A native of South Korea, Bannie Kang discovered her passion for bartending almost a decade ago while waitressing at City Space bar at Fairmont Singapore.
After completing bartending courses in Korea, she returned to Fairmont, joining the Craftsman team at Anti:dote in 2013.
Since then, she has excelled in the competitions arena, clinching titles such as Best Female Bartender, Bar Awards Singapore (2014, 2015), Singapore’s representative to the Bacardi Legacy Global Competition (2016), First Runner-Up, Diplomático World Tournament (2017), and Finalist, Speed Rack Asia (2017), an inaugural Asian edition of Speed Rack, an all-women bartenders’ competition started in the US.
How many female bartenders/mixologists are there in Singapore and why aren’t there more of them?
I would say between 30 to 50. Eight years ago, my parents were skeptical and worried when I decided on bartending as my career. Perhaps people are still skeptical about females stepping into this industry. Bartending is a physically and psychologically demanding job that is not suited for everyone. You need to be passionate to tide through many challenges, including long hours on your feet. Females looking to settle down tend to shun bartending opportunities too.
What are three greatest misconceptions about female mixologists that you feel should be corrected?
- That female bartenders lack experience and knowledge in spirits, making us less qualified to be a bartender. And ironically, the hiring of female bartenders for their appearance regardless of qualifications.
- Having weaker, smaller frames to carry out physically demanding duties such as lifting cartons of bottles or cutting ice.
- That female bartenders are not able to hold their liquor, and lack artistry in making a good, proper, strong drink.
Any instances where you felt your gender put you at a disadvantage in your career?
I was standing next to my male co-worker and instead of ordering from me, the guest preferred to order drinks from my male colleague. There is a prejudice that female bartenders cannot make good drinks or that a female standing next to a male is immediately seen as a server or hostess instead of a bartender. Females are always seen as soft-spoken, and are often an easy target for complaints.
In terms of pay packages for female mixologists, does it stray very far from male counterparts? How do you feel about that?
I don’t believe there is a huge disparity in salary. Pay packages should be commensurate with individual experience.
Do you see yourself as a mentor for young women who would like to take up mixology? How do you go about practicing that in your daily work?
Yes. I was painfully shy when I first started out, but I am truly blessed to have met good mentors and been given plenty of opportunities along the journey. Everyone is still learning and should have equal opportunity. I hope young women with the right attitude will learn to speak up and step up through my mentorship.
I start the day with basic hygiene training—ensuring our work station is neatly packed and tidied. For my own R&D, colleagues are tasked to observe, taste, and be an honest critic. On a less busy day, I gather our friends or regular patrons and encourage younger bartenders to create their drinks in tasting portions, serve, and explain to our guests. They have to do their part as well by keeping up with new spirits and trends.
You like making cocktails with medicinal/health properties using Korean native ingredients. What’s a good example of this and what food pairing would you recommend to go with it?
Su Jung Gwa—it’s also available in my new menu. Su Jung Gwa is a traditional Korean tea made from cinnamon, ginger, brown sugar and dried persimmon, typically served during the mooncake festival and Korean New Year. My rendition of Su Jung Gwa is a cognac-based cocktail crafted from traditional ingredients with wolfberry, osmanthus and red dates. Su Jung Gwa pairs well with red meats such as our very own char-grilled 65°C sous vide short rib or Bossam, Korean’s boiled pork wraps.
Any competitions coming up for you in the near future? What are your views on all-female competitions like Speed Rack Asia 2017?
I made it to top 8 at Diplomático World Tournament 2015 and was the first runner-up in 2017, so I’m really committed about battling it out at Diplomático World Tournament 2019. Speed Rack Asia 2017 is a good initiative, a first competition of its kind to pit women bartenders in the region against each other for a charitable cause. It is definitely impactful and it makes perfect sense to to reinforce the objective behind the original cause. We definitely need to build more support and a larger community of female bartenders.