By Arthur Tam
The competition was fierce, but mixologist Samuel Kwok from the Quinary didn't crack under pressure and took home the win during the final Shake Down challenge at Cheers@Taikoo Place. He is now Hong Kong’s representative to compete at the Diageo World Class bartending competition in Mexico City and will go against the best from around the world. We catch up with the 31-year-old to talk drinks, tattoos and family.
What was your strategy going into the Shake Down at Taikoo Place?
For the pop-up bar, I wanted an aesthetic that was raw and would complement my love for tattoos. So I asked a friend to set up a faux tattoo station and designed my pop-up bar with masculine, vintage saloon sort of vibe.
What was the concept behind the drinks you served?
There was A Man's Man, which is a combination of rum, whisky, coffee, chocolate bitters, vermouth and sherry. This drink was only served to judges, and it's based on my interpretation of what the phrase “a man’s man” means. A man should be strong, confident, decisive and willing to take responsibility. When I had my first child, I was only 24 and wasn’t married to my wife yet. Nothing was planned, but it turned out OK. We did things backwards: had a kid, then got married. And I have no regrets about that.
What is it like being a bartender and a father of two?
It’s difficult. I rarely get to see my kids except for my one day off. Thankfully I have my wife and my parents as a support system. On my right arm, I have a tattoo of the racoon family from Studio Ghibli film Pom Poko. It was my favourite animation as a child, and I had the tattoo artists add in characteristics from my own family to the tattoo. So really, it’s my family on my right arm.
Pom Poko is also the name of the drink you served during the competition.
Yes, it is. The magical racoons from the film are playful, shapeshifting characters that I wanted to represent through the cocktail, which is made from either Ketel One or Ketel One Citron vodka, as well as oolong tea cordial with black plums, osmanthus flowers, haw flakes and soda water.
It sounds like you added a lot of Chinese flavours.
I think it's important to use flavours that represent where I am from. I thought it would help me stand out and show that I'm familiar with local ingredients.
What made you go into the bartending industry anyway?
I wasn’t good at studying and a classmate whom I’ve known for 17 years now was already in the F&B industry at the time and offered me a job. I started bartending and realised that I liked that I got to interact with people and listen to their stories. I'm not sure if it’s necessarily passion that drives me, but I’ve always been stubborn, and that pushes me to become better.
Check out our story of Cheers@Taikoo Place here: