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TheDRiNKMagazineFace:DatouZhang

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DRiNK饮迷 发表于 2020-9-11 19:50:06 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式 打印 上一主题 下一主题
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Bartending is very much the convergence of art and science for me: art for the creativity bit, and science for the flavour architecture bit – although I realised the science bit later. When I worked part-time at Woo Taipei, I was first amazed by how bespoke cocktails could be created like a piece of art: bartenders producing cocktails on the spot, but still with the real mark of their own style. That creativity mirrored the working process in television – which is how I was making a living after graduating from the university. But my heart was growing closer and closer to the moments I was spending at Woo Taipei. So I quit, and started over in the bar in 2011.

I basically learned everything from scratch, and luck was on my side: after six months, I was given a chance to work behind the bar due to a staff shortage. It was such a challenge that I was racking my brains how not to embarrass myself – in the end I covered the inside of the bar with cheat notes for recipes, measurements, and tons of other stuff. When a shift was over, I often stayed late to practise. And with the help of my mentor Mark Huang, a respected bartender and World Class Taiwan winner, I began on a steep learning curve. 

Mark is also the one who requested me to sign up for my first World Class competition, and I ranked Top 10. Actually I was in the Top 5 for another three years, but never won. My attitude towards cocktail competitions is quite contradictory – I love them and hate them at the same time. Only on stage can I see my level clearly, know if I’m improving or need to continue pushing boundaries. But also, that’s when I’m most exposed and risk losing face in public. An awkward memory still haunts me from when I competed in Taiwan’s first Bacardi Legacy in 2015 – I forgot my lines on the stage, and stood there for more than 30 minutes without uttering a single word. It was extremely frustrating. Was I desperate to win? No. I was just desperate not to lose. I was afraid of not learning. 


In 2016, I left Woo Taipei and opened a restaurant bar, Closet. Being an owner is completely different from being a manager, because there’s a lot more to take into consideration other than making drinks. It made me realize I needed to brush up my act. In the meantime, I’ve always been curious about flavours and what they could achieve in a drink. The wide range of ingredients from the Mainland started to captivate me. So I thought maybe the timing was right. I packed up my curiosity and started over again at The Bunker by Flask, here in Shanghai.

Shanghai didn’t disappoint me. At The Bunker by Flask we change the menu every two months, and I get the freedom to experiment with interesting ingredients that are difficult to find in Taiwan, like butter tea and Shanghai crispy rice. I’m especially into the concept of flavour reconstruction (finally, the science bit), which also now appears to be a trend. You don’t extract a flavour from a specific ingredient; instead you use common ingredients like food, fruit, herbs to construct a similar flavour. There’s a cocktail on our menu called Sandwich Cookie. A real sandwich cookie is only used as a garnish; but the drink’s flavour is produced by a combination of coconut oil fat-washed rum, banana liqueur, popcorn syrup, pear and cream. It really tastes like you’re drinking sandwich cookies!

Even though I’m happy playing with this flavour reconstruction, I’m not confident that customers are buying it. At The Bunker by Flask, we also have quite a high proportion of tourist drinkers, which makes it difficult to identify local tastes. After all, a bartenders’ job is not only about mixing drinks – you’ve also got to set the bar’s rules, to shape the vibe. But I do appreciate customers who love classics – they remind me not to get rusty at the basics. 

Shanghai was an alien environment – and I’m still finding my direction – but I’d say I feel more relaxed working here. Everybody basically knows each other in Taiwan. It’s such a small circle and it’s inevitable you get talked about once you’ve paraded yourself in a comp. But I’m nobody in Shanghai. I can concentrate on researching ingredients, testing flavours and making drinks, as simple as that. It became a chance to unwind and let go of an overloaded past. I even re-discovered that mentality of when I first started bartending at Woo Taipei: listen to my inner voice, be humble, deal with obstacles and never stop learning.  

Bartender friends that I meet in Shanghai are awesome people too. For example, Lucky Huang – sometimes we go to each other’s bars, discuss new drink recipes, or how to stir up better classics. Though there’s a bigger gap between good bars and bad bars compared to Taiwan, I’m always inspired by the friendly community and those who are serious about their job. 

I was once asked what kind of person I’d like to become. I remember answering: someone who isn’t looked down upon. Things change so fast in the industry. It’s not a bad thing to reboot from time to time – absorb what you have learned and embrace the unknown. That’s essential to build excellence, and the most rewarding lesson I’ve learned these years as a bartender. 

In the future, I hope I can bartend and live in different countries, just to explore local ingredients, flavours and culture. But in the long term I guess I’ll return to Taiwan – maybe not to bartend anymore. But who knows? I’ve pictured millions of times what I would do if I didn’t bartend – I believe a lot fellow bartenders have thought about that question too – and I don’t have a definite answer. To get a market stall and sell late night food doesn’t sound that lame, does it? 



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