“I never count down the hours until the end of a working day” – Nazar Makarov shares his thoughts on profession of a bartender, foodpairing and Ukrainian cocktails
A bartender with a multi-year experience of work in the famous City Space Bar, Moscow and Moskovsky BAR, Nazar Makarov today runs the bar in the modern Ukrainian cuisine restaurant BARVY. Nazar assured us that he does not work as a bartender – he IS a bartender. He spends most of his working time in the first laboratory of the Ukrainian cocktail, where together with his colleagues he invents brand new drinks from local products. “Wherever I am and whatever I do, my never-ending thought process keeps looking for new experiments at the bar,” says Nazar. In his interview for BAROMETER, he told us why it is so important to create your own style in bar culture. He also opened up about who he would like to prepare his author’s cocktail for.
BARVY is one of the few restaurants in Ukraine offering foodpairing. Tell us how you came up with this idea. Where did you gain mastery and, most importantly, what inspires you to create unique combinations?
In 2014, when I was working at Four Seasons in Moscow, a cook Gosha Troyan suggested preparing something together for a training session at the Chef Show. At that time, we hadn’t heard of anyone doing something similar so we decided to try. As a result, we succeeded in matching a dish with a drink from the local Russian cuisine. But such presentation was then hard to perceive even for chefs. Generally, people do not quite understand the word “foodpairing” and I still can not think of a synonym. Foodpairing is a molecular approach to composing a dish. Its idea is to find not only taste combinations of products, but also perfect combinations at the molecular level that affect digestion positively. Borsch, for example, is perfect foodpairing that has been developed for centuries, without any laboratory research 🙂 At present, all products can be examined through a microscope. In 2007, the founder of foodpairing business, bioengineer Bernard Lauss launched a website where you can find the best combinations of products. Now I’m actively using this resource.
When I started working at the BARVY restaurant, Barman Dictat launched the first Ukrainian national foodpairing competition, where we had to cook a dish together with a cocktail. Therefore, we started seriously considering foodpairing with Serezha (Sergey Baysarevich, the brand-chief of the BARVY restaurant – author’s note). I wanted to make something local. The cook was responsible for a dish. My task was to find combinations with the dominant ingredients of the dish, while the taste of the cocktail had to remain unique. After winning this competition, we decided to continue experimenting with combinations at the restaurant on a regular basis.
What is the guests’ reaction to foodpairing offers? Do they consider them? Are they willing to try new combinations?
Although we have 6 sets in the foodpairing menu, visitors often do not know that we are going to cook, so they’re always thrilled. Critics also visit our restaurant, these are people who have been to more than 100 countries in gastronomic tours. And everybody gets really excited when it comes to tasting various combinations.
Do you have a favorite drink or cocktail? Or a favourite combination of food and drink?
I absolutely love all groups of drinks and practically all tastes. The same is about combinations. The most important is to reach a good balance. Quite often, people mix a bunch of things, but there’s no balance in it. If you make a cocktail containing 4-5 ingredients, out of which only one is noticeable, then why mix everything? Each single taste should stand out, this is a real balance.
You had a successful experience as a bartender in Moscow, in one of the best bars of the world. What made you return to Kiev?
I went there for a year to develop my skills and come back. Although, when I was going to Moscow, I was sure that I already knew a lot – by that time I had already participated in a major competition from Pernod Ricard, where my author’s cocktail got the highest score out of 150 works. But when I arrived in Moscow, I realized that I had been evaluated among bartenders of my level, where the culture of drinking was just beginning to emerge. And it turned out that I needed several years instead of only one. I plunged into a world that attracted many other guys like me. We were trying to distance ourselves from the world where we could to do everything, but didn’t know how to do it top quality. And that was the problem. Before, in order to offer the Old Fashioned cocktail, which has a large ice ball in it, I had to hunt for the guests, like a lion. I had singled out one person from the crowd, established contact with them for several weeks, and only then I could be sure that they will not throw the ice from the cocktail at me shouting: “Why do I have this huge piece of ice my glass?!” We wanted to study and did our best to get into this “Mecca”. This is a huge pool of knowledge, and, in addition, a very good motivation system. It was hard to stop. I remember sleeping then less than 5 hours at that time.
How have the bars in Ukraine changed lately?
Many people do not notice any changes at all, because they have always lived here, but I see a contrast. When I returned to Kiev, not only had the currency rate rise three times, but also the assortment had changed: there had been a quantum leap in the choice of drinks. For three years, the guys have done a lot despite the complicated situation, and all this is due to the fact that the bar community in Ukraine is very close-knit. I remember that on my arrival in Kiev, I thought the most popular cocktails alcohol was rum or whiskey. And how much stunned was I! Gin turned out to be the best-selling alcohol for cocktails. This is the most difficult drink to understand for our mentality, it is not typical of us at all. So if people are ready to drink cocktails based on gin, there’s no doubt we have moved forward.
According to you, what does Ukrainian bar culture lack?
I was away for only 4 years, and during this time, everyone suddenly turned out to be mixololgists, despite working at the bar for about three years. Probably this won’t be the most accurate comparison but if we draw an analogy between kitchen and the bar culture, it’s like preparing author’s haute cuisine without understanding steaks and borshch. All too often, bartenders try to create an author’s cocktail card without knowing the classics, that is, the basics. But this is a normal period to be passed. There is simply no orderly knowledge and a clear structured database yet.
Tell us more about “The First Laboratory of the Ukrainian Cocktail”. What sort of establishment is it and what is going on there?)
This is a very figurative name. The lab includes many components. We have our workshop, where we prepare cocktails; some of the equipment is placed in the kitchen, for example, the PacoJet – a machine making sorbets. The very essence of the laboratory is creation of a Ukrainian cocktail. It’s important because until we have our own face, we will copy others. And it’s high time we formed our own style. We have many local products and they need to be displayed. In the lab, I work with two bartenders who know all the starting materials. In other words, the laboratory is the base for experiments, the continuous process of creating something new.
In Ukraine, you are known as a connoisseur of hotel bar services. In what way are hotel bars different from those located within a restaurant or separate ones?
Five-star hotel service requires top-of-the-range level of service. Swissôtel, for example, is a Swiss business-oriented network. The work of the entire hotel is designed in such a way as to provide five-star service to the guest, but at the same time not to interrupt their business. You are literally like a ninja there 🙂 It is extremely difficult. Working in Four Seasons, I realized why they pay 30% more than their nearest competitors do. You must know everything about your client. Given that the cheapest cocktail cost 21 dollars there, my task was to prepare and serve it to a guest in such a way that they would never be ashamed to pay this much money, which is really expensive. The difference is that in a hotel bar, they know the service inside out, they can meet the needs of any guest: from the most humble to the most demanding. But the bar at the hotel is not an independent object, thus, as a rule, it gets the greatest investments. Paying for a room, you already pay salary to a bartender. Therefore, everything functions there a bit differently. If someone wants to find out what a crazy service is, in a good way, go work in a five-star hotel. Moreover, in places like these significant resources are allocated to the development of staff. Dozens of the best bartenders from all over the world came to City Space Bar to teach us. This is about a million euros of investments in the personnel.
What do you think is a key to the success of the bar?
The big problem of many establishments in Kyiv is that sometimes they work without earning a profit even while having a monthly turnover of 3 to 5 million. All this is due to an incorrect structure of business. And a bar is usually the weakest point in the establishment. Although we have already learned how to work with the kitchen, pricing and compilation of a cocktail card remains problematic, since this subject is rather new. I can name a dozen bars in Kiev, which are successful. The rest haven’t yet gained enough structured knowledge and do not understand how to earn a profit.
Where do you go in your spare time? How do you usually spend the weekend?
I really enjoy various exhibitions, I like walking a lot. I tend to say I’m an eternal pedestrian with a briefcase. Seriously, I do not like cars, I prefer motorcycles. My childhood dream is to ride a motorbike, so I will start to study soon. I also adore the metro. Although I do not use it in rush hour, I love this transport as I always know exactly what time I will get to a particular place.
For whom would you like to prepare your favourite or author’s cocktail?
For me it makes no difference who comes to the bar stand, it is just a person. The only difference is that I will not give him any super-attention, like, for example, to a friend. Still answering to your question, I would gladly make a cocktail for Anthony Hopkins – he is my favourite actor 🙂
With what famous person would you like to have a drink?)
I would gladly have a drink with Sergey Babkin, he is a very nice and sincere man. I met him once and was impressed with his openness.
To be a bartender is …
It is a lifestyle. I often say that I do not work as a bartender, I am a bartender. As Simone Caporale once mentioned in an interview, “people never go voluntarily to lawyers and doctors, but all lawyers and doctors happily come to me after work.” I am not a part of any system, I just give pleasure to people. It’s a real thrill. But, of course, I’m responsible for those I liquor up 🙂
For what would you like to thank your work?
I keep saying this all the time. For meeting new people. When you sit inside four walls in the office, everything seems very cyclical, while guests bring me variety. They are all different and you never know who the person in front of you is and what their profession is.
Are we still adopting world trends or are we already creating them ourselves?
In order to become a trendsetter you need to have good knowledge. Do not take it literally, but Mendeleev would have never created a table of elements if he hadn’t known chemistry inside out. For four years, I have been fanatically studying world techniques and basic things. First, you learn to take after others and copy their techniques. Only then does the understanding of what can be interesting to people comes.
At our Laboratory of the Ukrainian cocktail, we elaborated a technique that is very relevant now – applying brand images on the ice. The problem is that after the first sip a drink fills the picture making it invisible. In addition, the ice melts in the alcohol so the image turns into an illegible pattern. We came up with the technique “Jelly-Print”. This is the application of the logo on the ice, which remains unchanged until the glass is emptied out. This technique allows you to make beautiful photos that guests find appealing. However, in order to come to this decision, I had to study ice for about five years. It’s so simple. But it turned out to be not easy at all 🙂
What will we drink in bars tomorrow? What trends can you single out?
People want to try new things. The Kyiv audience are people who strive for Europe. They are absolutely open and ready for experiments. I also think that Dry Martini will become very popular soon, even though now we are not ready for it morally.
The work of a bartender always means an active and fulfilled life, many acquaintances, travelling and opportunities. What do you like most about your work and what would you like to change?
Seven years ago, I realized that I did not count down the hours until the end of a working day. I remember that at that time I felt myself a happy person. Recently I’ve discovered that there isn’t anything about my work I’d like to change. I like everything in my profession to such an extent that I find something interesting even in routine tasks. I enjoy it that people come to the bar for various reasons but all of them go home satisfied. I want to create an island of serenity where people can get what they want and do not think about what they would like to forget.
Speaking about my own wishes, I’d like to travel more for my own pleasure – and I strive for this.
By Iryna Khamandiak