Heroes of Hospitality - Dorothy Lam, Rising Stars 2023 winner

15 December 2023

Dorothy lam
The competitive arena of Rising Stars is more than a contest for Dorothy Lam- it’s a canvas for innovation. The sustainability theme becomes a springboard for creative exploration, leading to a concoction that is not only a delight for the palate but also a commitment to mixology coupled with the love for nature. Read her interview as she deep dives into the art of mixology, where each cocktail is a chapter, each competition a challenge, and each community interaction a celebration of shared passion.

How did you come up with your winning drink?
So, when I first read over the rules, they were saying that you had to be inspired by ‘Tales of two cities’, whether that would be where we live or a place which inspires or is important to us. So, I decided the first one would be London, where I work. And for the other one, I instantly thought about Hong Kong, where I was born & raised – raised also as a bartender.
I wanted to find something which would include memories from the childhood, in both countries, something that would cheer people up, as well as would represent Hong Kong. And actually most local people, when they are away, miss the Milk Tea. So I decided to work with it, along with Rhubarb & Custard, as the milk could work with both.
So I started breaking down the ingredients, as they sounded fun to work with. I wanted to create something around sustainability, & utilising food waste. I hate throwing stuff away. So why not doing something that is useful, that makes a loop in the process? So I came up with the idea of making a Rhubarb syrup, using leftovers of the sparkling wine that is used behind the bar everyday. I took the Rhubarb to pickle and use it as a garnish. It woulb then be used to start the milk washing process, to clarify the drink.
And I was looking at the cocktails that came from London, and a big influence to me is Ada Coleman, from The Savoy Hotel, who created the Hanky Panky, which is one of my favourite drinks. This style of drink, with the bittersweet touch, was how I wanted the final drink, with the feel of a milk punch.

Why do you think Rising stars & competitions like it are important?
To us, Bartenders, practically speaking, competitions like Rising Stars are a platform to show what you can do. Not just to the people around you, not just colleagues & guests in your bar or family. The competition conditions often give us different inspirations, for example different required components that actually push us to do better.
These conditions help inspire us to see what we can actually do for ourselves, and what kind of drinks we can come up with. In Rising stars, the sustainability aspect was the big element. This helps to push ourselves to come up with a drink that we will really like, that other people also will like, and show what we can do as Bartenders, to a wider audience.

What is your current job, and how did you get there?
I am now Head Bartender for the Bourbon Bar at JW Marriott Grosvenor House hotel in London. 
I’ve been working in the industry for 12 years now, and JW Marriott is where I started in the first place. I started working for them through an internship in school, in Hong Kong. That’s where I started to learn how to work behind a bar, where I gained a lot of my initial knowledge. Then I spent some time learning in other restaurant & bars around Hong Kong. Seeing how different cocktails bars work, and learning different skills.
Since then, I moved to London, where I worked in some really cool cocktail bars like Milk & Honey and Mezcaleria. This was like going to school again. It taught me a lot about Classic Cocktails, how different types of ingredients can work with each other, especially local ingredients. This built me up to how I make drinks now. At that point, I decided to go back to where I started, so I joined Marriott again, and I am now happily working as a bartender building my own menus and concepts.

What’s the next step for your life or career?
For now I want to stay in Marriott and work my way up the ladder. I want to be like a Food & Beverage Manager, I want to learn more about some of the other elements of the Restaurant & Bars, about how to help people work together well, so the team & guests enjoy their time. But my ultimate goal is to open my own place, so that I can create a comfortable place for friends, which would make them feel like family. To help them enjoy a good time together. That would be my ultimate retirement plan!

Dorothy Rising Stars

What do you think about self-care & mental health for the bartending world ; is it getting better or worse & why?
I would say we are in a challenging time. It is common in hospitality all over the world, not only London or Hong Kong, to be struggling to hire bartenders & to get the right people to actually join hospitality. The job can be very challenging, mentally & physically, and we need to give a lot of ourselves, which can be very tiring. What is good is that nowadays, we have more communities discussing mental health issues, especially within the hospitality world. With people focusing on that and building support networks, so that they can organise activities, to help people come together, to relax & have a work-life balance. 
Building up your Mental health is not just relaxing with a beer after work. We are now focusing more on using physical activity. I have a friend in the industry organising cycling every week so they can build a community but also helping them to unwind with something fun other than our work. I think that’s important, for everyone, to find a way to escape. It could be beverage-related to or it could be related to health activities, as long as we find it comfortable, relaxing, with no stress. 
It will be the best way to actually help us out to balance our lives and mental health.
How do you look after your body & mind?
I try not to drink every day. I like to get my camera & go out in the city. This feels very relaxing to look at the city through my lens, as it lets you see things differently. It is something new & fresh which keeps me calm down and discover new & interesting areas around London, where I have now been living for five years. 
What support can large brands offer to help people manage their alcohol habits safely & healthily?
A good example is Pernod Ricard’s ‘Drink more water’ campaign, which is very important to look at, taking breaks from alcohol.
It can be working with bartenders on low ABV drinks, or something more health-focused, like fermentation which is a big trend, and great for the body.
It can also be something away from the ‘drinking’ box. Organising Yoga or Business classes. These can join the community together. And of course afterwards we can always enjoy a convivial drink.

How important is a strong Bar community?
A strong community means you are not alone behind your bar, in your own team. You have all types of people around to support you and it can help you share ideas because one brain is limited. If you have ten, twenty or one hundred people coming together, creativity is limitless. You can come up with different ideas when you talk to people, and find solutions to challenges, which will keep building up the skills and what is happening in the Bar Community. 
I think this is very important, especially as we work long hours. We are not only meeting for drinks, but it can be sharing, building & supporting each other.
Any examples of successful initiatives helping to build communities?
Rising Stars, a project between Pernod Ricard & Marriott, is a very good one. If I didn’t join this, I wouldn’t have met other bartenders from Marriott, around the world. Meeting new people & building up our horizons. This is a very cool thing that happened to me this year. 
In London, the Bartender Cycling group, is great. On a Sunday, they go on a picnic, or cycle round a new area. Everyone loves Yoga so there are some groups that organise yoga sessions, which is very relaxing & meditative. 
There are also industry nights, hosted by bars, with dinners, drinks, fun times…
All different ways so that people can have a different experience and meet new people, with different expectations.
How do you stay in touch with friends, colleagues, family all over the world?
Within my team we often go for a drink after work, or for dinner. We also like to go for a picnic in the summer, and celebrate birthdays.
With my friends & family in Hong Kong, this is tricky, due to the time difference. So we use WhatsApp, to update each other about what we are doing. We also do like FaceTime to stay close to each other, and know what we are doing, how we are, how everything is going on.

Why should large brands invest in supporting bartenders?
Bartenders are the front line in sales to guests. We are the middlemen, the ‘Translators’ of the brands to the customer. For example, a spirit can be drunk in many ways – neat, with ice, in a cocktail, or serve. Thus, we can help people who think they don’t like a spirit, by suggesting it in a different way, tailored to their tastes. We can talk in a different ‘language’ to communicate to all types of people.
What support do you value, from large brands?
I think training is very important, so that we can get a lot of information, inside information that guests won’t get themselves. To help us understand some of the creation process. For example, how distillation works may seem mysterious, because we don’t see it every day.
Competitions are also great, These can help us improve ourselves, promote what we are doing & this is something that we love to see more and more of.

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