MICHELIN Guide Ceremony 1 minute 17 April 2024

Justin Levaughn is the MICHELIN Guide Florida 2024 Exceptional Cocktails Award Winner

From dish washer to award winner, here's the story on Levaughn's journey through the culinary world.

Congratulations to Justin Levaughn of Otto's High Dive, the 2024 MICHELIN Guide Florida Exceptional Cocktail Award Winner!

Initially starting as a busser and dishwasher, Levaughn worked his way through dive bars and clubs to break into the world of cocktails. Since then, the award winner's relationship with cocktails has changed from borrowing inspiration from older bartenders to looking at chef and culinary techniques instead.

Keep reading below for more on the biggest misconceptions about mixology to his ideal meal pairings. Cheers!

How were you introduced to the world of cocktails?

I cut my teeth in this industry in fine dining as a busser and dishwasher. As the years went on, I rose through the ranks, but they would never bring me on as a bartender, so I left and worked at everything from dive bars and venues to clubs in order to earn the experience to get a job behind the bar in a white tablecloth restaurant. Once I took my first visit to PDT in New York back in 2009, I was changed. I’ve never looked back.

How has your relationship with cocktails changed? 

Breaking into this world, I was convinced older bartenders were the supreme source of knowledge. Everything I made had to be inspired by a classic. I’ve since changed that perspective and instead look to chefs and culinary techniques for inspiration. The culinary arts are so much older of a science than cocktails. There’s so much left to be explored outside of the confines of what previous bartenders have accomplished, but I’m glad they paved the way for us.

What’s the biggest misconception about mixology or cocktails in general?

By far it’s the idea that restaurants can be great with an average cocktail program. It’s important that our industry realizes that it must be given the same attention, care, and scrutiny as every other aspect of our establishment. The future of our industry in my opinion is about the complete package, with every detail as important as the next.

Frank Li / Otto's High Dive
Frank Li / Otto's High Dive

What are you drinking these days?

Ti Punch. I love Agricole and I can’t handle the excess of citrus in an abundance of daiquiris anymore (I’m getting old so acid reflux is a thing). For me it’s a perfect cocktail that anyone can make.

Favorite non-alcoholic drink?

I have a great appreciation for fresh, cold-pressed Granny Smith apple juice. It’s naturally a perfect balance of acid and sweet. This also means if you wanted to make it alcoholic, you can simply highball it and it will be delicious with literally any spirit.

How have your cocktail tastes changed over the years?

I’ve grown to really love spirits on their own, across the board. So, I look for cocktails that rely on showcasing and enhancing the spirit as opposed to covering it up. There’s just so many muddy cocktails these days.

What’s your ideal meal and pairing?

Oysters and Mezcal. Agave varietals can be as flavor diverse as grapes. So, picking the right one to pair with the right oyster is magic to me. 

Justin Levaughn
Justin Levaughn

Hero image: Justin Levaughn

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