Varun Sudhakar went to college hoping to get a degree in hotel management. But halfway through, he discovered that flipping bottles was more fun than becoming a chef.
So after college, the boy from Trivandrum joined the Taj hotels as a flair bartender, whipping up flambé cocktails and impressing patrons by juggling bottles as he served a drink. “In fact, I won a national flair bartending contest organised by Bacardi in 2009,” says the soft-spoken 25-year-old who has just won the Diageo World Class bartending competition hosted by the world’s largest spirits company.
Amzing as it sounds, Sudhakar, who works in Mumbai’s Four Seasons Hotel’s Aer bar, learnt mixology almost entirely by reading books and watching videos on YouTube. “YouTube is a great teacher,” he says, adding quickly that experts such as Shatbhi Basu also helped.
So how did a self-taught mixologist manage to beat the best of Indian bartenders in a contest that saw over 500 entries? “All of us had to submit a cocktail recipe along with a story of how the recipe came about. In the regional finals, each of us had to tell that story as we prepared our cocktail. I called my wining entry Archis, which means ‘ray of light’ in Sanskrit,” Sudhakar tells us. And then, in the national finals, when six of the best squared off, the judges wanted contestants to improvise on their drinks. “I smoked my whiskey glass in cinnamon. When the judges asked me why I had done that, I said I was recalling the spirit of my previous drink. They laughed and I knew I had done well,” smiles the energetic young man.
Off to France and then on to Ibiza aboard a cruise liner where he will face off with 50 of the world’s best bartenders, Sudhakar is quietly confident. “Indian bars serve more clients in a week than the total populations of some of the nations. I know what pressure means,” he signs off.
60 ml Scotch whisky
20 ml lemon juice
20ml sugar syrup
20 ml orange reduction with cinnamon
4 sage leaves
15 ml egg white
Shake all the ingredients with a lot of ice and serve in a rock glass which is smoked with star anise. Garnish with lemon twist and sage