From running his own lounge bar in Greece to winning awards and training bar tenders around the world, Rob Rademaker is a natural when it comes to the theatre of luxury F&B.
Rob’s extensive experience working at renowned cocktail bars and prestigious events saw him mixing in the right circles, eventually landing the role of head trainer at Bols Bartending Academy. During his seven year tenure he acted as global brand ambassador and won the title of European Champion Tea, Cocktails and Food Pairing in the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge.
Now a specialist trainer at Luxury Hospitality, we spoke to Rob about his passion for bartending and mixology, and the secret to a perfect cup of tea.
How did you start out in the hospitality industry?
It all started in a small bistro restaurant in Amsterdam. I was working as a dishwasher and had to fill in when a member of the service team fell sick. I had zero experience in service at the time but quickly realised I loved the interaction.
I then worked as a butler in different five-star hotels around Amsterdam which involved spending time in all departments of F&B – this is when I discovered my passion in bartending and mixology. I started to follow educational programs to learn as much as possible and it set me on an incredible journey. Working for the Fabulous Shaker Boys, owning my own bar, traveling all over world to educate bartenders, consulting cocktail programs in hotels and bars, competing in competitions and joining the Luxury Hospitality team to share my passion, educate and have lots of fun while doing it!
What inspired you to specialise in beverages?
It all came about from simply meeting new people, as well as a love of learning skills that you can apply in every setting, private and professional, all around the world, day and night. It’s more of a passion and a lifestyle than an actual job.
You spent a number of years as part of the Fabulous Shaker Boys – what did that involve and what were some of the highlights?
Working with the Fabulous Shaker Boys was awesome. They were the leading cocktail agency in Europe back in 2002 and for me, the highlights were working at prestigious private events for the rich and famous all around the world, serving classic and custom cocktails, focusing on quality and having a lot of fun.
When you opened your own lounge bar in Crete, what was the concept and what did you learn?
The concept was a laid-back cocktail lounge bar with a big swimming pool, sunbeds and a VIP-deck. Daytime was all about enjoying the sun with fresh juices and tasty cocktails then, come early evening, our big outdoor cinema evolved into a dance floor with DJ’s spinning their records to a fun crowd.
Being your own boss meant that the days were long, taking care of every department imaginable. You had to be your own handyman, promoter, stock controller, accountant, staff, police and tax office and, at 20 years of age, you can probably imagine this didn’t go very smoothly! But I learned a lot from it and had a blast at the same time.
You then landed the prestigious role of Head Trainer at Bols Bartending Academy - what did your role entail and who were your students?
The role entailed two things. One was managing the bartending academy in Amsterdam where we trained over 5,000 bartenders per year. The second was traveling all over the world to train bartenders on product knowledge, mixology, global trends and how to stand out as a bar on the international bar scene. Our students ranged from beginners to pros. In the end, it’s all about connecting with your students, sharing thoughts and having a great time while doing this.
In 2013 you became European Champion Tea, Cocktails and Food Pairing in the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge, also winnings a silver medal in the global competition – that must have got you noticed in the hospitality world?
Preparing for the competition was hard work. I worked together with the chef of the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam and we created seven tea-inspired food items that were paired with tea mocktails and cocktails, served hot and cold. Our theme was the Dutch East-India Trading Company, taking the classic high tea to a new level.
Winning the competition created a new “VOC High Tea” which was served only at the Amstel Hotel. Dilmah Tea launched their seasonal flush rare tea at the hotel, and I got to visit Sri Lanka twice to learn everything about tea, visit the tea fields and join the global competition.
Winning competitions always gets you noticed in the hospitality world, but what’s more important is that you gain knowledge and are inspired by others to become the best you can be.
You’re also a keen student with a long list of qualifications to your name – what drives your passion?
Working in hospitality demands a huge list of skill sets, ranging from social skills, product knowledge and technical ability, to working in a team environment with shared goals. Educating yourself helps you to grow as a person and make work much more fun. You can achieve your goals with less effort while making a career out of doing what you love. Besides this, our business is always evolving, so staying on top helps you create guest experiences that are unique and remarkable.
When did you join LH and which courses do you deliver?
I joined the team three years ago through a training company I was working for at the time. Nowadays I work with my own consultancy company that specializes in bartending, mixology, barista, and tea. These are also the courses I deliver on board, ashore and online together with the trainers at LH.
What has most surprised you about working with superyacht crew?
It surprises me most that superyacht crew must know all the tricks of the trade and be all-rounders in every corner of hospitality. It's a demanding but rewarding environment - working on a superyacht is very different compared to working in a standard bar or restaurant.
What’s your number one tip for making the perfect cocktail?
Taste taste taste! (And don’t drink it by yourself!). When tasting a cocktail, always check the balance, dilution and aroma of the drink. Keep the garnish simple and fresh. Remember that the drink you serve is always secondary to you as the person serving the guest, which is much more valuable than the products you serve.
Showmanship and presentation tell me that you have confidence and enjoy what you’re doing, which is also apparent to guests and colleagues. With this attitude you can always create a positive environment for everybody, wherever you may be.
Which cocktail is your personal favorite?
Everything Tiki related really! Usually rum-based drinks mixed with fresh fruits and spices served in crazy glassware with tropical garnishes. Think of the original recipes of the Mai Tai, Zombie and Missionary's Downfall. However, personally I generally stick with a cold beer or a nice glass of wine.
Has the gin craze had its day, or is it still very much in vogue?
Gin is still very popular today. There are hundreds of gins and some bars stock over 600 different types. Gin is basically distilled neutral alcohol (vodka) infused with botanicals, and the selection of these botanicals is up to the producer. That's why there is such a broad spectrum of flavours to play with. From a bartender’s perspective, gin gives us lots of freedom to create a variety of mixed drinks, both classic and contemporary. For the consumer, there is still a lot to discover. Gin is here to stay.
What’s the most unusual infusion you’ve come across?
The most unusual infusions in spirits that I have come across are insects, snakes, and other animals. In some brands of mezcal (the daddy of tequila), you find a larva that, after cocooning, becomes a night butterfly. These larvae were actually put in the bottle to show consumers that what they were buying was of high alcohol content. If not, the larvae would start rotting in the liquid.
In Chinese medicine they believe that some animal infusions are beneficial to your health and in general, alcohol likes to absorb soluble organic material like fruits, vegetables, nuts, roots, peels and herbs etc. The funky infusions you see in bars nowadays include things like mushrooms, popcorn, bacon, cactus, garlic, foie gras and sechuan button.
How do you distinguish a quality coffee from an average one – and how is coffee graded?
There are a lot of factors that come into play when serving a quality cup of coffee. This includes the coffee's origins and the freshness of the bean, roasting levels, how to extract the soluble compounds, brewing methods, and different ways of serving. Always try to have a variety of coffee grown at different altitudes and originating from different countries. This will give you a wider spectrum of flavour profiles to suit your guests’ preferences. Also be sure to use the freshest milk available and try to offer a variety of sweeteners.
What is the secret to the perfect cup of tea?
It all starts with the selection of your tea. Make sure the tea is of such quality that the cells in the leaf still contain polyphenols, which are antioxidants and very beneficial for your health. This type of tea is usually hand-picked and produced in the orthodox way.
The next step is water - the cleaner your water the better. Preferably use mineral water that you bring to the boil only once - if you boil water longer or boil it twice, you will lose oxygen which is essential for extracting the polyphenols. Always follow the minimum brewing time as only then will the tea be packed with the healthy antioxidants stored in tea leaves.
Are there any trends on the horizon?
Yes! Low alcohol cocktails, mocktails, low calorie cocktails, all-natural ingredients, themed signature cocktails, storytelling and creating memorable guest experiences are all on the way to becoming very popular.
Who has most inspired you in your career so far?
I have met many inspiring people in my career, that's the beauty of working in the hospitality industry. Today my inspiration comes from my colleagues at Luxury Hospitality and the crew we train.
What’s your motto?
Work smarter, not harder, and never stop learning!
Images: supplied by Luxury Hospitality