Shawn Chong, co-owner of Omakase + Appreciate, KL's very own speakeasy, shares with The Yum List some stories from behind the scenes.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
I'm a bartender by profession. I started off as a hospitality student and back then, bartending was just a hobby. When I got my first job at Hilton Kuala Lumpur however, I had the opportunity to participate in cocktail competitions. It's here where I found my skill and talent in bartending.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
We have been involved with a company to create non-alcoholic beverages which challenge people’s palate and perceptions. To come up with mocktail creations somehow is more difficult than designing cocktails. Karl, my partner, came up with one that the first moment I smelt it, it immediately reminded me of - sausage. It was rather interesting yet funny at the same time to be able to get that sort of savoury-ness in a drink!
What's the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part of the job is to be able to experiment and mix drinks. But ultimately, the best is to make guests happy. On the flip side, the worst part of the job is dealing with drunk guests.
What's the best thing about owning/ working at Omakase + Appreciate?
The best thing about owning/working at O+A is that decisions can be made almost immediately. There is no approval process of what can or cannot be done. We call the shots. And of course, we get to make cocktails every day.
What are your favourite drinks?
1. Gin and Tonic
3. Guinness stout
4. Aged rum
What's your favoured food and cocktail pairing?
Dark chocolate and a classic rum or whisky cocktail.
Tell us a story about one of the cocktails you prepare...
There is a cocktail I make called Johnnie Nut Crusta, which I created for the Johnnie Walker Jet Black F1 party in Singapore back in 2009. I featured it again at the Johnnie Walker Black Circuit Lounge F1 party in KL in 2010 and it's still popular until today. It consists of Johnnie Walker Black Label, hazelnut syrup and lime juice - simplicity at its best.
What's one of the most outrageous things you've done behind the scenes?
One of the most outrageous things I’ve done behind the scenes was super speed batching cocktails for an event because cocktail mixes were running low. We made about 50 liters worth of cocktail in 15 minutes!
The perfect day off would be... catching up and spending time with friends and family. May or may not be over drinks.
A life in the day of a bartender is...
Just like everyone else, only thing our day is night, night is day. Bartending is a real full time job! It's not something you do for extra cash at night. We work late in the evening till the early hours of morning. We have “supper or breakfast” then we go home and sleep. Try not to call us before noon, thank you very much.
What do you do for fun?
I play badminton with a few friends on Sunday mornings.
What's something you'd like guests to know about the drinks prepared at Omakase + Appreciate?
Our lemon and lime juices are freshly pressed everyday. There's also a lot of ingredients we produce ourselves that take research, time, effort and a lot of trial and error before we arrive to a great product. There's a lot of preparation that goes on behind the scenes that guests don't usually realise - much like chefs nowadays.
How do you select your ingredients and why?
I select my ingredients by how easy it is to get and what is more consistent in taste and flavour. For example, I may choose canned fruit over fresh fruits due to the availability and consistency in quality. However, sometimes fruits may be superior in taste and quality when in season. So it depends.
What's your view on the KL bar scene?
It’s getting better with more bars coming up, but our cocktail culture is still very much in its infancy stage. We need more cocktail bartenders in KL.