Zulikernain Rosli (Zul) – The Datai
In this interview, Zulikernain Rosli (Zul), Assistant Food & Beverage Manager at The Datai Langkawi, tells a little about some Datai craft creations and upcoming plans.
What do you do?
I develop beverage menus, wine lists, spirits collections, cigar selections and beverage pairings for food menus throughout the property, including the villas. I arrange direct shipment of wine and spirits from Europe, Australia and New Zealand. I mentor staff, and I am refining my skills in mixology and as a sommelier. I oversee the Lobby Lounge operation providing guests with a friendly, professional and luxurious arrival experience. We strive to obtain excellent quality and consistency of execution in an appealing, well-maintained environment.
How did you get into the industry?
I started in the bar industry in 1997 at Tiki Bar in a resort in Sarawak. During those times, bartending was not a popular career in Malaysia. Then the movie Cocktail came along in 2012 and changed everything. I have worked in many styles of bars, including cafés, pubs, clubs, resorts and city hotels, focusing more on fine dining experiences.
My love and passion for wine began when I was appointed to be part of the opening team for YN Cellar at Kuching Sarawak (first proper wine bar – around 2005). I was given a Robert Parker book to start learning without much professional guidance and taught myself a lot of the industry knowledge I possess today. Curiosity in learning more about beverages has never stopped. Currently, I am digging into indigenous coffee and tea all around the world and also zero-proof cocktails, beer and wine.
Share with us a story from behind the scenes.
My creativity is usually triggered when I learn something that is indigenous but that I had never heard of. I begin to feel challenged and will figure out any possibility to make it happen, although I won’t be successful all the time. Who thought we would start creating drinks with kedondong, sirih, and many more?
What’s a food memory from your childhood or travels that stands out?
Growing up in Borneo has exposed me to living in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic community. Each ethnicity has its own stand-out cuisine. So far, one that I would be hard to resist is having umai and ulam on the fisherman’s boat. I feel this is similar to how the Japanese practice omakase.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
I measure my work satisfaction through the success of the person I have mentored. They surprise me sometimes by reaching new heights faster than I expected.
The worst part is being asked to stop a program or project that is close to reaching success due to unforeseen circumstances.
What’s your favourite food and beverage pairing?
Malaysian cuisine with Sake. Growing up in Borneo, we would have our meals with Tuak.
What’s one of the most memorable things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
I have been challenged to create drinks with sea grapes or laktut. It took me a couple of weeks to study and develop. However, it turned out not everyone could tolerate the bizarre flavour!
The perfect day off would be…
… bar or cafe hopping, exploring changes and improvements in the industry, and getting to know new people.
A day in the life of a Zulikernain Rosli is…
Learning. Never stop learning. No inspiration? Go out and look for it. Not challenged enough? Be proactive and find new trends to try. The only way to continuously grow is to stay hungry for more. Making the process fun is the key.
What does Zulikernain Rosli do for fun?
Music. That’s part of my childhood activity that has not stopped till now. In my free time, I’m into extreme sports such as skateboarding, BMX or surfing (Langkawi only offers baby waves, so I have to travel to explore more challenging waves).
What’s something you’d like guests to know about The Datai?
Definitely, our very own uniquely crafted The Datai Gin. Currently, it’s exclusively only available at The Datai. Coming up, we are expanding our offering. We will have The Datai Jamaican Golden Rum and also our own Single Malt whisky from Speyside 21-years old single cask in collaboration with Benriach distillery.
How has the pandemic changed you, your perspective, or the way you operate?
More consumers are now keen to explore drinks that weren’t on their radar pre-lockdown, including premium versions of their favourite spirits. There’s one trend that proves just that, it’s RTDs (ready-to-drink). With more and more launches from hard seltzers to cocktails in a can, changes in consumer purchase behaviour have pushed people to opt for convenience more than ever before.
What’s something you’d like people to know about being in the food and beverage industry?
The wonderful part about this profession is getting to know people from all over the world. You get a chance to travel with a purpose, such as visiting a winery or vineyard experiencing the offerings at the top bars. In fact, everybody is learning in a multi-cultural environment – that is the absolute best part about my job.
What’s your view on the drinks scene in Malaysia?
The mixology bar industry is growing tremendously. I’m grateful that local guests have started to appreciate our local talent and acknowledge this industry. There used to be a gap in the industry where most bars were only serving beers and bottle services. Omakase + Appreciate set a high standard when they first listed bars from Malaysia in the Asia Top 50 Bar list. Back then, the bar list was filled with mainly bars interesting for travellers who would be looking for artistry cocktails. Now, it’s such a great feeling to see many more bars are listed.
In the wine industry, people have started to open their minds to exploring underrated good value wines. There are many more to try besides common Sauvignon Blanc or Shiraz.
What practices do you currently implement or hope to implement in the future to work towards social responsibility and sustainability?
The Datai Langkawi already has a long-term plan on a big scale in place, which is called The Datai Pledge. For the bar industry, sustainable cocktails are drinks that seek to be more in harmony with nature by minimizing the waste of precious natural resources. Reuse, recycle or upcycle ingredients that otherwise would be discarded as trash. This includes leftover citrus juices, citrus rinds, and the seeds and skins of fruits.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
Kombucha. We have tried to create our own brew in the past but encountered a few technical difficulties. We will try again with a few interesting and crazy flavours to be offered for breakfast. The focus will be on health consciousness and sustainability. Once we get a good production cycle, we will definitely explore Kombucha Cocktails.