Saberman Antonio Palomares

It’s no different than that suspended state of nothingness that athletes try to describe. 

It’s a perfect blend of concentration and muscle memory, but detached somehow, like the performer is not even thinking.

They call it the zone.

It’s when everything goes flawlessly, but better still, the performer knows it’s going to go flawlessly even before it does.

“It’s like playing golf a little bit,” said Antonio Palomares, Kauai Grill general manager who knows the feeling so well, it landed him a Guinness World Record. “It’s like when you hit the ball and it just feels right.”

But Palomares’ instrument wasn’t a golf club, it was a saber, which he used to slice open 31 bottles of champagne in 45 seconds at the Taste of Hawaii in Kapaa in June. He had been flirting with the record for the last couple of years. It was a feat he learned six years ago out of chance while working at the St. Regis in Aspen, Colorado. He was working in room service then, when a manager asked if he wanted to give it a try. It’s exactly as it sounds. You open a full bottle of champagne by slicing it.

“You want to try?” the manager asked.

“Absolutely,” Palomares said.

“He showed me how to do it, so I started,” Palomares said, remembering his first attempt went well, which he called “rookie luck.”

Intrigued, he started practicing at his home, hammering on bottles of cider.

“I didn’t want it to get too expensive,” he said of the substitute drink.

And soon, the Mexico City native found a science to it. He looked at the bottle as being built in three parts: two sides and the bottle’s top, what he calls the lips. The bottles had to be chilled and full to create the ideal pressure inside the body and the saber had to come down at a perfect 45 degree angle on one side of the bottle’s lips.

The perfect slice, and the pressure pushes any shards of glass outward, away from the drink. And it remains still. The bottle doesn’t wobble.

“If you hit the bottle too aggressive, it shakes,” he said. “If you hit it perfectly, it’s a pretty still, quiet experience.”

Every evening, Palomares opens bottles that way for guests at the St. Regis resort in Princeville, and the looks on their faces range from awed to excited. Last year, Palomares matched the record of 26 during the 2013 Taste of Hawaii, so he went in with the mindset to capture the record, incorporating a couple of self-taught lessons along the way.

“I kept a towel in my back pocket to dry my hands,” he said. “Last year, my hands got too wet.”

But the chef isn’t resting on his laurels. In fact, there’s talk of the resort putting on another record-breaking attempt later this summer. Palomares’ motto is “I can always do one more bottle,” which means he wants to put the record out of reach. Legend says the practice started when Madame Clicquot, who inherited her husband’s small champagne house at the age of 27, used to entertain Napoleon’s officers in her vineyard. The officers would open their gifted bottles with their saber to impress the rich young widow. History aside, it’s a practice that is tradition at all the St. Regis outlets, from New York to Miami and, of course, Kauai.

“A ritual,” Palomares called it.

But as far as the world record goes, Palomares said he’s still getting used to it.

The 30-year-old was recognized recently while buying juice at a Kapaa store.

“You’re the guy from opening the bottles of champagne,” a fellow patron said.

“It is actually really, for sure, a new feeling,” said the 18-month Kauai resident, who also worked at Park City, Utah, and the St. Regis Bahia Beach in Puerto Rico. “Even my wife was giggling, you know, like I was a rock star.”

This week,The Garden Islandcaught up with Palomares to learn a little bit about  the master saberman.

 

The Garden Island: Where are you from, and how did you get to be employed with St. Regis?

Antonio Palomares: I was born and raised in Mexico City, In the summer of 2008 I applied for a management training position at the St. Regis Aspen were I was selected and started my career with Starwood hotels and resorts.

TGI: How did you get involved with cooking? Was it something you were interested in since childhood, or did you grow to love it?

AP: Well, when I was I teenager I always wanted to be a chef, during high school, my father got me a job in a one of his friends restaurants to see if that was what I really like it, and I found out that I love the restaurant but not really be behind the scenes. So I focus on managing restaurants and the front of the house duties.

TGI: Who inspires you? What cooks or types of cooking do you look up to?

AP: My family, my wife and the person that I want to be one day.

TGI:  Do you remember the first time you tried to saber a bottle? How did it go?

AP: Of course it was back in Aspen. The room service captain and the director of outlets of the restaurant did a little show for all the staff members and asked if someone wanted to try so I raised my hand and it went very well, probably rookie luck.

TGI:  Did you ever think you’d be a world record holder for opening bottles with a saber?

AP: No, not really, I was just doing it more for the fun and to show people a little bit of the traditions that we have at the St. Regis.

TGI: What’s your plan with cutting open bottles? Are you going to keep trying to go after the record or is it more of doing it for fun from here on out?

AP: It was very fun to do it, and maybe every year I will try to saber one more bottle of champagne.

TGI: What’s the best thing you like about living on Kauai?

AP: It’s definitely a new experience, I used to live in big cities with a very fast pace and you often forget to look around and you lose connection with the nature. Something that I have learned is to take a second and look around and enjoy the beautiful views that this island has to offer.

TGI: What was the hardest thing to get used to to living on Kauai? Does Kauai compare to any other place?

AP: Being far away from family and friends, it’s a little harder for them to come and visit or for me to get out there and visit them, but again this is a beautiful place with beautiful people that captivate you with this amazing aloha spirit. 

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