Cocktail King

2008-06-07 00:00

Cocktail barman extraordinaire Pari Pfupajena takes nothing for granted and expects the best for his customers. “I am promoting drinking better, not drinking more,” he says as he pours me a gin ’n tonic — with a dash of litchi liqueur.

The Zimbabwean-born Amsterdam resident is an international leader in cocktails and is touring South Africa with KWV Bols to train local bartenders. He’s on a mission and you can see he’s enjoying it. “The cocktail industry should be more about giving people quality drinks and great service and less about getting people drunk,” he says, as he takes a break from training barmen at Vacca Matta in Durban.

“It’s been a fantastic experience so far. The kiwi flavour has been a big find in South Africa. It reminded me how much people love it over here. I also forgot how big brandy and Coke is,” he says. “Different fruits are also used a lot, like granadilla, sour apple and raspberry.”

Pfupajena (32) was born in London and grew up in Harare. “I went to St John’s College in Harare,” he says. “To my parents, my education was always the most important thing.”

Leaving school, Pfupajena started working at the Keg and Sable in Harare, like any young man leaving school. “Then I decided to go back to England and got a great job at TGI Fridays — a bar made famous by Tom Cruise in Cocktail,” he says. “All I could see were cocktails and now, 12 years later, I’m still loving it.”

But his parents weren’t too happy about him not furthering his studies. “They would have supported me in whatever I did, but me making drinks was not a priority in their lives,” he says. “Things have worked out differently and I’m now self-employed and doing quite well, so I think they’re happy with that.”

He started his own company, Pazza, in 2001, and is contracted as a bar consultant for Maxxium’s Liquid Bar Training programme, “sharing ideas with bartenders about cocktails”. He has trained about 3 000 bartenders in more than 40 cities in the four Nordic countries.

Pfupajena, whose unique cocktail recipes are published in Nordic publications, is very fussy about how you make a cocktail. “Don’t use syrups in your cocktails. It might be a cheap way to make them, but liqueurs give cocktails a far better taste and have more integrity,” he says. “I promote bartenders using liqueurs because syrup is just a sugary beverage, while liqueurs are distilled forms of the original fruit.

“It’s all about sophistication.”

What makes a good drink?

It’s about the quality of the alcohol, the liqueurs, the fruit you garnish your drink with — even the glass. These days, there tends to be a lot more to it, such as the aromas, the way the drink is served to you. If you pour a cocktail into a dirty glass or one that is chipped it’s immediately going to put the customer off. The main things that make a good drink are quality and consistency. Depending on where you are in the world, there are different fruits and spirits that are popular to an area. You really have to adapt to the place you are working in.

— Pari Pfupajena.

See the video interview below:

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