In Conversation: Matthew Radalj, Mixologist, Niche

Hailing from Perth, Western Australia the creative driving force behind the service and beverage program at {niche} Lounge and Bistro – a brainchild of Tarun Arora – Matthew Radalj knows the trick to raise more then a few eye brows with his whimsical presentation techniques.

Though Matthew grew up aspiring to become a dentist, fate had other plans for him. He wound up being a mixologist. He has created a world class cocktail menu at {niche} focusing on fresh locally and internationally sourced ingredients.

In Conversation: Matthew Radalj, Mixologist, Niche

He made his first concoction, ‘Blood and Sand’ when he was just 17 years old and since then, he has never shied away from adopting a complete in-house culinary preparation approach to drinks.

Mixologist Matthew Radalj shares the role of a modern day mixologist, key trends and a lot more.

Take us through your mixology journey so far. Which have been the major milestones acomplishments and how have they shaped and influenced your career?

I was lucky enough to work at Luxe Bar in Perth at a time when it was considered one of the best cocktail bars in the country. It really was the pinnacle for any bartender in Perth at least, to grace the front bar of Luxe, that’s something I look back on with very fond memories.

From there I have covered half of the globe living and working in 11 countries in 5-star hotels, fine dining restaurants, casinos, cigar and cocktail dens and as a door to door Single Malt Whisky salesman.

Milestones and highlights:-

Holding down the Resident Mixologist position at the Crown Resort and Casino in Macau at the age of 23 and being the first holder of an employment visa in the 600+ year history of the former Portugese colony of Macau for the position of Mixologist is a pretty cool little fun fact.

FatCow Restaurant in Singapore which was awarded heavily and regarded in 2011 as one of the top restaurants in Singapore and won a bag of Best New Restaurant awards, we had a truly incredible Japanese Whisky menu which I curated and I worked with an incredible team lead by the GM Dax Taparan, the insanely talented Chef Wing Lam and Agnel Sathiananthan our Sommelier.

Launching Spiriteca in Hong Kong, the first Single Cask Single Malt portfolio in the city, at the time that was pretty revolutionary.

Partnering with Mike Soldner and opening B28 in Singapore a dedicated Single Malt, cigar and live jazz venue and then opening our 2nd venue in Seoul, South Korea was a defining moment of my career.

What are the special offerings at {niche}?

We are very proud of our 8 signature cocktails, each one with a story that we translate through a whimsical presentation and re-purposed items.

The Gourmet Sorbet Bellini’s are incredibly fun and allow us to create any flavour combination with the only limit being our own imagination.

The Director’s Cut is curated with double maturation process where we are re-maturing whisky in American Oak and producing a new finish on the Whisky – I don’t think anyone has done that in India before we opened {niche}.

How would you articulate the role of a modern-day mixologist?

It has a lot to do with image now-a-days more so then when I started off as a cocktail bartender. Bartending has seen such a resurgence and every aspect of the industry has received so much attention now the modern day mixologist is the life, essence and face of the bar which he or she is working at and they are the creative driving force behind the drinks program.

Being a successful mixologist necessitates in-depth knowledge on ingredients, flavours, tastes. Tell us how you have acquired these insights over the course of your career.

15+ years of on the job training, dining, drinking and reading. It is not something that you can acquire over night , you need to make this your life’s work and you are only as good as the ingredients you use, so getting to know as many of them intimately as you can goes along way. For me, how often and how varied my dining choices are reflects in my drinks and creativity levels, I try to eat out 3 times a week and I’m always harassing chefs I work with to share the wealth.

What are the key flavour and ingredient trends that are currently influencing mixology – globally, and in India?

I don’t follow global trends to be honest, I did read an article recently saying that vermouth was back in a big way but I think a few things are timeless and that’s more where I focus my attention.

I know that India is in love with dry ice currently. And I wish it should disappear from the scene totally, so we can focus on making great drinks without clouds of smoke and vapours. But the people seem to enjoy it and after all is said and done that’s all that matters is the folks are happy and they feel entertained.

How do you interpret trends to customise your creations and innovate new drinks?

If you are following trends by default, you are not generating innovation, you are imitiating it. If you want to deal in trends you should set them not follow them.

In Conversation: Matthew Radalj, Mixologist, Niche

Is there sufficient awareness/ understanding of the role of mixology in India? What are the prospects for mixologists?  

I think so, yes and I think India is placed very well considering the stifling nature of the excise situation and lack of products that are available, the scene is doing very well and the local talent is some of the best I have encountered.

In recent years, Indians have been increasingly exposed to alcoholic beverages such as draft beers, single malts, small-batch bourbons, super-premium vodkas, 100 per cent agave tequilas, etc. Is there strong enough demand for cocktails? At some point, does a mixologist compete with a bartender at a bar?

Something we were very transparent about when we sat on our concept at {niche} prior to opening was that maximum revenue will always be generated from straight drinks. We have and will continue to focus huge amount of time and money into our cocktail program and it’s very much our focus. But it will never be a larger percentage of beverage revenues then it is currently and we are very happy to operate within this market knowing this full well, no delusions of grandeur.

You’ve been associated with World Champion Andy Freeman and Paul Aron from Der Raum and Michelin starred Brian McKenna. What were the major lessons you drew from these experiences?

Andy and Brian are at polar opposites especially when I worked for Andy as a bartender in my early 20’s late teens. He was the most famous bartender in Perth, a larger than life character, owner and operator of Luxe and was very early in his entrepreneurial curve. Andy is an amazing showman and still ranks every year in the top 10 most influential people in the Australian bartender magazine industry polls. Andy really consolidated the notion and reinforced what Paul Aron and Jason Crawley before him had instigated in my mind that this was how I wanted to spend the rest of my working life in this industry.

When I worked for BMK, I was 30 years old and a seasoned veteran of the Asian industry as its GM. Brian is a very harsh critic, a very classically trained Chef with Irish roots holding multiple Michelin stars whilst he was in his twenties. At multiple establishments,  he has starred over the years and an incredibly successful businessman, especially in Beijing, he was the biggest name in the business. Along with that level of genius came an almost cliche hair trigger temper and incredibly scathing way of getting his points across. His management style is volatile yet he shies away from the public eye. But he is an intense motivator, he creates this aspirational value in every single interaction you have with him and he gets the best out of you. You’re constantly on your toes, pushing yourself and in turn everyone around you is motivated.

I think I learnt the finer art of time management and BMK really made me understand the importance of case and point direct communication. I think I used to talk too much and now I’m a lot more succinct in life.

The rapid growth of alco-beverage restaurants in India has certainly helped the spread of specialisations such as mixology, but is there enough talent to service the growing number of restaurants?

I have seen so many young talented members of the industry in Delhi already and I think these numbers will rapidly grow with tireless efforts of brand ambassadors like Rohan Jelkie, Dan Jones and industry heavy weights like Nitin Tewari and Arijit Bose investing incredible amounts of time in raising the profile of the Indian scene globally. That certainly inspires the next generation to shoot for the stars.

Note: The article first appeared on indiaretailing.com

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