Sarita Sharma – Mixologist, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar – typifies a growing breed of successful lady professionals taking up a challenging career as bartender and mixologist. In a chat with FoodService India, she recounts her experience of working in a field that is typically regarded as a male bastion and how she negotiated the barriers to emerge successful in her chosen field
How did you come into this profession and how long have you been tending bar?
I came to know about bartending when I was a trainee at the Oberoi and handled the bar back-up. My interest developed gradually while mixing drinks. After my training, when I went back to college I found out about Flaming Trio, a bartending academy. I am from a Brahmin family and it did take time to convince my parents about taking up this passion as a future profession. But I managed and convinced them about it. I was the only girl with eight boys from my college to join the academy. It was a six months course at Flaming Trio. After the training, I worked there for five years from 2009 to 2014. In October 2014, I joined JW Marriott Sahar at the time of its pre-opening.
How does it feel working in a line that is seen as a male bastion? Do your male counterparts see you invading their turf? What are the social and professional barriers for a woman in this profession?
When I started in this profession, it was not easy. My co-colleagues used to taunt me. According to them, customers would visit me only because I happened to be a female and not because of any appreciation for my work. Eventually, I proved them wrong by showing them my quality of work.
Yes, male bartenders feel insecure because they think that the rise of female bartenders could dent the demand for male bartenders. Over the years in this profession, I keep coming across two sets of people – those who are really happy about females working behind a bar as a good sign of progress and workplace diversity and those who are strongly opinionated about a girl working behind the bar as something that is just not right. Initially, dealing with the second set of people was difficult but I adjusted and now I feel comfortable being a part of this profession.
What did it take to establish your reputation and identity?
My relationship with the clients, their trust, and the quality of work I delivered helped me establish my own identity in this profession. This also motivated me to come to work enthused every day.
What is it about this profession that makes you happy and feel fulfilled?
I feel happy working behind the bar and preparing the best cocktails. When I see my customers happy, I feel fulfilled. I enjoy meeting different set of people and I have made a lot of friends through my profession, which also makes me feel happy and fulfilled.
What’s it like being a mixologist? How does one go from being a bartender to being a mixologist?
A mixologist is someone who can customise cocktails according to the customer and be a bartender as well. Whereas, a bartender is the one who works behind the bar and mixes drinks according to the fixed recipes.
What are the ingredients you use in your cocktails? Do you have a certain philosophy when it comes to what you put in your drinks?
I always use local ingredients – fresh home grown produce, which our chefs grow at the backyard of our hotel. My philosophy for preparing cocktails is to make it simple and refreshing.
Which new concepts, innovations and experiments you have tried out that have proven successful and popular?
In terms of innovation, I am good at making twists to the classic cocktail, and home-made bitters. I work on the concept of preparing cocktails as per the season – such as summer cocktails or winter cocktails. This concept has been popular and successful throughout.
What do you think makes one a good bartender and mixologist?
Being a good bartender and mixologist is all about knowing your basics right, building good relationships when working at a bar and being good at giving a twist to the basic cocktails.
What is most challenging about what you do?
To keep up with the pace between my work and personal life is a big challenge. However, it’s fun being at work and exploring different drinks.