Ask the Expert: Agung Prabowo
Originally from Jakarta, 31-year-old Agung Prabowo knew from the age of 18 that he wanted to make working in bars a profession. He started as a junior bartender and has been progressively working his way up. He moved here seven years ago to further his career, and has worked at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental's MO Bar, Lily & Bloom, and the W hotel. Seven months ago he accepted the position of bar manager at the Lobster Bar and Grill at the Island Shangri-La hotel. He is most enthusiastic about the art of cocktails, especially those that involve a few showy moves, as well as ageing cocktails in oak barrels.
What led to you to make a career out of mixing drinks at such a young age?
Two things. I had a good friend who was working in a bar making cocktails and when I learned more about what his job involved and saw him in action, I liked what he did and decided I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Also the Tom Cruise movie, Cocktail. I watched that movie so many times and began to practise all the flair bartending moves. As I gained confidence I started to enter competitions and won. I even represented Hong Kong at the world championships in 2008 for flair bartending and placed eighth out of 87 countries. It was the last competition I entered as I don't have the time to practise, but I still keep up with the latest trends.
Other than entertaining guests what else do you enjoy about your job?
Meeting and talking to people and seeing if I can determine based on their character what drink or cocktail they would like. I think it has given me a deeper insight into people. Sometimes I am so good at reading people, I get a strong feeling and don't need to even ask the tricks of the trade questions, such as, "What mood are you in?" or "Do you like sweet or sour flavours?" I just instinctively know what drink they will enjoy at that moment.
Do you have a signature style?
Yes. I like to take classic cocktails and give them a twist, often an Asian twist. For example the rum Blazer I make has some star anise in it. Another is the Lost Horizon. It is based on a classic Planter's Punch but I add ginger and coriander. I am also ageing cocktails in small barrels made from charred oak. As with ageing most alcohol, it gives it a smoother taste. At the moment I am ageing my version of a Negroni (gin, sweet vermouth, Campari, orange bitters), which will be in the barrel for three months.
What changes in customer preferences have you noticed in the past few years?
The increasing knowledge of guests - sometimes I even learn about new cocktails from them. There is also a focus on drinking premium spirits. Once guests would just order a drink not caring about brands, for example if it was rum, they would leave it to the bartender what rum to use, but now they are asking for a particular brand. I think that this is a good thing for the industry and is something I appreciate as it shows that customers care more and appreciate a well-made drink.
What is the secret to a good cocktail?
For me, it is about heart and passion. Anyone can learn the techniques and follow a recipe, but if the person making the drink is not passionate about what they are doing, I believe you can taste that.
What is your favourite cocktail?
I like to drink beer when I go out, but if I do have a cocktail it would be an Old Fashioned or a martini.