KOCHI: Pankaj Kamble was 16 when he saw a video of a professional mixologist on YouTube. “I was so inspired by the style in which the man was presenting his art. He had this wonderful way with the bottles and soon I was trying to emulate him. Every day after my classes, I would run to the beach to flip and pull bottles and learn the practice of mixing drinks. I knew in my heart this is what I wanted to do with my life,” says Pankaj, a world-record holding mixologist-cum flairologist, who was in Kochi, for an event at the Taj Vivanta.
Since there were not many trainers in the country, he decided to go overseas. “However, my family was not financially well-off, which is why I decided to take part in competitions to earn a ticket to go abroad. Through God’s blessing, I could visit countries in Asia, the Carribean islands, and the United Arab Emirates, where I got to interact with the top professional mixologists and bartenders in the world. It was the best learning experience I had,” he said. With the knowledge he gained, Pankaj decided to try a hand at breaking the world record in 2011. “The existing record was held by a UK resident. He carried out 73 mixes in a minute. I and a friend broke it with 79 mixes,” he said.
This attempt earned Pankaj a name in the bartending fraternity and he has been invited to London, Hong Kong and other international venues.
Pankaj says there is a style to present a drink. “The way you present yourself is a major skill in our profession. You may be serving only a glass of water, but there is a style to present that too. For example, I’ll take the base of the bottle and roll it 360 degrees on my thumb and then open it. It is just a way of impressing my guest. Similarly, I do double flips for canned drinks and then stick the can to my palm to create a vacuum. It’s the best way to open the can and serve the drink. There are other methods, like rolling bottles, using my left hand, taking it all the way across my shoulder, chest, spinning it and then serving with a smile,” says Pankaj.
He says he analyses every guest that enters the bar. “Some may be in high spirits, others would prefer to stay in a corner and sip on their drink. Some may be straight drinkers, wine sippers, or into cocktails. We belong to the hospitality business and it is important to make our customers happy,” he adds.
It was his foray in foreign countries that enabled Pankaj to learn about the importance of mixing good flavours. “Mixing cocktails is more a Western than an Indian practice. Whenever I met the more experienced mixologists and bartenders in the West, they taught me about Western flavours which I was not used to. This is why I decided to create my own flavours, which has an Indian touch. I use mostly fruits like bananas and mangos and spices like chilli powder. This is what makes it more Indian,” he says.