The Queen of Mixology

Shatbhi Basu advises youngsters to rely on knowledge, skills and passion to create confidence and good body language to be successful

She began her life wanting to be a veterinary surgeon, then moved to exploring the skills of the Chinese kitchen as a trainee chef and finally fell into the joys of mixology. “Bartending taught me to be a leader, a trainer, a writer, an author and a TV presenter. I can still cook! And I’m certain there’s more to explore in the future,” says the country’s first woman bartender, Shatbhi Basu. 

When Basu was put in charge of the bar along with restaurant operations and training, she realised her theoretical knowledge would not be enough. “So, I began poring over books to educate and upgrade myself on the history, heritage and process of alcoholic beverages and in the techniques of bartending. The more I learnt, the more interested I became and knew that I wanted to build myself to be the best I could be in the field of beverages,” she shares. 

Born in Mombasa, Kenya where her grandfather moved when he was 18 along with his older brother and her mother along with her siblings. “She moved to India for further studies and married my father in Bombay (now Mumbai) – he had left his home in Karachi during the Partition to begin life again,” shares Basu who studied Hotel Management from IHM Mumbai, Class of 1980, and did her graduation in Economics by correspondence from Osmania University. 

Conventionally, a woman entering male bastion for the first time ever is never an easy task and there are chances of discrimination en route. “No, there was no discrimination but challenges – we had very little to work with, very few good equipment and not enough exposure to techniques. Books were expensive as well so I would save from my salary to go hunting for books in second-hand stores. They were the only source of knowledge!” says Basu who enjoys the freedom of expression and the joy of sharing everything she has absorbed over the years with others so that they may enjoy and benefit from it.

Not only does she give credit to her parents but the entire family which chipped in to assist her learning process when she decided to be a professional bartender. “In fact, my first book on bartending was presented to me by my aunt and mother while I was in college. They all sent me books, magazines, menus from around the globe and brought samples of liquids when they came to visit to help my understanding of taste profiles and nuances. My first experience of a cocktail was at home with my father,” says Basu who has Victor Bergeron or Trader Vic as he was known as, the man behind Tiki bar revolution for inspiration. “It was his book, The Trader Vic Bartender’s Guide, that put me firmly on the path to where I’m today. And, of course, my family – the entire extended lot – and my closest friends who stand beside me always,” adds the Queen of Mixology whose favourite drinks are wine and whisk(e)y as she is fascinated by them.

On what made her once say: ‘Girls who work behind bars in India are possibly safer and more secure than girls who go out for a drink’, the world-renowned bartender shares, “Well, that’s absolutely true and I still say it. This was in response to people questioning how safe it was working in a bar! Think about it. The bar counter separates us from people outside and our fellow bartenders are also our protectors of sorts. Nobody can get to us and for most part people who come into our bars are good people who show us respect. In a crowded, dark bar, on the other hand, you are more likely to get jostled or touched and hence potentially less safer than behind the bar.”

In 1997, Basu set up the STIR Academy of Bartending for people interested in learning about bartending and getting training in the field. “It was the 50th year of Indian Independence and it occurred to me that 16 years after I started bartending, there was still no school or course specialising in understanding beverages and mixology. I saw the gap and decided to take up the challenge and begin to walk the path of academics. I’m glad I did. It makes me so proud to see all those who passed through STIR doing well and standing strong. I bask in reflected glory!” shares Basu who feels one can’t be perfect.

“You can just be the best that you can be every day,” she adds. Three qualities she says can help one become successful are passion for the job, thirst for knowledge and ability to adapt to change and evolve.

For youngsters, especially girls, desirous of entering the industry, Basu advises, “Become a bartender if you have a passion for beverages. Work hard – do more than just your job as that’s how you grow. Build your knowledge base – knowledge is confidence. Build on your techniques and communication skills. Learning is constant. Believe in yourself. Walk the path that takes you where you want to be with conviction. And one for the girls – Don’t try and be one of the boys. Rely on your knowledge, skills and passion to create confidence and good body language. That is what will shine the light on you.”

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER - THE TALENT POOL SPECIAL'

Tags assigned to this article:
food and beverage (F&B) industry


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