How did a non-drinking Taiwanese bartender with no cocktail competition experience claim the top prize for USA in this year’s BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition? Gn Chan shares his story…
THE MAKING OF A BARTENDER…
I trained as an industrial designer
Bartending wasn’t something I’d ever thought about. But after I got scammed and lost all the money from the design brand I’d started up, I had to look at other ways to make a living. So I went into a bar and asked for a job.
That was the turning point in my career
It’s when I discovered that I absolutely loved bartending. I lived in the bar because I didn’t have money to pay rent at first which meant as soon as I woke up and washed myself I’d start working. It felt natural, even though I don’t drink, I just thought, wow I love this, I want to do this. I immersed myself in everything to do with the bar and discovered I had a natural talent for it.
My two biggest interests are performing and design
For me, bartending is like a crossover of the two – the performance comes in the movement and the way you make the drinks; the drinks are your design and the bar is your stage. Bartending also combines a bit of magic which is something I’ve also done, I spent some time as a street magician in the past.
I’m from a very traditional Christian family from the south of Taiwan
My family don’t drink, neither do I really – not because I don’t like alcohol but because I have a very low tolerance level. My parents can’t really understand why I’m doing this and were quite harsh to me at the beginning but since I was young they have come to accept that I only do what I want to do – I’m not one to follow, I do what’s good for me.
THE MAKING OF A BACARDI LEGACY CHAMPION
I’ve always wanted to challenge myself, to explore the world
After working in the bar in Taiwan and realising I wanted to make bartending my career, I headed over to New York as I heard it was the most challenging place for cocktails. It meant starting from scratch again but I’m not afraid of hard work. If it’s the right place and I think I’m going to learn something – it’s definitely worth it.
I worked three jobs at once
I didn’t speak good English when I first arrived in New York so there were only a few places I could work and certain jobs I could do. Initially I had a tough schedule and did three shifts a day in three different restaurants: one French, one Indian and one Italian – it definitely helped me to appreciate different cultures.
I did a lot of guest shifts during the marketing period. Some bartenders send a message and ask people to make their drinks. I personally don’t feel comfortable with that – we don’t have a relationship. I prefer to be in your bar and make the drink for you – I like to make that connection
I never thought I would work at Angel’s Share
At the time there were only Japanese people working there but Shingo Gokan [Angel’s Share Bar Director and BACARDÍ Legacy Global Final winner, 2012) asked me if I’d like to join the team as a host. I asked if I could be a bartender and he said I’d have to prove myself first. So I spent the first three or four months as a host, another four to five months as waiter, then I moved on to become a barback before moving up to becoming a bartender after a year. I’ve now been at Angel’s Share for three and a half years.
THE MAKING OF A LEGACY COCKTAIL…
My BACARDÍ Legacy cocktail originated from an assignment at the bar
We use BACARDÍ Legacy as the standard to judge these in-house competitions. As my drink came first in the competition in the bar and seeing as I already had the cocktail, it made sense to enter BACARDÍ Legacy when it came round. This was my first global competition and of course I wanted to do it because I saw what how it helped Shingo Gokan to build his career. I really wanted to challenge myself – I want to travel, meet new people and learn and this is a wonderful opportunity. I know Bacardí really support bartenders which is very important to me, it’s one of the main reasons I entered the competition.
For me the process of creating a cocktail is a little bit backwards, I usually think about how it looks and how I’ll present it to the guest first, then how to make it, then I think about the taste
‘Venceremos’ the name of my cocktail means we shall overcome
It was gifted to me by a drinks historian who I met two years ago. We were outside the Museum de Bacardí in Cuba and started talking – he told me the story of Bacardí in Cuba and I told him my story of how I moved to New York to become a better bartender. He told me he was giving me the word as a gift as it represented the Cuban attitude and reminded him of my story. At that moment I decide I wanted to use this word to create a cocktail. but that was two years ago I had no idea what or when it would be.
After I entered the competition I decided this was the time to use the name
BACARDÍ Legacy asks you to create something that relates to your background and is easy to recreate all over the world. My drink is a modern twist on the Piña Colada and represents me and my history, where I am from and where my bartending career began. Calling it the Venceremos made perfect sense.
Pineapple and coconut are iconic fruits with nostalgic flavours
They remind me of home where it’s summer all the time. I used pineapple and coconut as a base because they are classic in rum cocktails, but it was harder working out what to pair them with.
Sesame oil is an iconic ingredient in Asian cuisine, it’s also very easy to find everywhere, but not so common in bars. I then had to think what to pair with the sesame oil – what is the bridge for all of those ingredients? That led me to think about a side dish we have in Taiwan which consists of cucumber, a pinch of salt, sesame oil and some chilli and garlic. Using cucumber juice in the cocktail brings all of the ingredients together really well.
THE MAKING OF A LEGACY…
The name of my cocktail says it all
‘Venceremos’ means don’t give up, overcome, you’ll get there. I want to share this attitude and the meaning behind the cocktail. I’ll feel honoured and happy if someone is inspired by my story to go out there and chase their dream. I didn’t think I would go this far but now that I have, it would be good to influence people to chase their dream. It’s not my responsibility but I would like that very much.
Illustration: Hagesawa Tesuo
45ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca
15ml coconut liqueur
25ml pineapple juice
15ml cucumber juice
5ml lime juice
1 dash sesame oil
Shake all ingredients over ice. Strain into a chilled Hurricane or Rocks glass. Garnish with pineapple leaves.