Yugnes Susela: "I Started Out As A Dishwasher"
We had a chat with the Head Bartender of Smoke & Mirrors about art, cocktails and Peking Duck Jus.
BY Advertorial | Jan 18, 2017 | Food & Drink
The best way to cap off an excursion to the National Gallery is with a round of libations and a great view. Picture that, downtown Singapore laid before you in all its glittery splendour as you sip from a creative thirst-quencher. Smoke & Mirrors is the place to be as you bask with a renewed appreciation for beauty. And the man that’ll help you with that is Yugnes Susela, Head Bartender. Drink enough great cocktails in Singapore and you’ll probably have seen him around. We speak with him about his journey thus far, and what we can expect from the bar.
Esquire: How old were you when you first joined the industry?
Yugnes Susela: I started from the ground up as a part-time dishwasher in a country club just to earn extra cash during the holidays. My manager asked me what I wanted for my 18th birthday. I told him that I wanted to become a bartender, and surprisingly, actually got the gig.
After that, I worked at various bars till my first big break at Tippling Club, where I was handed opportunities from participating in cocktail competitions to shaking up a drink for David Beckham. I learnt a lot under Chef Ryan Clift and I’m very grateful for the experience.
Esquire: How did you end up in Smoke and Mirrors?
Yugnes Susela: Smoke & Mirrors had just opened at the National Gallery Singapore and I heard from a good friend that they were looking for a Head Bartender to run the cocktail programme. I was curious to find out what it would be like to lead a team and be the captain of the ship.
Esquire: How did you come up with the menu?
Yugnes Susela: For the first six months after our launch, I listened very carefully to feedback from anyone who tried our cocktails; be it our guests, family or friends. I made it a point for the bar team to not only speak to guests often but also read their facial reactions when we first present our cocktails to them.
I’ve always had a passion for exploring flavour profiles since my days at Tippling Club, and I knew that was the direction I wanted to take for the new menu. We spent a lot of time experimenting with complementary and contrasting flavours. Garnishes play a big part in elevating a cocktail, so I wanted us to be creative with our garnishes as well.
We created our own; from the edible dehydrated pumpkin leaf in 12AM Misery made with a blend of Mexican Tarragon, pumpkin and spice; to the two-toned pineapple in Third Fire Cannon or the poem in Smoked Up that was written by a good friend and inspired by the movie Castaway.
Esquire: How does Smoke & Mirrors relate to the National Gallery?
Yugnes Susela: The National Gallery is one of Singapore’s most historically and culturally significant icons and also the world's largest public display of modern Southeast Asian art. The bar sets out to elevate the cocktail experience by bringing more of the senses into enjoying every sip.
Being in the National Gallery allows us to be creative in the planning and execution of the menus by infusing elements of art in the DNA, so that guests can continue their museum experience at Smoke & Mirrors. The debut menu, in particular, was tied to the launch of the Gallery.
Esquire: Does any artwork inspire you?
Yugnes Susela: I’m a big fan of Salvador Dali’s works, especially the Melting Watch. His surreal style of art, artistic visions and eccentric creativity are a source of inspiration for me. I also like MC Escher’s style of illusion art. It’s hard to choose one particular artwork as my favourite, but I do have a fondness for Day and Night. I love how he shows that there can be different ways to interpret the same work. Coincidentally, illusion is also very befitting of Smoke & Mirrors’ moniker!
Esquire: What’s your favourite drink from the menu?
Yugnes Susela: My favourite drink from our current menu would be the Duck’s Fat Hope. It’s a cocktail made with just four ingredients (jackfruit rum, five-spiced honey, lemon, Peking Duck Jus), but full of flavour and complexity. The inspiration came from the Cantonese restaurant located below Smoke & Mirrors at the National Gallery Singapore. The kitchen had no use for the leftover Peking Duck oil, so I thought it would be interesting to create something out of that. It was a challenge to find the right balance, but I’m glad my persistence and experimentation paid off! Guests are often initially wary of selecting this cocktail due to the unusual ingredients, but always pleasantly delighted and surprised by the flavours after actually tasting the drink.
Esquire: What’s the one thing you wish a customer would ask for?
Yugnes Susela: What time do I get off, so that he or she can buy me a drink after my shift.
Smoke & Mirrors is located at the National Gallery Singapore, St Andrew’s Road. For best seats with the best views, call 9234 8122 for reservations.