Demie Kim, the winner of La Maison International Finals, 2018, chats with The Yum List about life behind the bar and how he got to where he is today.
How did you feel after hearing your name announced as the winner of the La Maison Cointreau 2018 International Finals?
I was thrilled! I actually did not expect to win because I felt I might not have shown my very best. I was so surprised that my jaw dropped (as you can see from the photos)!
Tell us about your final cocktail.
My final cocktail is called STAY HERE and contains Mount Gay Black Barrel, Sujeonggwa (a traditional Korean punch), pine nut tincture, and aromatic bitters. It is garnished with pandan leaf, a coconut water ball, and pine nuts.
What inspired you to create that cocktail?
Since this particular challenge was to create my own night market stall, I wanted to express myself with Korean tradition. Sujjeonggwa is a traditional Korean punch that we share with the people around us during various occasions, like holiday family gatherings, parties, or even after-work sessions with co-workers. It fits well with the concept of a Korean night market, and it really complements the spicy character of Mount Gay Black Barrel.
How was your stay in Malaysia during the competition?
I was initially worried because I am quite sensitive to heat but the weather was great during my stay! In Malaysia, I met wonderful people, had amazing experiences, and enjoyed genuine local cuisine. The only shame was that I did not have more time to explore!
Any words for your supporters?
I am truly grateful for all the people who believe in me and support me. I think the best way to repay them is to keep learning and evaluating my work.
How did you get into the bartending industry?
When I was in university I joined the bartender club for fun. I later developed a deep interest in bartending and entered junior competitions. After graduation, I began my career at the W Hotel in Seoul as a bartender.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part of my job is that it is never boring – I always get to meet new people, and I can keep creating something new. The worst part of it is that I live in a different time zone to everyone else, even within the same city.
What’s your favourite Remy Cointreau cocktail?
The classic Sidecar.
What’s one of the most surprising things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
La Maison Cointreau has been a series of surprises! When it was mentioned that the first challenge was going to be all about chocolate, I thought it would just be about pairing cocktails with chocolate. Even during the chocolatier class, the matching of cocktails was all that was in my mind. They announced after the class that we had to make our own chocolate, and it was such a shock for me! I still feel quite sorry for the judges who had my ugly chocolate, haha!
The perfect day off would be…
I practically live in a different time zone from everyone aside from my colleagues, so I try to spend as much time relaxing with my loved ones when I have a day off.
A day in the life of a bartender is…
Nothing special. I start my day a bit later than others and I sometimes go to the market to buy ingredients and observe trends before going to work. At Alice (the bar I work at), we have daily meetings before opening. These days, I also spend time with junior bartenders who have just begun their careers and help them with practising their classic cocktails.
What do you do for fun?
I love travelling, both within Korea and overseas. I am quite an adventurous eater and drinker, so I like trying new things.
What’s something you’d like readers to know about bartending?
While the Korean bar scene is one that is still growing, the general public is still not accustomed to it. Many locals tend to assume it is only for people of a certain class, so I want to do my part to make the bar scene here more friendly and familiar so that more people will feel comfortable visiting bars and discovering their own tastes.
What’s your favourite food and beverage pairing?
Brown spirits with warm, creamy chocolate.
What’s your view on the cocktail scene in South Korea as compared to South East Asia?
As with South East Asia, the cocktail scene in South Korea is still new and unfamiliar to the public. There are new bars opening all around, however, not to mention local bartenders have been performing very well in international competitions, so there has been accelerated growth of the cocktail scene here. I look forward to seeing a uniquely Korean bar scene that fuses elements of local cuisine and culture.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
I have not spent much time with my colleagues at Alice in a while because I was preparing for this competition, so I will be focusing on our business plan for the next year. I will also be heading out on a guest bartending tour in four countries beginning next January as part of my win at La Maison Cointreau.