After a quick week with some of the things that I love I want to utilise this Saturday to share with you one of my favourite cocktail places. Not only do I love their intricately crafted cocktails but I really wanted to take the time to introduce you guys to the co-creative mind behind it all, a true powerhouse; Ms Amanda Wan.
Don’t be fooled by the first impression of the gorgeous Amanda Wan. This little Asian chic is a bad ass mixologist. Remember our first perspective? Never judge someone by their looks. Not only is she beautiful but she has made her creative mark with some of the most popular cocktail bars in Hong Kong.
We are lucky enough to get an interview with Amanda and here is her insight of the mixology industry.
What was it that made you realize that you wanted to be in the mixology industry?
Actually it happened by accident, during my foundation year as an Art student I realised that my talent was not behind a computer. So I decided to take a break and try something completely different. I worked at Starbucks, then I moved onto wine and finally I got a job as a bartender, when I was 19 and I had no experience in mixing cocktails, and it was through a friend who got me an interview at a cocktail bar. The two ladies who interviewed me, the owner and the general manager, really liked me and after a 30 mins interview they offered me the job on the spot and I started the very next day.
It was a complete new world to me, because now I wasn’t just working with one aspect. I am not just working with a coffee bean or a grape but now I am working with so many different base products. So many different spirits, liqueurs, herbs, spices, roots, citrus, perfume, aromas, flavours, textures etc… it was mind blowing. From an art point of view, I just stepped into a world where I had every medium in my disposal, every colour in the universe. It was awesome. So I stayed on, partly because I met my mentor, Frankie Anthony, who sadly passed away 3 years ago. He made a huge difference in my life. I remember when I first met him I was absolutely terrified. Being a small Asian girl, he was a big guy with tattoos and piercings, who looked like a huge ruby player. He was very strict, and I spent a few months of zipping around him, trying not to get in his way and preparing everything that he needed. One day whilst I was refilling the glassware, he just stood over me and burst out laughing. I was confused and asked if I had done something wrong. He replied, “Nothing. I just wasn’t expecting you to still be here. For a young pretty girl, we laid it down tough on you and you stayed. ” To that I responded, “Of course I’s still here. I stayed because I want to learn”.
The next day he bought me one of the cocktail books he owned. During the time when I started which was early 2006, bartending books were hard to come by. It was the first bartending book I had ever seen. He told me to take a look and let him know if I had any questions and that was the point where I started to learn.
What were some of the difficulties working in a male dominated industry? Or did it work to your advantage?
It works both ways. For those who are nice to you, they are very nice to you, take good care of you but for those who want to be mean can really pull out all the stops. They can be very challenging and difficult to work with and I have definitely experienced both sides of it.
I think one of my biggest challenges was to be taken seriously. I love my fake eyelashes, I love my hair curlers and I love all the pretty little things. So a lot of the time people mistake me as a drinks promoter and don’t respect me as a bartender.
So how did you change that and get people to take you seriously?
I had to keep reminding myself that I was in the hospitality industry, so I will have to help customers or people I work with get over the fact that I look young and convince them that I know my stuff, through time and perseverance.
There is also an advantage to being a woman in the hospitality industry. We have a nurturing quality in us, so we can easily put people at ease. We warm up to people quickly and they feel more comfortable around us and we get to build relationships a lot quicker.
The early years were quite challenging because usually in the service industry you are taken for granted and pretty much invisible to guests most of the time. So stepping up and making recommendations and really making your voice heard was a challenge at first but once we overcome that, it is very rewarding, and a lot of fun.
With customers it is normally after their first drink. As we are very familiar with all the ingredients we use and the different palates people have. As you chat with your customers and get to know what they are looking for and manage to recommend them a drink that they like, that is when people start to take your advice seriously.
When was the tipping point when you realise that you want to do this as a career?
There were actually two moments. The first moment was when I went home to my mum and told her I wanted to be a professional bartender. Her first response was “No!” and gave my dad a side eye as he use to work for Guinness, signalling that this was all his fault. The funny thing was after this conversation, my mum brought me to meet one of her friends who managed a kindergarten, and wanted me to sign up as a kindergarten teacher, hoping that I would have a stable job in the education industry. After a conversation with the headmistress, she suggested that I study hotel management. Not only will I be able to study the food and beverage industry but this will equip me with the business aspect as well.
Taking on her advice, I signed up for the hotel management course at KDU University, Malaysia. I really fell in love with it. I graduated with first class honours and was the College class Valedictorian. It was something I never thought I could achieve, which was very humbling. For my final year dissertation I actually wrote it on “The Evolution of Mixology.”
The second moment in my life where I knew I can turn this into a career was when I won the Malaysia National Finals for World Class bartending competition, where I was sent to the Global Finals in Athens. That year there were only 24 Global Finalists. Over there the people whom I was competing with were bar managers, bar owners and hotel beverage managers. Some of them were around my age, some of them were in their 40s and early 50s but they were still so passionate about their work. That really inspired me and it made my realise that this is not only something I can do when I am young but something I can do for the rest of my life.
As you mentioned before, when you first told your parents you wanted to be a professional bartender they were very dismissive of the idea. Coming from an Asian background it must have been tough, at what moment did you manage to convince your parents that this is the right career path for you?
At first my parents was very worried about the environment that I was working in. In their minds bars were dodgy night clubs and not a very safe place for a young girl to be working in. So I suggested to them to come to the bar and have a drink. During their visit, they realised the bar was nice and not what they had imagined. I managed to talk to them about their drinks and they ended up having a great time. It was funny as my mum actually became good friends with my first boss as well.
Through working in a bar, I have learnt a lot of life skills that I would never have in the corporate world. I had to mop the floor, clean the toilets, call up the environmental services to collect the rubbish, everything from the top to the bottom. My parents realised that through this industry I have learnt good work ethics and been exposed to a world where most Asian kids were shelter from, as most of us grew up having helpers.
When I started getting recognition for my work and started appearing in newspapers and magazines, it gave my parents a lot affirmation that this is a real job and my kid is doing something that I can be proud of.
Were there any funny or embarrassing moments that you would like to share?
During the market challenge in the World Class competition, we had to run to the supermarket to buy as many interesting ingredients as possible to make two contrasting cocktail. I was in my heels, so when I saw one of the guys from the video crew who didn’t need to come along and film, I asked if I could borrow his trainers so I can run to the supermarket faster and complete my challenge in time.
Another time was during an event, we had no idea that it would be an outdoor event and the bar was underneath this big tree. Of course as luck will have it, one of the bartenders got shitted on by a bird. As we didn’t have anything else on us, we just doused the guy with whisky to clean him from the bird poop.
What advice would you like to give to someone who wants to start a career in mixology?
I would say if you are thinking of a career in mixology you need to try it out. It might seem very cool, trendy and fun, but it is also a lot of hard work. It is about understanding the industry and the hours you have to put in but still remembering to keep a balanced life. What I found with a lot of bartenders, and some who later become brand ambassadors, their work becomes very consuming. Even though it is a lot of fun, you are working long hours and some people can tire out quite quickly if they are not careful.
A lot of bartenders are trying to bring back that awareness of remembering to live a healthier lifestyle. Most of us who work at the bar tend to wake up later and we often forget to eat. After work we are out with friends, a lot of the time with fellow bartenders and we go out to drink, though I can pretty much say I am past those days now. Nowadays when it hits 10pm, I am heading home. Getting your sleep patterns right, making an effort to stay healthy, not just physically but mentally and surrounding yourself in a supportive community is very important. It is an all encompassing job, you really learn a lot and it becomes very rewarding.
To finish off, I was wondering if you can share an easy cocktail recipe to our readers so they can make it at home?
Sure, this is the cocktail that got me through to the Global World Class Bartender competition. This cocktail isn’t too hard to make and the Balsamic vinegar balances out the sweetness and gives it an interesting flavour.
One last straw
Garnish: Mandarin orange peel
Method: SHAKE all ingredients and fine strain into chilled glass.
1 1/2 Shots of Ketel One Vodka
1 shot Condensed milk
1 shot Balsamic vinegar
2 pieces of Fresh Strawberries, quartered
1 teaspoon Straweberry preserve
Dash of Sugar syrup
Alcohol per serving: 7.1g
Muddle (mash/crush with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon) the fruit (strawberries) in a cocktail shaker, and add all other ingredients. Add ice, secure and shake hard. Fine strain into a chilled martini glass and finish with a spritz of mandarin orange peel over the surface of the cocktail. Decorate with fresh mandarin orange peel.
If you want to pop by Envoy, here is their detail below:
The Envoy, 3/F, The Potting Hong Kong, 74 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong.
12pm – 2am
Dinosaur and Tiki Candy by Amanda
Dewdrops of the Heart by Chris
Dinosaur & Early Bird by Iris
Thank you for reading our interview with Amanda today. We hope you enjoyed it. We will be doing another article on World Class Bartender of the Year competition soon, where we will be talking more about the challenges that they face and we will have another special guest. Stay tune!
With Love & Quirks,
Iris & Chris xxx