Q&A: Debora Fernandez, Kaiyo in San Francisco

Debora Fernandez

Debora Fernandez is the manager of Kaiyo, a Peruvian-Japanese restaurant in San Francisco.

What was your first bartending job?

I started bartending in Oakland, CA, at Miss Pearl’s Jam House, which is now closed. I was relentless trying to get behind the bar, I think to the point of annoyance with my managers. They finally let me start as a banquet bartender making Long Island Iced Teas and Margaritas for wedding receptions. Then they slowly incorporated me into the bartender schedule on lunches and eventually they gave me a Friday night. I felt like I had graduated when that happened.


What was your favorite spirit to work with?

I was in love with bourbon at the time, and that was my go-to for everything. I drank Maker’s Mark, so I would often play around using that. Miss Pearl’s was a known for their rum selection, and at the time I was enjoying Barbancourt and Santa Teresa. I had yet to develop a palate for agricole, which kind of haunts me to this day. I wish I would’ve taken advantage of the back bar a little more and educated myself more in that category.


KAIYO focuses on Peruvian Nikkei cuisine; how does the cocktail program blend the cultures of Peru and Japan?

Most of the cocktails have some Peruvian or Japanese element to it, and sometimes elements of both countries. For example, the Artemis & Luna has sake and pisco. We also wanted to reference the countries without using Japanese or Peruvian spirits, so ingredients such as matcha, maiz cream, rice milk and teas become the focus. I don’t think our approach to the cocktail program is any different to others; we’re just more conscious and want to have the spirit of Nikkei present in the cocktail program as well as our food.

You emphasize the importance of balance and harmony between garnish and flavor in Kaiyo’s signature cocktails; can you explain your approach?

I am not one of those people that can pull off over-the-top garnishes; I will say that is my weakest point as a bartender. I like simplicity in cocktails, which also goes for garnishes. I try not to embellish cocktails as much as possible and enjoy garnishes that add to the cocktails. For example, I use a gooseberry for our Calvados and lucuma cocktail and encourage guests to eat the gooseberry and experience the cocktail in a different way. For experiences like that, I love garnishes.

What’s the most popular drink on the list at the moment?

It’s a three-way tie between the Super Saiyan (made with chili vodka, Chareau aloe liqueur, cantaloupe), Panyo Panyo (made with Capurro moscatel pisco, rice milk and chamomile), and The Last Airbender (made with Barsol pisco quebranta, mezcal and Hitachino white ale). They have become our staples.

The Chilcano, with pisco, lime and ginger ale.

What’s your current go-to cocktail or beverage?

I’ve been sipping on too much sherry. If I’m feeling frisky, I am going to for 50/50 gin Martinis with fino sherry all day—I can’t get enough of it!

Would you share one of your favorite drink recipes?

A classic Chilcano! It’s simple with just 2 oz. Pisco quebranta, squeeze of half a lime, topped with ginger ale, served in a Collins glass. It’s refreshing, simple and makes my little Peruvian heart feel at home with every sip.