Where and how did you get started in hospitality?
I’ve always dreamt of starting my own business, and that was what motivated me to step foot into the F&B industry. When I first started in 2011, I worked in a French restaurant, Ginkgo, in Tokyo, Japan. I initially trained to be a chef for three years, before switching to learning pastry – as pastry and dessert is usually the first section you are put in charge of in a French restaurant.
I learned much from my first patissier, who introduced me to the construction of French pastry. His work was so precise and beautiful.
I started going to a bar after work, and I fell in love with what the bartenders were doing – they were interacting face-to-face with their customers, while being creative with the drinks they serve. That, I realised, was what I was missing when I worked in the kitchen.
A year after training as a pastry chef, I decided to take up a bartending apprenticeship in a traditional Japanese bar, Bar Aileron in Ginza, Tokyo, that served classic cocktails.
How would you describe your job?
I enjoy honing my craft, especially when it gets recognised as I take part in bartending competitions – it satisfies my desire to be creative. I feel very happy when I get to create something that has been on my mind into real, actual drinks. I truly feel happy and accomplished.
Working in the Jigger & Pony Group is very exciting. We have co-workers from 11 different nationalities and cultures, each with different personalities. It is exciting to be influenced by other cultures and styles of bartending.
This year, I was given the opportunity to work on PONY, a premium bottled cocktail brand from the Jigger & Pony Group. As Principal Bartender of PONY, I lead the production of the brand’s Classic and Signature cocktails which are small batched and handcrafted with pride by the Jigger & Pony Group’s bartenders.
For those that haven’t visited, tell us a bit more about the brands you manage in your own words?
Gibson is a classic cocktail bar, named after a cocktail invented in the late 1800s. It is an unusual cocktail made with gin and dry vermouth, and garnished with a pickled onion. At Gibson, we are serious about the craft of cocktails, but our menu and service is relaxed. Gibson is #25 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020, and more recently debuted at #92 on World’s 50 Best Bars 2020.
Together with Aki Eguchi, the Bar Programme Director of Jigger & Pony, I am also the Principal Bartender of PONY, a premium bottled cocktail brand that we just launched in November.
PONY cocktails are designed for home entertaining or even as a treat to yourself to wind down after a long day. They also make great gifts. In creating PONY, we put in much thought, used the best possible ingredients, and exercised the same levels of craftsmanship that people have come to expect at our bar into every bottle.
We went through extensive R&D to create PONY cocktails. We opted for a higher ABV (alcohol by volume) to minimise flavour dilution, and use premium spirits such as Roku Gin, Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky and Suntory Chita Whisky to celebrate the spirit character of PONY cocktails. We also developed natural citrus essences to incorporate into our cocktails, so you don’t even need to garnish your drink. PONY cocktails are ready to drink. Simply open the bottle, serve as suggested, and enjoy.
What’s the best thing about working behind the bar?
Besides being able to satisfy my desire for creativity, I love that I can always have conversations with my guests. To see them happy with our drinks and service is something I come to work every day for.
I have become better at talking to strangers since I’ve been working behind the bar. I remember I couldn’t look directly into guests’ eyes when I first started. Creating enjoyable conversations with my guests was a skill I had to learn. Now, I have become more confident and natural as I interact with my guests, and that is the best thing about working behind the bar for me.
How has 2020 changed your perception of hospitality?
The Community Circuit Breaker, Singapore’s version of a lockdown, from 7 April to 1 June, made me realise how much we have taken our social interactions for granted. Bars and restaurants provide people with spaces to socialise. It is when we can no longer physically go out and interact in these and other spaces, that we realise how precious this is.
What needs to happen to ensure that the industry is better supported moving forward?
It is always important to groom young and aspiring bartenders, just like in any other industry. Providing quality training is imperative.
COVID-19 needs to end, or be better controlled on a global level so we can start travelling more freely again – not just for our own enrichment, but for the international bar community to connect again through activities like guest shifts. The pandemic has put a stop to almost all travel, and bars across the world now have virtually no guests visiting from overseas.
Word-of-mouth from guests fuels the bar industry, especially through social media when travellers post about their favourite places to drink. This also helps us as bartenders to find out about new bars around the world. In addition, hosting events such as guest shifts can connect new international guests to new bars they have never been to before.
Where is your favourite place in the world to drink?
Definitely, Tokyo as there are so many good bars to visit. I used to go back once a year to visit my friends and family, but it has been delayed this year due to the pandemic and travel restrictions. One of my favourite bars is Bar Aileron in Ginza, Tokyo, the place where I first started bartending.