In this interview, Darwin Ng, head bartender at Four Points by Sheraton Kuala Lumpur’s cocktail bar Jann KL, shares a bit about life behind the scenes of the food and beverage industry.
What do you do?
I make drinks, I serve food, I clean, and sometimes I even entertain.
How did you get into the industry?
I used to drink daily with my housemates back in my uni days. One day I decided I needed to learn more about what they were feeding me, and I got a job in the food and beverage industry. I started in the bar and lounge at Park Hyatt Sydney and moved to their specialty dining outlet, where I focused more on wines. Fast forward to the Covid-19 era, when I moved back to KL, I realized I was experimenting a lot with cocktails at home. That was when I joined Jann KL.
Share with us a story from behind the scenes.
One of the most memorable experiences was when I got the opportunity to work alongside one of the World’s Best Restaurants – El Cellar de Can Roca, serving dishes made by Chef Joan Roca himself! It was a private event, and they sent half of their team to cook and run the event! Once they had their chefs’ jackets/uniforms on, everyone was switched on, with the highest level of attention to detail. The best part was the manager was constantly chasing our back, “VAMOS VAMOS!” And, of course, we got to try their food and wine!
What’s a food memory from your childhood that stands out?
This was probably 15 years back when my family and I visited Penang. The trip was three to four days, and my only goal back then was to have oh chien (oyster omelette) every meal! On the first day, I got to try a couple stores, which gave me the motivation to get more for the following days. The second day came and things did not go so well. I started having food poisoning and diarrhea. But the motivation was strong, and the goal was still on! We went on and had more oh chien for the following two days!! Looking back, it was painful, but it was worth it!
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part is I enjoy my work a lot, facing new challenges every day, coming up with new recipes and ideas, learning different ways to do things, and sometimes do not feel the time has passed. The worst part is that time passes too fast, and I do not get enough time to do things outside of work.
Darwin Ng’s favourite food and beverage pairing?
Cheesecake and espresso!
What’s one of the wildest and craziest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
One of the wildest and craziest things was when our friends from overseas came over for a guest shift. Our friends arrived, but their luggage went missing, with all the ingredients that were meant to be used for the guest shift. Until the day of the shift, we still could not locate the luggage and moved on to plan B at full speed. We started doing all the preparation from scratch. Many of our industry fam offered to help, lending ingredients and equipment until seconds before the shift started. We even managed to get components from Grab Mart at 12am! All in all, the shift went amazingly well, everyone enjoyed it, and it was a blast! Very thankful for all the help and support given and very grateful to see that we are all in this together to make things happen and push the industry further.
The perfect day off would be…
Waking up without an alarm, sipping a nice cup of coffee or a highball. Then, spending time with friends and family. Most of the time, doing nothing and being a couch potato.
A day in the life of Darwin Ng is…
First thing first, show up on time! (A man once said, “If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; if you’re late, you’re fired!”)
Once I arrive, I get my paperwork done and start planning for the day and the week. After that, I do the preparation for the bar with the team. On some days, we do infusions and batching. Some days we cut our clear block ice, and some days we do deep cleaning. Like chefs, preparation is important for smooth service. If you fail preparation, you fail service.
What does Darwin Ng do for fun?
I enjoy going out for food and drinks. Trying new food is always a fun experience, and visiting and catching up with friends at other bars. But again, doing nothing is fun too!
What’s something you’d like guests to know about Jann Bar?
Jann is a hotel bar located on the 7th floor (commonly mistaken as a rooftop bar on the 20th floor) of Four Points by Sheraton Kuala Lumpur, Chinatown. It is a place to unwind with cocktails dedicated to the traditional trades of Chinatown while taking in panoramic views of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline.
Jann is a girl that grew up in Chinatown, KL. She’s young, full of life and mesmerized by the symphony of sights, sounds and smells of the neighbourhood. At Jann, we, too, draw inspiration from historical figures, traditional trades, local culture and legends that make Chinatown a heritage destination.
How has the pandemic changed you, your perspective, or the way you operate?
I used to think that a bar should have good offerings for guests to return. But since the pandemic, I realized that there are a number of guests who go out because of the overall experience but not just the offerings themselves. Guests were anxious about the table next to them or the person sitting next to them. Still, in truth, everyone misses the experience of dining and sipping at a restaurant or a bar. Which, in a way, makes me enjoy my work even more as a hospitality provider.
What do you want people to know about being a bartender as a profession?
I like to think that it is not a job but a lifestyle. Of course, it looks cool, but there is more to that. There are lots of things happening behind the scenes. Knowledge, consistency, trial and error. Failure is a big part of this field, especially when the end product does not look or taste like how you planned it to. I think that this is one of the fields where the more you understand, the more stupid you feel!
What’s your view on the cocktail scene in Malaysia?
The cocktail scene in Malaysia is on the rise. Thanks to the many reputable bars and bartenders, such as David from ThreeXCo and Shen from Backdoor Bodega, that represented Malaysia on a global scale for competitions, many individuals are looking up to them. I believe that if we work together, we will be able to show the world what Malaysian bars are capable of!
What practices do you currently implement or hope to implement to work towards social responsibility and sustainability in the future?
Currently, we try to reduce the use of single-use plastic, and we’re also experimenting with reusing/ recycling perishables. Overall, progress is slow and steady, but we think we have plenty of room for improvement in terms of sustainability.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
We are working on a new cocktail menu and a few projects like inviting more bartenders over for guest shifts and going out for guest shifts. We are also looking at collaborating with brands for activations and campaigns.
Find more interviews similar to this one with Darwin Ng here, and stay up to date with the latest food and beverage happenings in KL here.
No photos? I wonder what he does to entertain