Cover Kentaro Wada, Oscar Mena

The award-winning bartender, who was recently in Hong Kong for The Ritz-Carlton’s Stellar Dining Series, professes his love for spirits and John Lennon

Kentaro Wada, the head bartender at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo, is a showman. At the third stop of The Ritz-Carlton’s inaugural Stellar Dining Series, where he was a guest bartender alongside Oscar Mena at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, he easily captured our attention with his slicked back hair, dapper outfit and, of course, his bartending tricks he performed effortlessly in front of a big crowd. But unlike some bartenders, he has the talent and the skill to back him up.

While he confessed that his first dream was to be a rock star, he soon discovered that “creating cocktails and getting feedback from guests” was similar to playing in a band. He then decided to pursue bartending as a profession, training under the famed Takayuki Suzuki, chief cocktail designer at the Park Hotel Tokyo, and joining bartending competitions such as the Chivas Masters 2018. 

When he was based in New Zealand 10 years ago, he also joined a national competition and won with the Star Dust Coral—served as part of his repertoire at the four-day dining event.

In between concocting winning cocktails and classics like the negroni, Wada shares his love for his country’s dynamic bar landscape and the person he’d like to serve his cocktails the most.

(Related: Singapore's Top 30 Bars)

Tatler Asia
Above Eternal Southern Cross

What do you love most about Japan’s bar scene?
Kentaro Wada (KW):
  People say there’s bartending and there’s Japanese bartending. I’ve been to London, New York and Holland, and I've realised how Japanese bartending is all about “minimal” motion and we treat the ice differently to create amazing cocktails. That’s what I love the most.

Any trends that we should take note of?
From my experience at The Bar at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo, it’s Japanese whiskey.

Is it your favourite spirit to work with?
All spirits are my favourite; I like to discover new products to use in my cocktails.

How do you keep things creative behind the bar?
I take inspiration from random things such as art, music and sports. I try to incorporate ideas from these when I craft new concoctions.

(Related: Dining Among Stars: The Ritz-Carlton Presents Cosmic Collaborations In Singapore And Osaka)

You worked alongside Oscar Mena at the The Stellar Dining Series in Hong Kong. Any lessons you learned from him?
Have a strong passion for tequila. It’s difficult for us Japanese bartenders to use it for anything other than margarita, but he can easily make new and great cocktails with it.

For you, what was the best thing about being part of this event?
It was a great way for us bartenders and chefs to share our ideas and cultures, and learn from each other.

Can you tell us more about the cocktails you served?
I was given the theme “star”, so I crafted the Eternal Southern Cross which is reminiscent of a constellation. Making this was quite challenging as I had to use leftover products from squeezed lime or orange, for minimal waste.

What’s the cocktail that best represents you?
Forever 18. It’s my winning cocktail at the Chivas Masters cocktail competition.

If you could serve you cocktail to anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
John Lennon. I’ve been trying to become a musician like him since I was four years old. I would ask him if my cocktails are just like the songs he wrote and played.

What’s next for Kentaro-san?
My plan is to bring The Bar at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo to the World’s 50 Best Bars level.

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