Yvonne Wairimu, a mother of three and an in-house mixologist at Pernod Ricard Kenya has been able to beat all odds by having the privilege of being selected to represent Africa at the annual prestigious “Tales of the Cocktail”, a premier series of cocktail festivals which will be held in New Orleans, USA. We at Kenyabuzz had a one-on-one interview with her on matters pertaining to her career and ambitions:
KB: How Long Have You Worked as a Mixologist?
YW: I began my career as a bartended in 1999. Since then I have been been perfecting my art as a mixologist for about 10yrs now.
KB: How Does It Feel Like Representing Not Only Kenya But Africa as a Whole In Tails of the Cocktails?
YW: I am extremely excited, overwhelmed and humbled at the same time. I am truly honoured not only to represent not only my country but my continent as well. Beyond that, it is a particular milestone for me as a female mixologist.
KB:.What Do You Hope to Learn?
YW: To be inspired by the advanced trends, creativity, and techniques from around the world. I therefore hope to interact and learn as much as I can from them and bring the expertise back home and share it with my fellow bartenders.
KB: What Does a Typical Working Day Look Like for You?
YW: This isn’t a typical 9-5 job since it usually involves late nights. My day starts around 10.00am in the office for meetings, plans and reports. Afternoons are reserved for training with the bartenders and the hospitality community varying from outlet to outlet. The evening is usually dictated by the events and campaigns PernodRicard has planned. If it's a quiet day, I am usually done by 11.00pm, otherwise it is usually a4 or 5am finish on busy nights.
KB: What Ignites Your Passion For Working as a Mixologist?
YW: Creativity. I started in service and was intrigued by the creativity and precision behind the bar. My passion is ignited by continuously being innovative and delighting customers with a great drink. Beyond that, being challengedand pushing my boundaries drives me.
KB: Which Cocktail Is Your Favourite and Why?
YW: I don't have a specific one that I like. Each cocktail is differentexpression and fits different occasions accordingly – its all about the mood. For instance, if I am drinking vodka I really appreciate a good cosmopolitan. If it's it's rum, a mojito and for whiskey, I love whiskey sours. For me, it’s the basics done really well. I am always curious to try new signature cocktails made by different bartenders. If the cocktail is well made and balanced, I am bound to enjoy it.
KB: Is There any Mixologist That You Look Up To and Why?
YW: Locally, I admire and have tremendous respect for Joseph Mwawaka. I have learnt a lot from him; he has mastered the art of bringing bringing flavors and ingredients together in a unique way. He is creative, outgoing, hardworking, humble all whilst still having his own flair. Internationally, I have worked quite a bit with Kurt Schlechter, a South African Mixologist, he is one of my greatest mentors. Kurt has opened up my mind in terms of thinking internationally – beyond Kenya and Africa. He has taught me to anticipate the next big moves in our industry and to always be one step ahead.
KB: What are You Career Milestones?
•My greatest milestone was when I started working in a full-time cocktail bar. This was my transition from a bartender to a mixologist.
•Next I won the Absolut mixology competition in 2012
•Travelling to Sweden to learn more about Absolut vodka in 2014 and becoming the inhousemixologist at PernodRicard in Kenya .
•In 2016, travelling to Ireland to learn more about Jameson.
•All of this has led me to taking the big step of opening my mobile bar company, Wemix. We also have a cocktail bar and sheesha lounge in Thika.
•And finally, travelling to New Orleans for Tales Of The Cocktail.
KB: How Is It being a Female Mixologist In a Career Dominated By Men?
YW: There is still the perception that working behind the bar at a club or a bar is still considered taboo for women. Most people usually expect that as a female you are either incompetent or not really committed. Trying to change this perception and to be taken professionally has been an uphill task. I am glad to have changed this perception for myself. Fellow male bartenders tend to look down upon female bartenders but again with time and hard work I have earned their respect. So long as you are committed and focused, you can break down any barriers.
KB: What Challenges Do You Face In Your Line Of Work?
•Being a female mixologist in a male dominated industry.
•As a working Mum, with long hours, I always want to prioritize my work and family life. So ensuring that I give my kids 100 percent as well as focusing on my profession requires me to always plan ahead and be prepared.
•With alcohol, you always want to ensure that your customer knows the boundaries of responsible drinking. I always like to keep an eye on my customers to make sure they follow safe drinking habits.
KB: What Advice Would You Give Someone Who Is Aspiring To Be a Phenomenal Mixologist?
YW: Invest in yourself constantly, learn, learn and learn some more. Work hard, be passionate, and be patient. It has taken me many years to get to where I am. Most importantly, be humble and never forget where you came from.
KB:Tell Us Something That Most People Don't Know About You.
YW: Being in hospitality, people don’t think you can have a successful career and a sound family life. I am a mother of 3 and my kids are happy and healthy. I am always there when it counts. I am spiritual. I think it is important to remain grounded and believe in something more than yourself. Most people assume that if you are in the alcohol industry, you are not particularly spiritual.