There are a couple of reasons why I wanted to investigate the similarities and the differences between bartenders and chefs. Firstly, I have always found the kitchen a huge source of inspiration – the recipes, techniques, creativity and tradition have always played a role when looking for ideas for new cocktail designs. Secondly, throughout the years of working in the events industry I have met and worked with so many fascinating and yes, sometimes difficult chefs and at the same time I have been dealing with a number of bartenders who in many ways with their ambition, creativity and ‘subtle’ gloat reminded me of chefs. I was curious to find out, what inspires them, whether the two can work together and possibly learn something from each other.
The ‘closed door’ policy in the bars and restaurants is definitely not a norm these days anymore and there are many successful restaurants in the world that have done unbelievably well in working together on recipes rather than treating the kitchen and the bar as two different entities. For example, the bar manager Przemtslaw of Michelin star restaurant Hakkasan Hanway shared with me, that working alongside chefs has been extremely inspirational and helped him develop new and exciting cocktail recipes. He says: ‘Chefs can offer great insight into new flavours that are not often used In the bar world such as savoury ingredients and different textures that are more often used in the kitchen side’.
Another great example of a kitchen and bar collaboration would be the Cub Restaurant where guests are offered a unique dining experience where there is no division between food and drink but rather a focus on sustainability and waste reduction.
However, I feel that chefs and bartenders are never really asked the same questions. With that in mind I approached two experts in their respective fields, Ben Floyd – Experienced Chef, Director of Lumiere Consultancy and Bence Ivanov – Cocktail expert, Managing Director of Shake&Stir.
- What are the key attributes of an exceptional chef / bartender?
Ben: I think you need a real passion not just for food but the industry as a whole, you need to be able to listen and adapt, love what you do, be able to work/lead a team.
Bence: It might be a cliche, but for me, having the right attitude is by far the most important trait of a bartender. Bartenders with true passion for drinks and ambition to grow on a daily basis are priceless. Having a good charisma is also something necessary since we all know that being behind the bar is so much more than just serving drinks.
- Where do you turn for inspiration when designing a new food / drinks menu?
Ben: Inspiration can come from anywhere, but I think it’s about cultivating an environment where people want to contribute be that the owners/chefs/FOH.
Bence:When designing drinks, two of my greatest inspirations are my travels and cooking. It is surprisingly easy to get stuck in a bubble of our local drinking culture, so looking at bars, cuisines and ingredients I encountered throughout my travels can be a true eye-opener. I am, by no means a chef but I do enjoy cooking and experimenting with new flavours, which can be a great way to discover combinations which work wonderfully and can be transmitted into cocktails.
- Could it be useful to have bartenders and chefs work as one team or is it more efficient if they work separately.
Ben: I think there is certainly crossover between both departments, getting chefs to see the bigger picture that we are all part of the guest experience is always a barrier. Can depend but ultimately understanding what each other is trying to achieve has to be of benefit
Bence: For a venue that takes cocktails seriously, this could be the way to raise their game to the next level. Bartenders working together with pastry chefs in particular could work wonders since in general the flavours they work with are more in line with each other.
- Do you think pairing cocktails with certain dishes or garnishing cocktails with more sophisticated savoury/sweet canapes can be a way forward?
Ben:Yeah why not, it sounds fun and dining should be about fun
Bence: I definitely think so. Just as people have been pairing wines with food for ages, with cocktails the options of styles and flavours we can express are even more diverse, so I can’t wait to see this become a real trend.
- What do you think of swapping roles for a few days so chefs & bartenders could understand and appreciate better each other’s roles?
Ben: I would be a terrible barman so doubt it would be fair on the customers. But a great lesson learned for me at an early age was to be sent out to a customer to apologize for something I made.. Since then I realised the importance of everyones role in customer satisfaction.
Bence: In any job, it could be extremely useful to understand what people around you do and how much effort a particular task requires. This can lead to greater appreciation towards each other’s work and a definite lift of team-spirit. It could also be great fun for everyone
To conclude it seems that there are definitely some similarities between chefs and bartenders when it comes to ‘looking for inspiration’ and keeping an open mind. Both Ben and Bence draw the importance on the attitude which is a valuable aspect when it comes to growth and development of a successful career or business. Also, even though I believe that bartenders have more to learn from chefs when it comes to flavour combinations and techniques, the bar team does have the upper hand in terms of customer interaction, due to getting immediate and personal feedback from guests, as they are, most of the times, front of house and need to have a great level of interpersonal skills. Working together as a team offers the opportunity of constant interaction which can definitely be a great advantage to any restaurant, bar or business in general. As the industry moves forward, it would be great to see more collaborations between chefs and bartenders in the events sector too, as there is always room for improvement and certainly this could be a way, benefitting from each other’s knowledge.
by Dovile Daugelaite