A month ago, I was waiting my turn at Perch in Delhi’s Basant Lok. The bar counter was crowded three-deep, and choc-a-bloc with people drawn by the opportunity to be served by the prodigal, who was on a rare visit home. Not just to meet him, but taste perhaps for the first time, his signature creation, The Optimist. The prodigal being Devender ‘The Optimist’ Sehgal, and this his creation of about a year ago, and which resonates with his life story.
It’s been quite a long way for Dev, from dropping out of school in the 8th standard and working as an apprentice in a motor mechanic’s shop for Rs 10 a day, to where he has been now for the past three years, which is as head bartender for 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana, a 3- Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong.
I met Dev 10 years ago when he was working as a back-up bartender at events, earning 50 rupees per shift.Today he runs a bar school and works as a flair bartender at events. Impressive with his skills, he lacked as many Indian bartenders then did, proficiency in communication. Coming into daily contact with those who had superior communication skills and talked about places Dev had not even heard off, only whetted his appetite and made him work harder.
The year 2009 was a hallmark in his life. While working at a restaurant in Delhi he represented India in Italy at the global finals of a bartending competition. This promptly got him a job at a Taj bar. Dev took the opportunity to continue his studies and work on his communication skills.
Being a bartender in India was always challenging, as the profession didn’t get the respect it deserved from owners and managers, who didn’t see bartenders as they did chefs, as craftsmen in their own right. This often motivated them to aspire to managerial positions or look for opportunities with bar owners, or to go overseas. Dev got such an opportunity in 2011, with the opening of Ellipsis in Mumbai, which represented an important breakthrough for the cocktail bar in India, with Death and Co, a New York-based drinks consultancy, providing the initial training.
That same year, Dev was the India runner-up in Diageo’s World Class competition. This was quickly followed by his winning the Diageo World Class Bartender of the year for India in 2012, which took him to Rio to represent India on a global stage. Quite a journey so far for a young lad, who was satisfied with the kulfi falooda he bought with the Rs10 he earned and whose only aspiration had been to become an actor (a dream he still has!). Rio opened the doors for him at Otto in Hong Kong with a year’s contract, now extended.
In 2015, Dev set another landmark. In Hong Kong’s crowded bar industry, he won the right to represent Hong Kong and Macau at the world finals of the Bacardi Legacy Cocktail competition in Sydney, and for this event, he chose to create a cocktail called The Optimist. If you’re ever in Hong Kong don’t forget to visit his bar, and sample, what else? The Optimist.
Bacardi Superior: 60ml
Lime juice: 22.5ml
Ginger syrup & honey water: 22.5ml
Shake & double strain
Glassware: Coupe (*)
Garnish: thin slice of cucumber
(* rinse the glass with Yellow Chartreuse before serving the drink)
1 Part ginger juice pure (no water)
2 Parts super refined sugar
Blend all together until all the sugar is dissolved.
3 Parts of pure honey (I use acacia honey)
1 Part of hot water