Going 10 Rounds with Top Bartender Hemant Pathak
What do you like to drink after a shift? “One of my all-time favorites is a well-stirred Negroni with a little extra gin than Campari and sweet vermouth. No matter how tired, happy or upset I am, this cocktail always keeps me going.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “I personally like “Roadhouse Blues” by The Doors.”
What drink should be banished and why? “Oooooh, not sure if there’s a drink that needs to be banished. After all, every drink has a story and its own character. Let all the drinks live happy in peace. No need to banish any!”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “I grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas, eating corn bread with my mom’s [homemade] buttermilk, which includes a special salt mixed with cilantro, chilis and a touch of garlic. Oh gosh, I will never forget this spicy, herbaceous buttermilk. Mom knows what I want when I tell her I am coming to India. I’d say that very well was the first good drink I ever had—albeit a non-alcohol one.”
What cocktail, spirits or food book is your go-to resource? “For cocktails, I always have Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh A.K.A. Dr. Cocktail. This was the first cocktail book I got as a present from Tim Etherington-Judge, my mentor and elder brother, who trained me for the Diageo World Class Global Final back in 2011. I learned a lot from this book. Another go to is The Flavor Bible, which helps me to understand the flavors while I’m creating my creations.”
What’s your favorite bottle of booze that costs less than $25? “It’s difficult to pick just one out of the many different categories I like to drink but I always have a soft spot for some amaro, like Ramazzotti.”
What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “Coming from a flavorful Indian heritage, which is full of exotic herbs, tea and spices, I always find a way to pair our vast Indian cuisine with different cocktails. Like overnight marinated and then tandoor (clay oven) cooked lamb chops with a well-stirred Manhattan with a touch of my spiced vermouth or a little spice vindaloo sauce with an Old-Fashioned to balance the flavors.”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “My creations gave me a chance to make my way from India to the U.S.A. It’s not fair to pick only one but last year one of my signature Margaritas, the Mumbai Margarita, was among the top seven Margaritas from across the globe in the Patron Margarita of the Year competition. It’s also so far the best-selling cocktail at Junoon.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “A double IPA with a shot of Fernet-Branca!”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “A pair of Blue Blazer mugs, which remind me of who I am and where I came from. In my mixology 101 classes or when giving university lectures, I never fail to mention how much I love the blazing technique of making cocktails. In fact, I used these blazing mugs for my winning World Class cocktail in 2011 and for the Bacardi Legacy Global cocktail competition in 2012.”
Hemant Pathak is the award-winning mixologist and bar manager of New York restaurant Junoon.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
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