Watching mum and granny cook was what made him fall in love with flavours, but as he grew up, it was not the kitchen but the bar that fascinated this Czech lad, now a reputed mixologist. And guess what was it about bartending that attracted him the most? “For any 17-year-old, serving drinks to hot girls is way more fun than peeling potatoes,” says 27-year-old Australia-based Zdenek Kastanek, who’s been heading some of the most sought-after bars across the globe, for almost a decade now.
Apart from serving sexy cocktails to pretty girls, what fascinates him the most about his profession is the liberty to improvise. “You have the liberty to play around with flavours, textures and techniques, creating something that’s refreshing, colourful yet different from the usual. The attention to those little details, like using the season’s fresh produce, makes mixology all the more interesting,” says Zdenek, the brand ambassador of Grey Goose vodka.
Bartending and India
Presently in India, Zdenek feels that the country still has a long way to go before it catches up with global bartending standards. “You definitely have people here who bring new trends in and then spread them around but you need more bars and restaurants which focus on creating a pleasant experience in terms of the approach towards bartending. It still seems to be clenched with the stereotyping of the word ‘bartender’ and the kind of image associated with it,” he says, however adding that when it comes to the culture of enjoying drinks, Delhi and Mumbai are slowly coming of age and giving the western countries a run for their money. “Outside India, it’s got to be UK, USA, Australia, and Germany. Countries like France, Czech Republic, and Russia are also catching up,” he says.
Zdenek’s signature cocktail recipes:
2 parts vodka
1/2 part French dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
Fill a shaker with ice. Add the French dry vermouth. Stir to coat ice and strain out.
Add the vodka and bitters, and stir well. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Serve with an olive or lemon twist.
1.5 part orange vodka
3 parts iced-tea
1/2 parts simple syrup
4 mint leaves
At the bottom of a shaker, muddle mint leaves and the simple syrup. Add the remaining ingredients and ice, and shake vigorously. Pour ice and all ingredients into a tall glass. Present with a sprig of mint and an orange slice.
Bartending dos & don’ts
Appearance, attitude and ability are the three most important qualities that a bartender must have, feels Zdenek. “Look sharp and dapper. Smile. A bartender must have a pleasing personality to strike a smart conversation with his guests. It is a part of being a great host,” he says, adding, “Newbies today think that it’s just a fun job, but it’s not that easy. Drinking at work, bringing personal issues to work and showing unprofessionalism while attending guests is a big NO! One needs to start respecting the craft of bartending.”
Of Darjeeling tea and more
It’s neither the butter chicken nor the elephant god that charmed this Czech mixologist. It’s the good old Darjeeling tea and South Indian filter coffee that swept him off his feet. While the only Indian skill that Zdenek wants to learn is “making the perfect South Indian coffee”, he can’t wait to explore the flavours of the Darjeeling tea. More so because he believes that tea as a flavour is really catching up, and might soon find itself as one of the most exotic ingredients of mixology.