As he remembers it, Slamet Haryadi recounts walking through the Skuleskogan Forest deep in the highlands of Sweden. His task, like his competitors, was to forage for ingredients to use in their cocktails. With blueberries already in his pockets, he came across a fallen tree. Dead and forgotten, it proved to be the integral ingredient in his award-winning cocktail.
Having spent most of his working career far away from home, Slamet is no stranger to the hardships of adapting to foreign environments. The Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong’s hotel mixologist from Madura first moved away from Indonesia in 2009. Seeking better opportunities in the Middle East to support his family, he first landed in Abu Dhabi. Working as a server there and a year later in Dubai, he eventually changed his career path to bartending at the 63rd-floor bar of the Neos Dubai Address Hotel. Building his repertoire and his experience, bartending became a permanent passion and love for him. In his fourth year behind the bar, Slamet took a swing at the prestigious Dubai Diageo World Class bartending competition in 2014. Although he didn't make it to the global round, stating that the cocktail mixer wasn't his friend on the night, his experience fueled his desire to reach new heights.
"From then on (bartending at the Neos Dubai Address Hotel), my passion grew every single second. I never wanted to look back."
In 2015, Slamet made his move away from the Middle East and traveled across Asia to begin work at the Ritz Carlton in Macau. Although he didn't stay long in that position, his time in Macau was a stepping stone to his dream job. Moving only less than 70km from Macau, Slamet took a job at the MO Bar at the Landmark Oriental hotel in Hong Kong a year later. Now the Hotel Mixologist of the M Bar in the Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental, he is living his dream.
"I've always wanted to work in Hong Kong because I read all the great things they are doing there in the beverage industry... In Hong Kong, I'm living the dream. The food and beverage culture is absolutely mesmerizing, everything about it is mind-blowing."
The highlight of 2018 came after Slamet qualified for a cocktail competition in Europe late in the year. His talents brought him to Sweden to the first time in his life. In the remote wilderness of Skuleskogan, over 450km north of the country's capital, Hernö Gin held their annual cocktail awards. In awe of the country's natural beauty, Slamet felt out of his element. Experiencing that climate and terrain for the first time in his life, he had to adapt quickly to be at his best for the competition.
"Going to Europe was already a win for me. I went there to gain a better understanding of the food and beverage culture."
Up against some of Europe's top contenders, Slamet wanted to prove his talents in the final challenge of the entire event. Tasked with creating a mind-blowing cocktail, he was required to forage for ingredients in the deep wilderness. Hiking through cold temperatures and untouched terrain, he looked for inspiration for his cocktail.
Searching for inspiration, Slamet turned to memories of what he valued the most: his family. Remembering his wife, he came up with the idea of creating a cocktail based on her favorite cake, the black forest. Thinking against the grain, he took the tree bark that he foraged and turned it into charcoal which would then be used to create the visually dark appearance of the cocktail. His award-winning cocktail was the Black Forest. A slightly herbal and woody drink that was balanced by the sweetness of the blueberries, it proved to be the winning cocktail. New and innovative use of natural ingredients in the competition, Slamet impressed the judges.
"During that moment I remembered that my wife loves the black forest cake. Then I never thought that I'd use the fallen tree to make charcoal for the drink. At the time, I was digging deep for inspiration; then it came into my mind to use charcoal to make the cocktail black like the cake.
Returning from his recent success, Slamet is back at work at the Mandarin Oriental. Working on new concepts and raising his game in Hong Kong, he reflects on life away from home. Stating that it is tough on him being away from family for long periods on end, he shares the same hardships as other bartenders working abroad. Life in another country isn't easy; however many take these opportunities for a chance of a better future.
"I try to go home every 8-12 months, at least every Ramadan or Lebaran. I try to spend as much time as I can with my family. When I was in Dubai, I had more days for holidays, but in Hong Kong, I find it hard to find the time. Here every year you have 14 days, but in my position, I can't go home for more than ten days."
However, Slamet uses his thoughts of his family to fuel his motivation and drive to succeed abroad. Looking to the future, he hopes to inspire more Indonesians to take their opportunities abroad. Proving that you can come from humble beginnings to challenge on the world stage.
"Being away from home is always difficult, but as long as the family supports my work, its a big boost for me. They're a part of my journey and my primary support."
M Bar Mandarin Oriental
5 Connaught Rd Central, Central, Hong Kong
+852 2825 4002
Photo courtesy of Slamet Haryadi & Hernö Gin