Meet Your Neighbor: Travis Childers
If you get the chance to step foot in our Austin locations (and we hope you do), you’ll feel a gravitational pull to the Prim & Proper bar. It anchors the entire store, with a backlit, domed ceiling that reminds one of the room in a science museum where they project planets and constellations.
Often, you can find Chef Travis behind this bar, experimenting with new craft cocktails or getting guests excited about his favorite item on the menu. He doesn’t just give you the drink you order, but he makes it a point to tell you about the care and craft that went into creating the beverage, the balance between art and science. From being recruited by a Top Chef contestant to utilizing fire to establish new flavor profiles, Travis is a man of many talents and many tales.
At Neighborhood Goods, stories form the backbone of who we are and why we do what we do. The narrative every Storyteller, bartender, and chef has to tell is as important as the founding stories behind our brands. Chef Travis is one story, out of many, that deserves to be told and we’re excited for you to get to know him.
Travis behind our bar at Prim and Proper on South Congress.
Can you tell us about your experience in the restaurant world?
I started cooking when I was nineteen. I went to culinary school and worked in fine dining in Anchorage, Alaska. While I was there, I met the chef that was the runner up in season two of Top Chef when he was doing some volunteer work. He gave me a call a couple weeks later and said, “Hey, I got a deal and we’re opening a new place.” He asked me to move to New York and be his grill cook. I jumped at the opportunity to leave Alaska and go to New York. [Later], I moved back to Seattle where most of my family is and began working in culinary research and development. Eventually, I started my own restaurant in California for five years before beginning with Neighborhood Goods.
“My dog Tofu loves this and we also got her the pink collar from Wild One.”
What interests you about craft cocktails? Why do you find them so engaging?
I like cocktails for the same reason I like food. It’s always fun to play with flavors and surprise people. They’re quick to make. They’re quick to drink. They’re a short, little snapshot of a flavor. When it comes to developing stuff, there’s a lot of things to test. If you want to test a new food recipe, it might take you an hour or a couple days, depending on what you’re doing. But with a cocktail you can try something in two minutes and make adjustments on the fly.
Bartending is fun because it’s halfway between the front and back of house. You're obviously customer facing but you're also making things for the guests and getting immediate feedback. I like that you have the opportunity to work with the guests and try new stuff.
“I like cocktails for the same reason I like food... They’re quick to make. They’re quick to drink. They’re a short, little snapshot of a flavor.”
When you are creating a new cocktail, do you feel like you are relying more on your artistic skills or is it more of a scientific process?
It’s definitely both. When I’ve trained other bartenders to develop their own cocktails, there’s always this same pattern: At first they get really excited and want to put a whole bunch of ingredients together or use products they’ve never used before. All creativity without science. Those cocktails tend to have fifty ingredients but don’t necessarily work. As they get more used to making drinks, they start to realize that everything has a template. There’s really only so many categories of cocktails that everything falls into. Once you learn that, it’s really easy to make a cocktail that is delicious right off the bat, without needing to play with a bunch of different things.
You’ve got the Sour for example, which is almost always two ounces of booze, one ounce of citrus, and one ounce of simple syrup. But, you can take that basic recipe and swap out the simple syrup for a liqueur and work with different citruses or different combinations. You can do a shrub, which is a vinegar infusion, and use that instead of your citrus or you can change up your primary liquor. If you take a Sour that’s tequila, use limes juice, swap your simple syrup for orange liqueur, then you have a margarita. Most of the cocktails fall into categories like that and when you start to learn the science behind it, it’s a lot easier.
On the science side, there’s a lot of the things that you can do with cocktails that guests get to see. One of my favorite things to do is if I do a flaming drink, I’ll put herbs in the glass, like a thyme sprig and 151 rum. Guests get to see you light something on fire but you’re also roasting those herbs and creating a new flavor profile. In all of the drinks that I’ve developed, nothing is for show and everything has a purpose.
“I bought this for my wife, who was born in Russia.”
What are some of the items on the menu that you are most proud of?
The Cure is probably my favorite. It has turmeric which is a really popular ingredient right now and it’s got just the right amount of spice to it. The biggest thing is the color, you can tell right away when you serve it to a guest they are surprised. People see it from across the room. It’s a bright neon, orangish-yellow and definitely stands out.
The Cure from Prim and Proper, made with turmeric-infused Ford’s Gin, lime, ginger, shishito pepper, and Thai basil.
“In all of the drinks that I’ve developed, nothing is for show and everything has a purpose.”
As far as the development that we’ve gotten to do, I’ve really enjoyed working on the vegan cheese board. We are making our vegan cheese in-house, instead of sourcing it. This isn’t something I’ve done before but when I started going out and shopping around, there weren’t a lot of places producing it and it was really really expensive. It’s actually not that difficult to make.
"We use in the restaurant and I really like the clean look."
What’s one of the most rewarding parts of your job?
This is probably kinda cheesy, but I always like taking the opportunity to make guests smile and give people a good experience. When you go out to eat it’s a chance for you to take a break from the rest of your life, you’re not at work, you’re not at home. I love walking into the busy din of a full dining room, with forks clicking on porcelain, and people laughing and having a good time; I enjoy being a part of giving that experience to people.
How to make Prim and Proper’s The Cure
2 oz Turmeric-Shishito-infused Gin (see below)
1 oz Lime Juice
1 oz Ginger Syrup (see below)
3 each Thai Basil Leaves
Prep for Turmeric-Shishito-infused Gin:
1 Liter Ford's Gin
1/4 lb Shishito peppers
1 tsp Ground Turmeric
Combine all ingredients and allow to infuse for 48 hours, then strain.
Prep for Ginger Syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sliced ginger
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over high heat. Once sugar is dissolved transfer to a blender and blend for 1 minute, then strain and allow to cool.
- In a shaker, combine all ingredients
- Top with ice and shake
- Fill an old fashioned glass with ice
- Strain cocktail into glass
- Garnish with a shishito pepper and Thai basil