When Trio Restaurant’s Sherman Chan walked into the Purple Palm Restaurant at the Colony Palms Hotel to compete in the first Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship on Nov. 17, she brought with her a secret weapon: an extensive culinary pedigree, including stints in the kitchens of multiple Michelin-star restaurants.
“I really appreciate cocktails’ flavor aspect,” she said. “It’s not just about booze; it’s about aromatics, everything.”
Chan, 29, was born in Hong Kong, and has lived most of her life in big cities—Toronto, New York and the like. She’s always been intrigued by food, and was all set to study at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she said. However, before she left, she was challenged by her mother to work in a kitchen for a month to make sure she enjoyed it.
“I was working with an old-school chef, and he said that I didn’t need culinary school; he’d teach me,” she said.
Chan wound up working at some of the world’s most renowned restaurants: L’atelier de Joel Robuchon (three Michelin stars); Caprice in Hong Kong (two Michelin stars); and the Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley (three Michelin stars).
She came to the Coachella Valley in January 2012 to take a temporary job at the Parker Palm Springs, because the Restaurant at Meadowood was going through a month-long closure.
“I didn’t want to be on unemployment for a month,” she said.
She was only planning on staying for three months—in fact, she had her next job lined up in San Francisco. However, she became smitten with the desert.
“I love the weather, and it’s waaaaay cheaper to live here,” Chan laughed. “It’s a great place to live.”
She helped open the late, lamented Jiao, where she was a consultant and sous chef. Shortly thereafter, she started hankering for a chance to be in the front of the house, and she decided to take a job tending bar at Palm Desert Country Club.
“I thought I might as well start working the front of the house and see how it was,” Chan said, adding that the money is often better in the front. She actually started the process of moving behind the bar while she was in Napa, taking an online course from BarSmarts.
After Jiao, Chan spent time at a variety of well-respected local restaurants, in both the kitchen and at the bar—Escena, Tonga Hut, the Westin Mission Hills, Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise, So.Pa at L’Horizon and Mastro’s Steakhouse.
In December 2015, she started working part-time at Trio. Turns out she’d found a home: The fun energy at Trio, she said, made her eventually quit another part-time job to work full-time there.
“In hospitality, it’s really easy to work in a lot of places where you don’t feel like you belong,” Chan said. “I am so happy I got the opportunity to work here. Plus, the business is expanding, and they treat the staff really well.”
At Trio, she’s added a lot of variety and nuance to the cocktail menu. She brought the Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship trophy to Trio with her “Bulleit Proof” drink, a combination of Bulleit Bourbon, grapefruit juice, honey syrup, lime, Peychaud’s bitters, ginger beer and rosemary.
“I really enjoy the whole bartending thing,” she said. “I get to create something and have guest interaction. It’s fun being a conductor of someone’s evening.”
Trio Restaurant is located at 707 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. For more information, call 760-864-8746, or visit triopalmsprings.com.