Bartender Profile: Rinna Kato

Rinna Kato grew up in the hospitality industry in Japan but wanted to be a dolphin trainer and pursued a science education. In this interview, she speaks about her beginnings, the influence of her Japanese heritage on her style of cocktail and shares her views about the Brisbane bar scene.

Rinna Kato
Rinna Kato *

Tell us a little about yourself, your family and where you grew up.
I spent 18 years of my life in Japan then moved to Australia by myself as soon as I graduated from high school. I spent about 6 years in Rockhampton to finish two degrees at Uni, a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. After I graduated, I moved to Brisbane for a while. Then I moved to London for 3 years to learn more about hospitality. I came back to Brisbane 3 years ago.

How did you get into bartending?
I always grew up in hospitality as my father owns a little whisky bar in Sapporo city, Japan. But I wasn’t intending to follow his path. I wanted to be a dolphin trainer so I went to uni to learn science. But here I am now, working in this industry!!! The reason I started the career was to talk to local people. I was in Rockhampton but I didn’t know anyone there.

Tell us a little about your bartending career.
I learnt the basic idea of working behind bars in Rockhampton, especially speedy service. Then I moved to Brisbane to learn more about cocktails. I was very lucky I would say, because my teachers were Adam Brewer and Barry Chalmers!! They taught me lots about spirits, classic cocktails and high customer service. Then I moved to London to learn more about the cocktail scene. I worked at a few bars but spent the most time at a tiki bar, Barrio Central in Soho. I participated in some competitions there too and I made to Top 3 in the regional finals for Beefeater 24 challenge where I met the master distiller, Desmond Payne. Amazing experience!!!!

After I moved back to Brisbane, I entered loads more competitions, Suntory Gin Mare, Pimms, 42 Below but my highlight was about two of the biggest competitions in Australia: Diageo World Class and Bartender of the Year Award. In Diageo World Class 2013, I made it to 3rd place in the national final after competing against the top bartenders in Australia. Also I placed in top 10 for the 2013 Australian Bartender of the Year.

Have you worked behind the bar in Japan?
Yes. I would say the customer service is the big difference. Bartenders are there to listen to customers – how their days were, what they are interested in, how shit their boss is, etc!!! Sometimes we even listen to their Karaoke. We are there to reset their day so they can start fresh the next day. It is not easy to find a place like this in Australia – I guess it’s because the bars get too crowded and customers don’t really have the opportunity to have a deep chat with bartenders.

What is your most memorable bartending experience to date?
I have to say when I got my first bartending job in Australia! I still appreciate that they gave me the opportunity. Otherwise I would have a totally different life now.

What are some of the challenges you face as a bartender?
My funny accent. I can’t fix it!!! It can be tough for communication sometimes.

What are your favourite ingredients that define your style of cocktail?
Tea. Japan has a big tea culture. Also my friend, Douglas Ankrah, gave me more inspiration to use them as cocktail ingredients.

Has your Japanese heritage influenced your style of cocktail in any way?
Definitely YES!!! I always like to use Japanese ingredients, such as Shiso, Tea, Yuzu, sesami and Bean paste. Sometimes I get a hints from Japanese traditional cooking. Not only ingredients, but I also like to reflect our culture, ways of serving, the history and customer service.

What excites you about the bar scene in Brisbane?
The Brisbane bar scene is not big yet like Sydney and Melbourne, we are still developing. It is definitely bigger than it was a few years ago, we now have old music halls, whiskey bars, tiki, exclusive bars, wine and oyster bar….but we have more space and possibility in this city.

Is there anything about the Brisbane bar scene that you’d like to see change?
Compared to 3-4 years ago, it seems like the public do not like to go out out as much. I like to encourage people to come out more often and see more energy and vibes in Brisbane.

What cocktail trends or spirits interest you at the moment?
Rum, Shochu, Tea, Spice, Herbs, Gin…..hard to choose. But I’m trying to learn more about beers and wines.

When you’re not behind the bar, what do you like to drink?

And finally, is there a special cocktail of your creation that you’d like to share with Gourmantic?
My world class entry drink last year…..JALISCO KICK. It’s a tequila milk punch with mango, damiana tea and rum, shaken up with a perlini shaker.

The Bartender Profile series continues next week.

* Photo by Declan Roache – Used with permission


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About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List since 2013, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.