In the fifth episode of international chefs in Kyoto, we feature Mr. Raul Navarro who is a bartender and beverage manager at the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto. Seven years have passed since he was very impressed with Japanese culture and moved to Japan. He became the indispensable face at the hotel bar.
Attracted by the culture and four seasons in Kyoto.
I was born and raised in Barcelona, Spain. I was always thinking that since I was born in this global era and I can travel anywhere in the world, I must see other countries besides Spain. Since I love amusement parks such as Disneyland and USJ, I visited Japan eight years ago.
Although Tokyo was a very interesting city, I thought that since I was in Japan, I had to visit Kyoto to see traditional Japanese culture. I extended my journey to Kyoto. I wasn't expected that visiting Kyoto decided my fate at that time.
It was in autumn when I visited Kyoto. I was impressed by beauty of Kyoto everywhere. I visited many famous tourist sites including Arashiyama. I was really overwhelmed by the city's beauty including leaves falling down in the gardens of temples and its traditional town landscape. In addition, Kyoto people were all kind. Therefore, I felt that I wanted to know this city more.
Leaning Japanese is essential to understand the culture and people in Kyoto. So, I made up my mind to study Japanese in Japan from the following year. Of course, I decided to live in Kyoto. I went to a Japanese language school in the daytime and worked at a Spanish restaurant in the night.
Changing my career form a sales staff at ZARA to a hotel staff
After graduating from the language school, I got a job at ZARA, where my knowledge of Spain was useful. I worked in Shijo Kawaramachi. One day, I got to know about opening staff positions at the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto. I love interacting with people. So, working in the service industry was my dream because I can meet and talk with many people. In that sense, I thought that working as a hotel staff would make my dream come true.
Although my first choice was to work as a doorman. The general manager who interviewed me said to me, "You are a good listener. So, working as a bartender will definitely be more suitable than a doorman because you can talk with customers more." Since I didn't have any experience as a bartender, I didn't know what to decide. However, I thought that I should keep challenging myself and I took a bartender job.
Learning about bartending made my job much more interesting.
Why could I, who had no experience, become a bartender with a short-term training? One of the reasons was that bartending fascinated me very much. I was sent to Singapore and had an on-the-job training at Manhattan, one of Asian's top bars, in a hotel affiliated with the Four Seasons Hotels. I met wonderful superiors there. Especially, I was deeply impressed with Tom Hogan. He told me that a cocktail made with the same recipe tastes different depending on the person who made it. Isn't it interesting? In the end, alcoholic drinks are made by people too. I practiced shaking a cocktail by filling a shaker with rice. I sought tips for bartending to my friends who were also a bartender. I made mistakes and sometimes I even didn't know what to do. However, I've never felt like quitting the job. I wanted to accomplish it once I started it.
Lorenzo Antinori, who is now next to me, is a great influence on me. He is an advisor who supervises bars at the Four Seasons Hotels in Asia Pacific. He also established the Four Seasons' original bar training program, which allows trainees to take lessons anywhere by using a smartphone or a computer. I also have been involved in this training program as a trainer in Kyoto to offer our customers services and experiences that are unique to the Four Seasons. Being involved in new staff development is very rewarding.
Lorenzo's comments about Raul
Cocktails are like cars that we have our customers get on. Serving customers as a bartender is to create a story for each customer including where to take and what to show them. Although bartending techniques are required, bartender's character is more important than that. Raul is passionate about his job. As he has closely been studying cocktails' flavors, he becomes an excellent, skilled bartender. Beyond that, he has his own originality. With his passion and unique character, he can entertain his customers from the bottom of their hearts.
There is nothing I enjoy better than talking with my customers.
I'm very happy that I become a bartender. That is because I can always have close communications with each of my customers through my job. That was my dream too. I listen to my customer's request like "I want to drink a cocktail that offers a refreshing flavor and have some fruits in it." Then, I immediately open drawers in my brain one after another and think out of the box to make the best cocktail based on the request. When I receive compliments from my customers, such as "Delicious!" and "I love this flavor!", I will be over the moon.
Featuring locally sourced ingredients is required when making cocktails too. For example, this hotel is located in Kyoto. Therefore, my task is to involve seasonal ingredients and cultural essences that are unique to Japan or Kyoto into cocktails. Therefore, I have to study Japanese culture, and the history, general and seasonal traditions of Kyoto. Is it difficult? No, I absolutely enjoy studying them. I can present what I have learned to my customers every day.
This is Secret Garden (2,800yen), a signature cocktail of the Lounge & Bar. The cocktail includes Japanese whisky, sake, elderflower liqueur, rosemary, mikan syrup, homemade Darjeeling tea bitters and homemade chamomile tea bitters. The ingredients will gradually vary depending on the season.
As its name suggests, this cocktail was inspired by Sekisuien, a Japanese garden that you can see from the bar. I came up with the recipe of this cocktail by observing seasonal nature at the garden including flowers, leaves, and trees.
This cocktail is Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto 75 (2,800 yen). Don't you think that the cocktail served with hojiso (inflorescence of shiso)on the side looks nice? I mixed local Kinobi gin, local Mio sake, yuzu syrup, passion fruit syrup, and lemon juice with a shaker to create a refreshing taste. Gin goes well with yuzu flavor. The cocktail is popular among female customers.
My belief is "Treat others the way I want to be treated". I have been stuck to it since I heard it from my honorable teacher when I was in the sixth grade of elementary school. I was astonished when I saw the Golden Rule of Four Seasons (The company's philosophy). It was the same as my belief, "To treat others as we'd wish to be treated ourselves.". Therefore, I think what to do to please my customers, not just following the instructions and offer them heartfelt service.
A bartender is an artisan. As bartending requires both flexible handling and creativity, it is hard work. I want to become a talented bartender better than today by keeping studying for the rest of my life.
■Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto The Lounge & Bar
445-3 Myohoin Maekawa-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Opening hours: 10:00-24:00 (The bar counter opens at 18:00)