Mumbai Food: Round table with three women mixologists
We are seeing more women behind the bar, and that was enough for us to get three spunky representatives to discuss making the perfect cocktail of a career with Phorum Dalal
What reactions did you get when you said you wanted to work as mixologist or bartender?
Nupur: I come from an open-minded family. In fact, my grandfather served me my first drink. My parents supported my decision, and they even come to all my parties. They are the most difficult to please, though!
Sarita: My father was against it, but when I told him I wanted to learn, he agreed to let me join the Flaming Trio Bar Academy after college. Once that was over, I said I wanted practical knowledge. My part of the bargain was to pursue a Masters degree, which I didn't keep (laughs).
(From left) Feruzan Billimoria, Sarita Sharma and Nupur Joshi brew cocktails. VENUEâÂÂÂÂCOURTESY: London Taxi, Lower Parel. PICS/PRADEEPâÂÂÂÂDHIVAR
Feruzan: I am a Parsi from South Mumbai; what do you expect? I had my first taste of alcohol when I was a toddler. We have a tradition of finding if a kid is Parsi. The father dips his finger in beer or whiskey and lets the baby have a lick. If s/he likes it, s/he's a true bawa! Pictures taken back then prove that I was.
Why doesn't your tribe increase?
NJ: People have spun myths about bartending being a male-dominated field. But they forget that the first bartender in India was Shatbi Basu for McDowells, a drink usually consumed by men. The number of bar academies that opened in the country in subsequent years have played a part in opening up this career option for women.
Is manning the bar a man's job?
NJ: A few years ago, a Pune-based luxury hotel decided it would set up an all-women chef team. It didn't work; they realised they needed both men and women. The same goes for a bar.
SS: As team leader, I don't mind letting the men do jobs that require physical strength. The kegs are 15 kgs each; you can't expect all 21-year-old girls to move them. It can affect their backs. But, everyone on the team divides duties equally. If they cannot do it, they ask for help. I have seven women helpers and two bartenders for the night shift. In the mornings, the women man the bar with basic drinks.
FB: I worked at the bar for three months (smiles). It makes you tough and you learn a lot. The gender issue is a myth.
Is it a challenge to get men to work under you?
NJ: This question should be put to both, men and women. Some men don't like to report to female bosses, and vice versa. Luckily enough, I have always had a great gang of male bartenders to work with. You split the duties, and make it fun.
SS: I helmed bar activities for four-and-a-half years, and duties were always equally divided.
How did you deal with harassment?
SS: Some mistake the woman bartender for a bar girl, but you have to be smart about how you deal with it. Usually, after a couple of drinks, guests want your number. In hospitality, you cannot to be rude. You smartly ask a male colleague to take over. With time, you understand the fine line [to tread], and can read a person.
FB: During training, we are advised to hand out a senior's number should this scenario arise. It works most of the time, because once they have the number, they leave you alone. When I was just starting out, I'd serve such men sober drinks with a lot of lime juice.
Are bartenders a shoulder to cry on?
SS: Especially when there are singles at a wedding, they come up to you and chat. Yes, I have been a shoulder to cry on, but I have also been co-conspirator. A group of friends come to you and request a stiff drink for a pal they want to get drunk. Sometimes, you end up meeting the same people, and they become friends.
FB: From my outdoor events days, a customer came to meet me at Romano's bar. He had broken up, and came alone for a drink. Later, when I moved to London Taxi, he dropped in with a girlfriend. He didn't know I had moved, and happily greeted me as his "favourite bartender". This man, when he is happy, he has a gin, and when he is sad, he prefers rum.
NJ: Being a mixologist, I usually start a conversation with chatter about a guest's drink, and try to understand what they prefer.
Name a change you'd like to see.
NJ: The beverage Industry in India takes most of its cues and inspirations from the Western world. Some fine Indian liquor and wine brands have evolved and have even won awards at a global level. These deserve to be appreciated.
SS: Mumbai needs better negronis.
FB: Bars need to look at their quality of ice. Ice shavers should be used only to make only golas! And learn the importance of utilising ingredients completely. When I worked at Romano's, we had a limited stock of fresh fruit and used every ingredient to the last drop. We'd take the softened morello cherries from the chef and use them to make our infusions
Mixologist, Tipsy Gypsy
AT 16, she made her first cocktail for her retired army officer grandfather. It was Old Monk with apple juice, soda and cinnamon powder. Inspired by India's first woman bartender Shatbi Basu, she made mixology her passion, as she dabbled with rum and wine cocktails. She spent a harvest season in Spain and Germany on a vineyard mastering the perfect sangria, and returned to conduct spirit sessions across the country.
Bar Manager, JW Marriott
Mumbai Sahar A SELF-CONFESSED tomboy, Sharma, after an internship at The Oberoi Mumbai where she refilled juices and made lime juice at the bar, joined a bar events firm and spent five years ensuring guests had a good time at sangeets and get-togethers. Later, she spent time in the US manning her family's liquor store.
Senior Bartender, London Taxi
WHEN a bout of illness left her without a placement after graduating from catering college, she began consulting her brother's home-run set Picadilly Bread, and freelanced as chef for outdoor events. Two years ago, she bartended, and never went back to cooking. Her quirky style landed her at Romano's bar at JW Marriott.