They say that if you have an indomitable spirit, then there’s nothing that can ever stop you from achieving your goals. And for Yogesh Kumar, head bartender at Sheraton New Delhi Hotel, spirit is all it takes to fight all odds and strive to live his dreams. From his humble beginnings as a doorman in Ruby Tuesday, Connaught Place, to representing India at the global Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition in San Francisco later this month, it has been a difficult yet rewarding journey for Kumar.
“I failed in the 12th standard. I couldn’t go to college. I went directly looking for a job,” remembers Kumar, who was faced a financial crisis at his initial days, adding, “I started as a doorman earning Rs 3200 a month at the restaurant. I was very shy. I lacked social skills and wasn’t fluent in English. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. But I always knew that hard work and patience would pay off some day.”
For the two months that Kumar worked as a doorman, he could only manage a glimpse of the bar inside, but it was good enough to decide on his calling. “Whatever I could learn regarding bartending initially was through my own observation. I kept looking at how the bartender fixed the drink. It was only when I left my job, moved to Qba in Connaught Place and started working as a waiter, I got to learn bartending. During my free time, I used to read bartending books and memorise the ingredients of every cocktail being served at the bar,” says Kumar.
The lack of an undergraduate degree meant that Kumar was stuck being a waiter and climbing up the ladder in the hospitality industry without a degree seemed impossible. “While working as a waiter, I did a one year diploma in F&B operations . Working 12 hours a day and still attending classes and studying wasn’t easy. I sacrificed my sleep so that I could keep up with the schedule. It was a tough phase but I learned a valuable lesson that there is no substitute for hard work,adds Kumar. This hard work eventually paid off when after three years, he got an opportunity to work for the Oberoi, New Delhi as a bartender. “This is where my journey started. In theory, I knew everything about the bar, but now it was time to learn the practical part,” says Kumar.
Kumar continued his education while working and soon had a degree in hotel management. Soon after joining Sheraton New Delhi Hotel, Kumar, who boasts of a handsome pay package, took part in the Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition but couldn’t even make it to the top ten. Finally, after three years, he won, bagging the first position, thanks to the innovative cocktail Amado (see box for recipe).
“When I make a drink, I share my life in a glass. And I believe in consistently enriching this recipe,” he says. His seniors have high hopes from him, and admires his perseverance. “ We are very proud of Yogesh Kumar. His innovative cocktails and his zeal for mixing bold flavours has raised the bar for bartending. With his enthusiasm and the fun twists he gives to drinks he makes, Kumar has a bright future ahead of him,” says Gautam Seth, F&B manager, Sheraton New Delhi Hotel.
On the art of bartending
“When I make a drink, I want my guest to experience emotions and memories through a drink.I pour all my experiences into it through the ingredients I use. I don’t sell my drink. I charm my guest so they too can create a memory through a drink. After all, the taste should be everlasting”.
On what it takes to be a successful bar artist
Kumar believes that a bar artist should have the traits of a detective to come up with perfect cocktails. “Just like Sherlock Holmes, a good bartender always observes the guest, listens to them and engages them in a conversation. While making any drink, Kumar suggests using fresh ingredients. “Ensure that there’s harmony in all the ingredients that you use. Also, use good quality ice which doesn’t melt quickly; otherwise it will dilute the drink. And always remember to taste the drink before you serve t to your guest”.
Amado - The drink that won him the competition
60 ml-Bacardi Superior rum
20 ml- Lime juice
15 ml- Rose syrup
2.5 ml- Angostura bitters
20 ml-egg white
Add all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake it. Then add ice to the mixture and double strain it and pour it into a martini glass.