Singaporean bartender Steve Leong will represent Asia with his winning cocktail Diverging. He will compete in the finals on the Belvedere Challenge in London, and the winner will be announced on World Martini Day June 19.
The challenge from Belvedere to bartenders was simple: Create a legendary martini cocktail. From all over the world they posted their entries, and now only nine of them will be at the finals in London. The only Asian rep is Steve Leong, whose creation Diverging – a unique harmony of Belvedere Vodka, coffee-infused Becherovka and Dow’s Fine Tawny Port – sounds like a classic in the making. The winner will receive a dream vacation to Jamaica at the renowned GoldenEye Resort, one of the world’s most beautiful and notable luxury destinations.
He’s come a long way, our Steve. After learning basic bartending at Loof, Steve honed his skills through study, engaging with bartenders from around the world, and by attending international master classes. He has since worked at Bar Stories and Bitters & Love, and now helms Tess Bar & Kitchen. We spoke to him about life behind the bar.
What’s your favourite drinking soundtrack(s)? “Electronic string music.
What’s your favourite cocktail? “It’s a twist on a classic wet martini, served on the rocks for some dilution. It’s made with one part La Quintinye dry vermouth, two parts Belvedere vodka stirred down, then served on the rocks and garnished with lemon zest. This could be a martini option for guys who feels that martini glasses are not ‘manly’.”
Favourite Cocktail-movie bartending trick? “Throwing coasters.”
Most memorable drinking experience? “The most memorable in recent memory would be when I was in Japan last month for the BarShow, and was at a bar called Bar High Five – it’s a very small space that sits 18 people at the max. I was there with friends from the industry who flew in specially for the show from Singapore, Bangkok and Taiwan and it was definitely a rare experience for us to get together in such an intimate place that we all enjoy.
Best hangover cure? “A warm Bloody Mary made with Belvedere vodka – it’s just like a bowl of warm soup, it’s comforting and cures a hangover at the same time. Works all the time for me.”
Person you would most like to drink with? “Wouldn’t be a person, but a core group of old friends from my secondary school days. These are the people who’ve been supportive of me – even before I had the opportunity like this to show my craft at an international level. And while I appreciate them a lot, it’s always hard to find time to get together. So it if I were to choose someone I’d most like to drink with – it would be them.”
How do you deal with pesky/rude customers? “It’s understandable that some customers get a bit rude when they are tipsy or drunk. So I’ll usually look out for the friends they are with and inform them to look after their friend. But I think learning to deal with rude customers is part of the job, as with any one in the service line, we are bound to meet people who are not being the nicest and we just have to learn how to deal with it. I will usually just do my best to give them the best service they ask for, and make them understand that they don’t have to be rude to get their drink or enjoy a good night out.”
What’re the 8-10 spirits a beginner needs to start a good home bar? “Vodka, gin, rum, tequila, bourbon, whiskey, cognac, as well as a vermouth and a liquor (e.g. Grand Marnier) because most classic cocktails usually consist of these two.”
What’ve you learned about life from behind the bar? “It can be a high-pressure environment during service, so one key takeaway would be learning how to manage people (be it with customers, bosses or business partners) and expectations.”