"Bartenders are changing the world in their own way"
Only within a few months of becoming a bartender, Jad Ballout won an award in a local bartending competition for his unique Mediterranean drinks. Since then, there has been no stopping him; the Lebanese bartender has travelled and worked in every kind of outlet – from a five-star hotel, cocktail bar, to a nightclub in the street – just to gain more experience and see what he wants from this field.
Working his fingers to the bone paid him off when he opened his own bar in Beirut. The Central Station Boutique Bar earned him several heavyweight industry awards including No. 26 of World's 50 Best Bars 2016, Best Bar in the Middle East & Africa 2016 and Top 10 Best International High Volume Cocktail Bars by the Tales of the Cocktails 2016.
But even though bartending is emerging as a rousing career alternative, not many people consider it as a "respectable" job. "People who don't know about our industry think that bartending is not a good job, that you cannot make a living out of bartending. But now, the situation is completely opposite – bartenders have good paying jobs, they are on TV and some are mostly travelling. Bartenders are coming up as superstars and not just standing behind the counters for making drinks," said Ballout, who was recently in the Capital at Grappa, Shangri-La's Eros Hotel to stir up a storm for the visitors with his Lebanese concoctions.
"A lot of bartenders nowadays are supporting ideas which can change the world. No matter how small the idea is, bartenders are thinking more than their bars like how to save the planet, how to be more sustainable and environment-friendly. A lot of bars are not using straws and plastics now, because of what it is doing to the oceans and the environment. People mostly think of us as just a party guy or someone who plays with the bottle to get the girls, but those who actually know about this profession respects it. We are creating concepts for big brands, it is not just about making cocktails anymore, we can change the world by supporting ideas in our own way," he further added.
Growing up by the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and on the ancient route of the Silk Road, Jad has been inspired by the unique terroir and Middle Eastern culture since a young age. He has been experimenting with rare herbs and spices in different forms to provoke and delight guests with unusual flavour profiles. A believer and promoter of the Middle Eastern-Mediterranean bartending, Jad focuses on using local and seasonal ingredients to reinvent his culture in cocktail forms with a contemporary touch. His creations are authentic yet modern, which reflects the regional terroir and tradition in one holistic experience.
"My country has a big influence on me. Many of my drinks are inspired from my childhood memories, from the food I ate with my parents to some rituals that we used to perform, it's always inspired from the things that I have experienced," said Ballout diligently.
How was the experience in Delhi?
"Delhi is very interesting, there is a big conflict between spaces. In New Delhi, you see an urban city with fancy hotels whereas old Delhi is very traditional, almost the opposite of the former. It's like two different countries," he said, adding, "Though I was in India for only five days, I feel that bartenders here are passionate about their jobs but they need more exposure."