World-renowned mixologist Hemant Pathak’s first introduction to crafting cocktails happened while working as a steward at the prestigious Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi, India. It was there where he found his true passion and set out to research the art, science,and history of mixology for himself.
He’s currently a mixologist at Michelin-starred Junoon in New York City, working alongside celebrity chef Vikas Khanna. The restaurant’s high-end cocktail lounge is the stage where Pathak fashions unique, and contemporary, quaffs integrating the herbs and spices of his native India. Pathak also plies his craft at the Flatiron Room, New York City’s top whiskey bar, where one of the most extensive collections of whiskey in the country are at his disposal. Pathak blends expertise, passion, and innovation into his cocktail creations like very few can.
These are some of Hemant’s marvellous creations –
Q1. How did mixology happen to you? Was it something that you always had in mind as a career path or did it happen by chance?
More than anything else, it was my passion, observation, creativity and hard work that has made me what I am today. After I finished my three years of hospitality school in 2008, I joined Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi and found myself working behind the bar. I realized that it is a more interesting and in a way more demanding job compared to serving in the restaurant. This first job made me realize one thing; that food can be different from cuisine to cuisine but beverages remainthe same and I decided to learn about beverages.
Q2. Tell us about some of your favourite ingredients when mixing drinks. We’ve heard that you love to use Indian spices in your cocktail creations
Every new ingredient that I find around, always makes me excited and it is challenging to come up with something unique and new. My biggest strength when it comes to mixology are Asian herbs and masalas which include many different teas and spices, specifically from India. I never knew that my childhood exposure to herbs and spices by my mom would be the greatest inspiration for me throughout my life. Later working with chef Vikas at Junoon helped me to understand the power of spices in the global food and beverage market and it helped me to transform them into various forms.
Q3 . A signature drink of yours – how did you come up with the concoction, give us a little story.
My travels across the globe with the title of mixologist made me aware of the demand of tea & spices in the cocktail market and those became the key ingredients of my mixology program after I joined Junoon. There are many signature drinks I created in the last few years but one drink which got so popular is Masala Margarita, a simple Indian spice twist with blazing flame on the Mexican classic cocktail called Margarita.
A cocktail that can satisfy all your senses, meaning it is good to observe, good to taste, smell and hear the inspiration behind it. I like to call the “Blaze Style of Cocktails”. Many refer to Professor Jerry Thomas for his signature style of making blaze cocktails.
Q4. How big a role does the presentation of a cocktail play ?
A great cocktail issupposed to satisfy all your senses and eyes taste cocktail before palate so a well garnished cocktailwhich compliments the flavors and presentation with relevant accompaniment is amust.
Q5. How did Junoon happen? Could you give us more details about the same
Back in 2012 I met Mr. Rajesh Bharadwaj, CEO & Founder of Junoon group of restaurant at Junoon, New York, while I was on a trip to Puerto Rico for the Bacardi Legacy global cocktail competition. He explained his vision behind the Junoon restaurant, and introduced me to chef Vikas. Thereafter he took me to a wonderful tour of this big restaurant and offered me a job. Truly, this meeting was so inspiring for me and having these two gentlemen around and their vision to take Indian food to thenext level was the biggest inspiration for me to stay there and think the same way about Indian mixology.
Q6. Some tips and advice for the up and coming bartenders?
I can see the tremendous change in mixology inthe last 5 years. I would say study as much as possible about classic cocktails, learn techniques overthe internet by watching mixology videos, and meet experts and chefs whenever possible to get new ideas about flavor comps and most important, do it with your heart, mind and soul.
Think tending bar isn’t a real career? You’re wrong. The craft of bartending is coming in India, and some of us are even called “mixologists” now. I love being your psychiatrist-matchmaker-entertainer-friend. Otherwise, I wouldn’t tend bars.