Talk cocktails and her eyes gleam. Talk bartending, and this lady has a lot to say. It's "coming of age" time, folks, and Shatbhi Basu, class of 1980, Institute of Hotel Management, Mumbai, is all set to raise a toast to that.
At the vanguard of opening up the hitherto neglected area of bartending, she is just starting her STIR Academy of Bartending, at the Revival Restaurant in Mumbai. The course consists of a graduate and refresher programme on bartending, a corporate appreciation programme, and an amateur appreciation programme.
Associated with the hotel industry for over 20 years, Basu is critical of our society which has only just accepted chefs as respectable members of society; bartenders are still very much beyond the pale. "Abroad, professional cocktail bartenders are regarded as highly skilled tradesmen and successful ones as artists who command a high price."
Basu's will be the first school in the country that is exclusively for bartenders. It is all about making this a professional, competitive, more imaginative and therefore, a more attractive profession. "Thorough professionalism, albeit in a small niche, is imperative, as the hospitality industry is burgeoning."
Stir's stress will be on a practical programme. Knowledge of various spirits and wines alone is not enough; it has to be balanced with adaptability to the given locale. Something she's taken up in fair detail in her wonderfully handy book, The can't go wrong book of cocktails.
Most books on cocktails give you endless recipes, but one is often left rather high and dry as the spirits, liquers, garnishes and even some of the glasses mentioned are difficult to come by. A big put off -- the venture into the wonderful world of new tastes comes to a halt. This is where Basu's book comes to our rescue. Very elegantly brought out in chic black by Business Publications Inc, it is eminently practical and tells you everything you want to know.
It starts from the basics of what a cocktail is, the mixology of it, the various sensations of taste it opens up, the panache of presentation and of course, the nitty gritty of various wines and spirits. Basu explodes a lot of myths in the bargain --- the first to fall being the one about drinking "red wine with red meat".
Another that takes a drubbing: "red wine at room temperature". She also scoffs at those who insist on buying only "imported" wines, even if from dubious sources. Wines from the Grover vineyards are the ones to watch, she says. All the brouhaha of "one cannot drink wine with Indian food" is summarily dismissed, with a characteristic "Don't believe it. Unless you eat the kind of stuff that would put Operation Desert Storm to shame."
This is another aspect of the book as well as the person --- a refreshing forthrightness, and a refusal to put haloes around the "norms" of elitist ideas of wine drinking. The book's thrust is to get wine appreciation down to an approachable level from the heights of exclusiveness; to get people to try something different without much damage to the wallet.
Keeping cocktails reasonably priced is very important as a first step towards reaching a larger clientele, insists Basu. Keep the costs down, have variety and imagination, instead of just that jaded, done-to-death Bloody Marys, Screwdrivers and Planters Punches. Serve the drinks with style, making it an unique experience.
As a parting shot, she even gives rollicking yet very pertinent advice for that terrible morning after! The pick-me-up file in the book has rare advice, like the German one of raw herrings, onions and sour cream, enough to give one the shivers; or the celebrated Prairie Oyester -- a raw, unbroken yolk of egg, spiced with worcestershire and tabasco sauces, with or without a spot of sherry or brandy, all to be downed at one gulp. "Anyone who can even contemplate a raw yolk of an egg, cannot possibly be hung over."
Another gem, this one recommended by C.Y.Gopinath (Sol): a 1,500 mg dose of vitamin C and a glass of milk an hour before the excursion into spirits. Basu admits to not having summoned the nerve to try it yet; should any of us be braver and try it out, she would sure like to know. The real McCoy, however, is the one without any frills: down two painkillers, preferably non-aspirin, followed by as much water as you can put away, after the bash.
Keep plenty of water at your bedside to combat that burning thirst at night that comes from dehydration caused by alcohol, responsible for all hangovers. On waking up, if someone suggests more alcohol, we have Basu's permission to "sock 'em one," the exercise being beneficial!Basu's busy practicing what she preaches.
Basu is currently involved with the opening of Cocktails and Dreams, a new bar at Hotel Sands, Juhu (a Mumbai suburb). And another called The Tavern, to shortly open at the Fariyas Hotel in downtown Mumbai.
If Basu realises her dreams, bartending could not only become competitive and professional, but also a lucrative career option. Maybe it would be fitting, at this point, to end with the most famous toast in movie history:
"Here's looking at you, kid!"