aged up to 23 years, filtered and then aged in French XO casks. The rum was deep and rich with notes of chocolate and caramel, my favorite food groups.


Then I met Juan Coronado, the brand ambassador mixologist at the bar. I enjoyed watching Coronado at his craft. His demeanor was calm, poised and professional—as if this was the most important bartending job in the world. And he was approachable when queried about the rums. Not surprisingly, he, too, appreciated sipping the Paraiso and didn't over sell the cocktails


Formerly a key beverage player with The Food Group, Coronado spoke with respect of the Bacardi family and the Facundo sipping rums, the Paraiso and Exquisito. The two younger brands work as sippers as well cocktail mixers, he said, and I agreed. The Eximo Old Fashioned with the 10-year rum, honey syrup and Burlesque Bitters and the Neo Old Fashioned with a sugar cube and Boston Bittahs were both smooth drinks.


Minuet/Stately, rhythmic demo: The Malaysia Kitchen


How does a minuet translate to food? Easy, when it applies to chef and cookbook author Christina Arokiasamy the brand ambassador for “Made in Malaysia” food or Malaysia Kitchen as marketed by the country’s trade commission. The fifth generation of spice merchants, Arokiasamy cooks, studies and teaches the world of Malaysian spices and food from her home base in Seattle.


Recently she gracefully twirled her way through her cooking demo at Betelnut San Francisco to demonstrate spicing and Malaysian cooking techniques in a delicious spicy chili shrimp. She started out with the headline for the evening: The National Restaurant Assoc. named Malaysian food as one of the top three trending flavors in the U.S. for 2014.


After dispensing with the formalities, she segued to hands-on cooking with the sure rhythm of an experienced chef. She highlighted the array of spices and herbs from her native kitchen: coriander, galangal, curry leaves, kaffir lime leaves, star anise and turmeric.  She then served as dinner mentor, explaining how the Betelnut chefs cooked up tasty curry laksa, ayam goreng and beef rendang sliders according to her recipes with the food products    


I immediately felt an affinity for Malaysian food when Arokiasamy exclaimed, “We Malaysians are obsessed with food. At breakfast, we think of lunch; at lunch, it’s all about dinner planning.” Then Arokiasamy delivered a cut-to-the-chase description of the Malaysian Kitchen offerings: “Sure, you can cut and chop for hours, but why bother? These spice mixes and sauces are natural and well made.”


The Lingham’s chili sauce with the shrimp made me smile. I’m not a spice girl, but the preservative free sauce with red chilies, sugar, vinegar and salt brought piquancy to the dish without overpowering it. Usually I avoid most foods with sriracha, but the sriracha lemon granita with oysters was delightfully refreshing. Another product which grabbed my attention was Brahim’s sambal tumis sauce with its tangy finish for stir-fried green beans.


One last point about Arokiasamy. Her culinary knowledge and genuine interest in sharing her heritage bubbled through the entire evening. And I will always remember how to say her name. After she shared the positive trend line for her homeland’s food, she gave us the key to remembering her name: Arrow-Kia-Sammy. I wish more folks could simplify an entire cuisine or beverage and their own name as effectively as Arokiasamy.


Photo credit: Deborah Grossman



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