Ask the foodie: Richard Bate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 8:59am

Only 23, Richard Bate has already been nominated twice for bartender of the year in his native Australia. His fascination with flavours began when he was working in kitchens while still at high school. When he started working in bars, he watched how unexpected flavours went into cocktails. His commitment to making his own ingredients and his dedication to the craft appealed to Woolly Pig Concepts (Madam Sixty Ate, Sal Curioso), and after several Skype conversations he moved to Hong Kong two months ago as the group's beverage manager.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in making drinks?

I had worked in pubs around Australia since leaving high school. Two years ago I began working for Tim Wastell, who has won awards for bartending and bar managing. It was then I began to understand how much more I had to learn, especially at the cocktail level, and that it was something you can do as a career. I knew I wanted to work in a cocktail bar/restaurant setting as opposed to nightclubs and pubs that are pumping out drinks. Basically, I like talking to people about booze and introducing them to new drinks and experiences.

What question are you asked most?

Almost daily I am asked, "What's your signature cocktail?" I don't like this [question] as it limits you to one drink. I have a signature style: all the cocktails I create are signatures. I didn't create 15 cocktails for Sal Curioso, for example, for people to only drink one.

Tell us about your signature style

If I can make it myself, I will. This includes making my own syrups, cordials and liqueurs such as limoncello. I am inspired by the cocktail era before and just after Prohibition. There was a focus on technique and seasonality. Part of my style is introducing unexpected flavour combinations. I like to put a little white pepper and thyme in my grenadine, which means it works well in dark spirit-based drinks.

Tell us about your latest creations

I am creating a new menu for the changing of the season, with warming cocktails. There will be more cocktails, and they will be more diverse. One new cocktail is the Apple Pie Blazer, which is still being tweaked. It mixes rye whisky, Calvados, Dom Benedictine, lemon juice, aromatic bitters and a touch of sugar. The drink is set on fire and passed between two jugs, which is a bit of theatre but helps to blend, caramelise and intensify the fruit and honey flavours so that it tastes like warm apple pie.

How does the food at Sal Curioso play a role in your drinks?

The dishes are quite complex with a lot of elements on one plate, so I need to develop drinks that complement the food in weight and flavour. I want to encourage diners to come to Sal's for an aperitif that sets them up for the meal and then move on to drinks that will build as the food builds, ending with an interesting digestif.

How do you know if a bar makes good cocktails?

By how well the staff make a classic cocktail, like a martini or old fashioned, to see if they understand dilution and chilling a drink, which are the two most important elements of making a good cocktail.