Interview with Max Borrowman


Bartender | Torafuku| Vancouver

Growing up near the wineries of the Okanagan in a family where food and drink was important helped Max Borrowman develop a fine palate from a young age. He began in the industry as a bar-back but was quickly promoted to bartender at the Hotel Eldorado in Kelowna. Next was Earls’ bustling patio where he learned speed and efficiency. University sent Max to Victoria where he landed a fine dining gig at Oak Bay Marina Restaurant designing his first cocktail list and learning the standards of high-end service. Since then he has travelled, competed in several cocktail competitions, and gotten more involved in the bartending community. Most recently he competed in Diageo World Class- the World’s most prestigious cocktail competition. Now he is the Bar Manager at the highly anticipated Torafuku restaurant in Chinatown where he is designing a delightfully refreshing Asian-inspired cocktail list.

You can follow Max on Instagram @maxborrowman

How did you end up becoming a Bartender?

I was a student in university and I wanted to make more money to pay for the crazy tuition fees. I started at Earl’s in Kelowna, moved to Victoria and worked at a fine dining establishment, then moved off to Vancouver where I really got into cocktails.

Tell our readers about creating Asian inspired cocktails

Asian style cocktails are new to me since working at Torafuku. I wanted to match the strong flavours of the food. With each cocktail on my list I try to match that boldness with acidity, or sweetness. Sometimes tart cocktails work as well. From there I just try to keep either the theme or the ingredients Asian. Things like muddled lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, turmeric syrup, and yuzu juice work well.

What are some of the unique cocktails your customers have asked you to make?

I’m often asked to make people a really good Old Fashioned. At Torafuku I make an Old Fashioned Syrup with palm sugar, Angostura bitters, tamarind, and Szechuan pepper. These ingredients work very nicely with Straight Rye Whiskey. People seem to love that cocktail.

What goes into creating a new cocktail? What inspires you?

Often I create a cocktail for the season. Right now fall is inspiring me so I’ve been playing with butter, different sugars, dark strong beers, and whiskey. From there, I play with the proportions of the ingredients in the cocktail until I achieve the right balance. No one wants to drink something too sweet and no one wants anything too bitter either.

What is your philosophy on food and drinks?

I love anything that tastes good. I don’t care how it arrived there I just want it to taste awesome. I believe food is something that should be accessible as well. Places that charge an arm and a leg for dishes are just not my thing. I understand their place in society but I rarely attend places like that. A few of my favourite restaurants right now are Fable, Farmer’s Apprentice, and Fat Mao. They are all good, they aren’t overly expensive, and the service is friendly and warm. It’s chill and unpretentious.

What are some of your favourite foods/dishes?

All time favourite food is burger and fries. Plenty of good ones in this city.

Right now favourite food is congee. I hadn’t tried it until recently but it’s now on the menu at Torafuku and they do a phenomenal job with it.

Where do you get your inspiration to create your cocktails at Torufuku?

I get my inspiration from going out and seeing what other places are doing. Keefer Bar has an excellent style of Asian cocktail making for example. I might see an ingredient on a cocktail list that I’ve never heard of. That usually makes me want to know everything about that ingredient so I research it and try making stuff with it. Trial and error folks, Lots of trial and error lol.

What type of drinks do you like personally?

I love the classics: Manhattans and Margaritas are some of my favourite cocktails. I love a good Daiquiri or Pisco Sour too.

If you weren’t a bartender, what would you be doing?

Not too sure. I think I would work at either a distillery or a brewery. I have too much passion for all things liquid to not be involved in some way.

What are the most unique ingredients you have used to create a cocktail?

Recently I made a cocktail that uses strawberry and butter infused gin, Cream of Earl grey tea, and five spices each in their own individual tinctures. Very time consuming but thankfully the resulting cocktail was delicious.

What is your favourite cocktail personally?

Not sure what this question means but I generally like people in our industry who are either humble and wonderful when sitting at their bar or people who I can learn and grow from. People who come to mind are Shaun Layton, Lauren Mote, and Julia Diakow.

By: Richard Wolak