Chicago native Carolina Gonzalez has perhaps always been destined for hospitality work. “Almost my entire family has worked in the service industry, including as chefs, servers, and bartenders, and my brother and I frequently had to sit at a restaurant table quietly while our family members worked,” she says. “I would always get bored and often asked the servers who were doing napkin roll-ups if I could help—that was the beginning of a long industry life.”
By the time she was in her early 20s and working as a server for a restaurant and nightclub in downtown Chicago, Gonzalez was eager to learn more. “Being the curious person that I am, I asked the bartenders to share the cocktail recipes, information on spirits, and any techniques they were using,” she says. “Our executive chef also taught me how to make the syrups and purées for the bar, upon my persistence.” As luck would have it, two bartenders didn’t show up for their shifts one night and Gonzalez was asked to step up—she’s been a bartender ever since.
Today she serves as mixologist and beverage director for WoodWind in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood, where she’s worked since the restaurant and cocktail bar opened in 2019. “I was very new in this role but quickly got the hang of it with the help of our executive chef Alex Cabrera and our director of operations German Alvarado,” she says. She oversees all aspects of the beverage program, including working closely with owner and Chef Matt O’Neill and Chef Cabrera to create cocktails that complement the venue’s New American cuisine—so, naturally, her drinks ($15-$45) highlight seasonal culinary ingredients. Her Midori Sando ($16), for instance, features shochu, sake, fresh-pressed green tomato juice, lemon juice, house-made mint syrup, and rosemary oil, while her WoodWind Old Fashioned ($15; $19 to add cherry wood smoke) comprises spice-infused Bourbon and rye, plus spiced pear liqueur, demerara syrup, and aromatic and orange bitters (recipe below).
“I fell in love with this industry due to the exploration of textures and flavor combinations, but my all-time favorite aspect of my job is giving people with the hunger and passion to learn an opportunity to do so,” Gonzales notes. “I came from a world of closed doors and no opportunities to learn and grow unless I bulldozed my way in. I wanted to create a space in my bar program for anyone in any position to learn from me, as I have learned from those who saw potential in me.”