Conversations with Bartender Dino Chen
Dino knows a thing or two about drinks. In the 7 years that he’s a bartender, he has amassed quite the library, which he shares today with us. Home-born and grown, Dino is a jolly bartender who always knows what to say and what to make, an honest colleague who would work long hours to perfect his craft and a kind teacher who understands and inspires. Above all, they would all agree that his passion lies in the libations he is known for. “I wanted to make drinks about my experiences of discovering a new culture, and I want to share it with others,” he says.
How would you use three words to describe yourself?
好怕悶. Chinese counts, doesn’t it? This literally means “very afraid of boredom”. It’s quite difficult for me to sit down and do something repetitive. I can’t even do it for 3 hours, let alone say, for a career! That’s how I got into bartending. It’s so dynamic, every day is different and there are so many possibilities, things to discover and people to meet. The drinks you make are your own creations, your work of art. There is a valuable feeling of accomplishment in that.
What is your favourite drink?
Gin and tonic. Back to the basics..
I know. This is one of the most popular drinks in the world – gin and tonic, two ingredients, how hard can it be? But crafting a perfect one is a lot trickier than you think, and it reminds me to be humble. It makes huge difference whether yours is an average or an exceptional drink. I got quite inspired by Japanese bartenders and their skills. They pay meticulous attention to every detail – the order of ingredients, ratio, ice quality and temperature. All of these are important factors to perfect your craft. You see, there is always something to learn, something you don’t know. And when you think you’ve got it, someone else proves you otherwise! This is why I can never get bored of it.
Do you have a secret to making your gin and tonic?
To me, maintaining the fizziness of the tonic water is crucial to the end product. Gin and tonic water are different in density so mixing well (without losing the bubbles) is important. There is a very simple technique that I do to keep the tonic water in its authentic form.
But you have to come and see me make it to fully understand.
Can you tell us a little about your signature drink, Lao Xiang Gang?
Lao Xiang Gang literally means old Hong Kong. I got to know cultures, their values and traditions through their iconic drinks during my travels, and I got inspired to create something similar. A drink that embodies Hong Kong’s truest essence. Lao Xiang Gang’s base is 玫瑰露 (Mei Gui Lu), a drink immensely popular in Hong Kong 70 years ago. The alcohol is so iconic – the bottle looks traditionally Chinese and spikes interest, and the drink was considered an emblem back in the days.
Lao Xiang Gang, Dino's signature drink
If you can only choose 5 ingredients to make a drink for yourself for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Whisky, bitters, sugar, water and ice – all you need to make an Old Fashioned.
Hemingway once said, a good old fashioned reflects life. A little bit of bitter, a little bit of sweet, just the right amount of water to balance things out.
Interesting. What if you’re restricted to only 5 ingredients as a bartender? Which 5 would you choose?
Good question. I will choose 2 of Hotel ICON’s alcohols – Jasmine-infused gin and aged orange peel-infused Calvados, Chrysanthemum tea (always good for summer), gin and tonic. First three to experiment interesting cocktails for you, last two for myself to function at my optimal state (laughs).
What is your creative process like? From where do you draw inspiration?
I don’t really know actually, there is no formula to it. I take inspiration from everywhere – people, nature, cultures. And I have epiphanies at random times, usually at work (because that’s where I am mostly), and I would write it down on my notebook and wait until my shift ends to start experimenting. And you know, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s okay, I just have to keep trying.
What plans do you have in mind for Hotel ICON’s future bartending scene?
Well, Hong Kong’s craft beer scene is pretty vibrant these days. People are drawn to the unfiltered and the novel approaches to flavours. Hotel ICON is looking towards perhaps creating our own version of craft beer (nothing concrete yet!). There is so much to think about - from the design to choosing its flavour palattes. But I’m very excited and I think it is something to look forward to.
I wanted to make drinks about my experiences of discovering a new culture, and I want to share it with others.
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Date: August 14, 2018