Tiffanie Barriere started making cocktails on her parents’ porch in South Central Louisiana when she was 5 years old. Sorbet, cognac, lemon juice or anything that was in the house were the ingredients she used to whip up cool summer drinks for her family and folks in the neighborhood.
“We did a lot of porch parties,” Barriere told The Root as she prepared and served cocktails to attendees at the Iconoclast Dinner Experience at the James Beard House in New York City on Saturday afternoon, of which The Root is the official media sponsor. “People would come over like a potluck and we would make a big pitcher or fishbowl of cocktails. And of course, I was sipping and drinking it as a little girl. I can’t front.”
As a young child, Barriere learned that drinking was communal. Where there is food, there is drink, and she always felt that the drinks should be prepared as well as the food that people were eating.
Making people happy with drink started off as a childhood hobby, which quickly turned to a habit and, eventually, a job.
She started bartending part time in college while going to school for marketing at the University of Houston. Unsure of what she wanted to do after earning her degree, she asked her professor for advice.
“What do you like to do? Market what you love,” the professor advised.
“I like to drink,” Barriere replied.
“You know there is a job in that,” the professor told her, and she has been marketing the culture of drink since.
Barriere, based in Atlanta, started work in the culinary world full time 10 years ago. Her first bartending gig was at LongHorn Steakhouse, but her break came in 2008 when chef Duane Nutter opened a new restaurant called Southern National in Mobile, Ala. After that, she started working as a “programmer,” helping restaurant owners and brands with their drinking experiences.
Barriere often goes to a restaurant and looks at its bar and its menu, exploring ways that the experience can be improved. Her question tends to be, “How do you want your dining experience to look beyond the plate?”
She doesn’t have her own bar, and that is by choice.
“I don’t think I’m ready to have a bar yet,” Barriere said. “It’s too much out here to be sitting at one bar. Why make people come to me when I can go to them?”
Lezli Levene Harvell, the founder of the Iconoclast Dinner Experience, started the event in 2015 to showcase people of color in the culinary world. And the event also provides a safe space for people of color to talk about the politics of life that often accompany the dinning experience.
In the tight backyard of the James Beard House in New York City, people were talking about the gentrification of their neighborhoods and Donald Trump. A few gentlemen debated where LeBron James would end up next season. Last week, Levene Harvell hosted a conversation about how food can gentrify a neighborhood.
While people sipped on one of Barriere’s signature cocktails named “the Fruit of Generosity”—a mix of Sacred Bond, Domaine de Canton, melon, lemongrass, mint, blood orange and Pama foam—they were nibbling on masala lamb tartare with curry-leaf ginger vinaigrette, made by chef Preeti Mistry; hot-pepper soup made by Zoe Adjonyoh; and other dishes made by chefs from around the nation and throughout the world.
The afternoon event was $150 per ticket. The dinner, which followed in the evening, sold tickets ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 for a seven-course meal, and 100 percent of the net profits will benefit Spelman College students from Jamaica and sub-Saharan countries.
This was Barriere’s first Iconoclast Dinner Experience. and she understood the importance of it. To be a black female bartender and culinary consultant at an event like this affirmed her place in the industry, she said.
“It’s rewarding. It’s humbling,” she said. “We’ve been doing it. Right now, where the world is, with race, gender and sensitivity, and elevation of women of color in general, it’s right on time.”