Welcome to the second of our ongoing series of collaborations we are having with some of the best mixologists in the world. This time we are speaking with Benny Bravo, head mixologist at OTTO [Oblivious To The Obvious] , a private member’s only club on the Isle of Wight in England. Benny, a native of Germany, describes himself as a “bit of a nomad” and when you read my interview with him, you will see why.
How did you end up in the Isle of Wight?
I left Germany at 14 and came to England, so I always had liked England. But back in 2003, there was mandatory service in the German Army, so I had to come back to Germany and serve 18 months. After the Army, I then started working as a social worker in Hanover.
Wow, well that’s quite a transition from social worker to mixologist. How did that happen?
I had seen an advertisement by Bacardi about a cocktail bar on a sandy beach when I was younger, and that image always stayed with me. One day, I decided to go after my dream. I quit my job in social work and started at the bottom of a large bar and restaurant that had 3 main cocktail stations, 110 tables and a cocktail menu of more than 100 recipes. In order to become a bartender on the main station, I had to be one of the 5 fastest, and I had to memorize every cocktail on the menu.
How long did that take you?
I memorized the cocktail menu within 2 and a half months and then was at the main bar within 6 months. I was really motivated, and this was my passion, so it never felt like work for me. I began devouring classic books on cocktails, visiting distilleries and vineyards so I could learn from anyone and everyone I could.
Ok, so you had a successful career going in your native country, so how did you get back to England?
I worked at the large bar in Hanover for 3 years. I also worked in a night club as well, because I kept wanting to challenge myself and do something new that I had not done. Eventually, in 2009, I had an opportunity to move to England to work at a wine and fish restaurant in Dorset. There I stayed and then was asked to turn a panini bar into a cocktail bar. I trained all the staff and got the bar up and running, and it still is the place to be in Dorset to this day. After that, I made my way to the Isle of Wight.
Talk about your career the last 6 years on the Isle of Wight?
I have been lucky to be able to go beyond mixology, and in the last two years, I have helped the majority of new restaurants, bars, and clubs open on the Isle of Wight. I consult with them, train the staff, work on design, branding, menus, concept, help with suppliers. Really just about everything one could need. Over the last year, I am working with a partner to open my own bar that will hopefully be running in the next 12 months.
What is your favorite cocktail to mix?
I think it depends on both my mood as well as the mood that each establishment and each spirit has. I look to what the chef may be cooking. I smell the aromas of the restaurant or bar. I want when people to leave a bar or restaurant or club where I am working to have strong memories of the sights and smells of these places, and I create cocktails to enhance that. With that said, I like a bit of drama and entertainment. Fire, smoke, flames that I hope people will be awed by both the drink and the creation.
If you were to mix something for yourself, what would you make?
That’s easy. A margarita that is simple yet delicious: 30 ml of lemon juice, 20 ml of lime juice, 20 ml of sugar syrup, 20 ml of Cointreau and, 40 ml of tequila reposada. My margarita always puts me in a good mood.
Where are you off to next?
Well I have a little boy now, but I still travel when I can. I use my travels to inspire my next creations and to remind me of my past experiences. Recently, I got back from Southeast Asia and created a cocktail with mango, chili and a sour mix as it evoked the amazing street food I would eat after a late night out.
Final question, what’s the best part of being a mixologist?
Well, I think the social work I did prepared me for bar work. Interaction with the customers and listening to their stories is a great part of the job. But I also like mentoring new bartenders and working with established ones because you can always learn new things and continually grow your own skills.
Stay tuned for Benny's creations with Top's Gin and Spiced Rum. Trust me they are a treat.