They’re the people behind the cocktails we enjoy, the women and men of the bar industry who often go unnoticed. You may have seen them behind your favourite bar. They may have been the person who welcomed you the moment you stepped into the bar, guided you in your choice of drink or spirit, engaged you in memorable bar chat and crafted a cocktail you’ve raved about to your friends.
Today, we’re excited to launch a new series. In Bartender Profile, we take a closer look at the people behind the drinks, their personal stories, talents and opinions on the bar scene.
Natalie Ng at Mojo Record Bar’s First Birthday – Photo © by Kevin Burke for Gourmantic
Corinne: Tell us a little about yourself, your family and where you grew up.
Natalie: I grew up in Malaysia, but came to Australia at a really young age and went to boarding school in Geelong, Melbourne.
How did you get into bartending?
I bartended to earn some extra cash when I was doing my Radiology degree. I liked it a bit too much obviously!
Tell us a little about your bartending career to date.
I started off in some small bars and pubs in Melbourne. I started doing it seriously when I worked for the Merivale Group and Cafe Pacifico. I also ran Hugo’s Bar Pizza and was a sales rep for Vanguard Luxury Brands. I made the state finals for Diageo World Class 3 times as well as 42 below, and I won the Bacardi Lion Mix It to Fix It Comp last year. I ran my own bar, Mojo Record Bar and recently left to start my consulting company, Sydney Speakeasy. I keep up with my bar skills at Eau De Vie as well, where I’m still constantly learning new things which is great.
What is your most memorable bartending experience so far?
Getting offered to fly to Mexico with Cafe Pacifico and Diageo, winning the Bacardi Lion competition and of course, opening my own bar.
Who has been an influence or a source of inspiration to you?
Phil Bayly has always supported my career and has been a source of encouragement and a friend whenever needed. Big mentions to James France and Jason Crawley as well.
What are some of the challenges you face as a bartender?
Being looked down on or talked to inappropriately by customers, and the wide scale of people who still look down on the service industry.
What are your favourite ingredients that define your style of cocktail?
I love cocktails that are well-balanced and citric. Of course, my tequila background brings me to love using tequila quite biasedly. I love substituting orange liqueurs for more exciting products like yellow Chartreuse, Pastis or apricot brandy. My style of cocktail is always simplistic with a fun or interesting twist of the classics. Different aromatic bitters are always fun to play with as well!
What excites you about the Sydney bar scene?
The small bar movement over the last few years. Its growth allows everyday bartenders more creativity than working for big companies and it has also created the opportunity for us to own, manage or branch out into different sectors of the industry.
Is there anything about the Sydney bar scene that you’d like to see change?
I would like to see more consistency in the legislation surrounding small bars and restaurants. At the moment it seems every time we move one step forward we have to move two steps back.
How do you see the Sydney bar scene evolving in the near future?
I feel like we will move away from the grungy underground bars soon and less themed bars will start popping up. These bars will have more focus on creating great drinks, atmosphere and keen service. Customers are becoming more aware and knowledgeable about what they drink and service, so I think the competition for successful venues will become greater, and the ones that don’t meet the mark will deteriorate and disappear.
What cocktail trends or spirits interest you at the moment?
The importation of new mezcals definitely interest me. I think new ways of presenting cocktails with a bit of theatre will start popping in more places. It’s what we do best at Eau De Vie but already you see more bars already trending this type of cocktail presentation.
When you’re not behind the bar, what do you like to drink?
Tommy’s Margarita with a float of mezcal, or an apple cider and a shot. Or all of the above depending on how stressful a shift I had!
And finally, is there a special cocktail of your creation that you’d like to share with Gourmantic?
50ml tequila blanco, 15ml apricot brandy, 10ml punt e mes, 20ml lime juice, 15ml agave syrup and a couple of dashes of orange citrate bitters. Served up.
The Bartender Profile series continues next week.
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