Interviewing Michal Maziarz - Head Bartender at Four Seasons in London
Michal Maziarz talks about what customers order more nowadays, which cocktail trends he wishes to see disappear and much more.
Michal Maziarz is a head bartender at Four Seasons at Ten Trinity Square in London, UK. He talks about what customers order more nowadays, which cocktail trends he wishes to see disappear and much more.
What is everyone ordering right now?
Once you gain the trust of your guest they will take upon your suggestions, no matter how much out of their comfort zone. If we eliminate the element of suggestion, two spirits being most popular is probably Mezcal getting more and more recognition, and Japanese whisky. Both categories operating on more and more inflated prices. The later one is so in demand that the more people drink it the fewer people can afford it, and eliminating age statements does not seem to help. Interesting how the category is becoming the victim of its own success. Western market has been spoiled by receiving only whiskies of highest standards from two major producers at the beginning of this century, all for an amazing value. Bottles that were sold at £20 three years ago cost £120 and now can be found on auctions doe £400. More importantly, the market is being flooded by distillates from much less educated producers, or even western whiskies blended and repackaged in Japan (which is allowed by Japanese law) damaging the category. Everyone however still wants the Japanese whisky and the price points hold, let's see for how long!
What cocktail trend would you like to see disappear?
All the cocktail trends are fantastic and exciting, as long as you take your time to understand them and execute them properly. Unfortunately, there is a great dose of bartenders, that decide, for example, to ferment or pickle, and after executing the first recipe from the internet they put it proudly on the menu saying “we pickle and ferment”. The trend that suffers the most from this attitude, in my opinion, is barrel ageing. Beautiful technique representing patience and care, an influence of time, wood and oxygen on the liquid. The right filling strength, the right temperature conditions, and most importantly the right time to decant your cocktail/spirit. It all ending up as a dispensing vessel on the back bar, where sometimes drink sits for a month untouched, over extracting the tannins and becoming unbearably woody, or being refilled with a new batch every day, with no effect apart from few extra pounds per serve.
What is the most underrated spirit?
Oh so many. Starting from Rum producers that decide not to add sugar and/or flavouring to their rums and focus on casks, research, education and equipment more than on marketing, forced to under-priced their products by large corporations selling sweetened and coloured rum of average quality pushed to consumers throats by massive marketing teams. To fruit Eau de vies, made all over the world, overwhelming consumers by choice and variety, again producers focusing on raw materials and distillation being silenced by those focused on yelling “choose mine”.
What do you do differently from other bartenders?
I am hardly the only person that does so, but I tend to neglect lists and menus. Be it cocktail, a spirit of wine, I rather talk and listen to the guest. Guest is always right – in telling you what he wants, your job is to understand the mining beyond the words he used. Nobody wants lime juice when asking for “virgin margarita”, they want something short, sharp and acidic with no alcohol. You just have to make an effort to understand it. You know best what is on your list or shelf or cellar that will suit their palate. As long as I am concerned, understanding this element makes the difference between dispensing drinks and service, whether it is a bar or even the shop.
With bartending how do you stay inspired?
We live in an era where travel is easier than ever, go visit places, taste food, drink, talk to people. Listen to people at your bar, their stories, places that they visited, food their mum cooks. Any book in any language in digital form in your phone, on your way to work.
How do you not stay inspired?
The only excuse not to be inspired is being overworked, and that is a serious issue that should be addressed to employers. The most hardworking and educated members of staff are usually the last to tell you they need help. We are all happy to make some sacrifices, but if you will keep them exhausted for too long, the first thing they will lose is inspiration and creativity. You can not afford it. It is your job to notice they need support and to provide it as soon as possible. Your staff is the most valuable resource you will ever have – treat them well and use it wisely.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen working behind the bar?
Very strange and broad question. Many personal dramas, many expensive spirits shot or drowned in coke, fires and floods – depends on what do you call crazy! My favourite story, perhaps not that crazy was simply late Sunday afternoon in a lobby bar, when, perhaps 14 years old girl asked if she can practise playing on our grand piano (£1,000,000 Bösendorfer, first model of its series) Against all the policies, for some reason I agreed. This little girl in white dress gave the most spectacular concert I have heard since the London Symphony Orchestra played on the grand opening of the hotel. Everyone was mesmerised. After the girl finished “practising” she received a standing ovation from all the guests, staff and by passers present. Two other guests encouraged by this little angel asked to play as well, and they played better than most of our professional artists. We stayed long after hours that day listening to these wonderfully talented people. No one of them was better than 14-year-old genius. Beautiful memory.
Favourite food and beverage pairing on the menu?
One of the most memorable pairings I had a pleasure to taste was in my future colleague’s restaurant The Dairy in Clapham – there were one dish and one wine, both did not appeal to me when I tried them separately. There was nothing wrong with them, just the rest of the tasting menu was full of wow factors, while these two… Were just ok. Together, however – different story, well structured slightly creamy chardonnay somewhat firmed the texture od the cauliflower, the puree element was fighting with wine for the space on the tongue making the experience much more entertaining. American oak made freshly grounded hazelnut and charred cauliflower notes explode on the finish adding yet another dimension to the dish. They were just meant to be together.
An important lesson in this, for all F&B maniacs, is not to judge any drink, or ingredient or dish only here an now as it is. I met many staff members being hasty in discrediting ingredients without even thinking “how could I use it”. There are so many beautiful things you can do with almost anything, you just have to make an effort to understand it, and let it shine in some company!