Serena O’ Callaghan
The one, the only, Madame Woo. Need we say more?
FDM- Tell us more about your introduction to the drinks industry?
The year was 2005 when I began my hospo journey as a host at TGI Fridays. Then, it was all about Training, training, training.. To progress to be a waiter, you first needed to master the ‘7 Steps to Legendary Service’, of which once you grasped well, you would be sure to kill it in tips! To become a bartender was a lot more homework, these positions were only for the more senior and well rounded crew, tests after tests on recipes that you had to nail to progress further, before a top 50 drinks tests followed by a top 100.. All this before even getting to set foot behind the bar! Then came the service bar shifts, actually making those memorized drinks, learning to get slammed and survive the weeds pumping out a million dockets. Only after that point in the journey, once ‘validated’, would you set foot on front bar to serve actual guests. My manager saw something in me, or maybe heard my cries of uni-student-brokedom and dangled the carrot of more money, bartenders get paid the most he said! Well, over a decade later, here we are still chugging along strong on this journey!
FDM- Where did the cocktail bug first bite?
I am so glad that in May of 1806, the word cocktail was first defined in print! This is because 200 years later, a fellow named Sebastian Reaburn was inspired to open what would become a world class cocktail bar in Melbourne CBD. When I went in for my trial, all he knew was that I had a zest of epicure and a love of people, and that I was hungry to learn more about drinks. Seeing potential he gave me an opportunity, he is my mentor to this day. Not long after that we won the award for World’s Best Cocktail Menu at Tales of the Cocktail. I thank my lucky stars it was here that I received my classical training in cocktails. The learning curve was steep, the crew was awesome, and it was truly a magical time.
FDM- Favourite drink to sling? Drink you wish didn’t exist?
My favourite drink to sling is one I had on the list at my last bar, a Nuclear Colada! A bangin’ Pina Colada that has been spiked with Pandan. Pandan is a Southeast Asian leafy plant we used a lot in cooking back home in Malaysia. The flavour is likened to being Asian style vanilla, it is also bright green. The ‘radioactive greenness’ paired with a swanky fresh super fun garnish (parasol is a must) makes this tropical drink a total crowd pleaser. I truly love being able to utilise flavours from my Malaysian heritage in cocktails, it makes for a great story with guests too.
I do remember they had a funeral for the Apple Martini followed by the Chocolate Martini many years ago which was definitely giggle worthy.
If I must choose, Tequila Sunrise.
Yup. Me Hates.
FDM- Give us a pearl of wisdom?
A wise boss once taught me that to be a good manager, you needn’t be the best at everything, you just need to learn who is and keep them happy. I have had many a team thrive based on this advice, dividing and conquering together as a real unit and constantly learning from one another. We never know too much to stop learning! Ego can be a huge obstruction, so it is good to keep a humble head on your shoulders no matter how much of a veteran you are, there is always something new to discover or a better way of doing things.
FDM- We’ve all flubbed at least one shift. What’s your worst?
Oh no! Once when I was 18yo and invincible, I worked a double shift followed by a night club shift that finished at 7am and back onto another double. No sleep. What a hero, it was a disaster. They kept me on till the end as punishment too. I have never forgotten those feelings of death nor done that stupid shit since!
FDM- What one change would you make to improve our industry?
I would like to see the introduction of more structured training and development. Also perhaps creating career development pathways to encourage longevity and growth within a workplace. Fine Drinks Movement are all about wanting to inspire and educate, I think this is extremely crucial for retaining quality people and nurturing their passion. Only now are people beginning to see hospitality as a real career option, a dynamic and bright one at that!
FDM- What would you be doing if you weren’t working in the drinks industry?
Marine Botanist or MTV Asia VJ
FDM- Transport yourself five years into the future. What does the industry look like?
The glorious thing about a place like Melbourne is that the standards have been on the rise exponentially for the past two decades. So many operators are doing great things within the industry that it is having a ripple effect across the board raising the bar everywhere. We are also blessed to have an extremely supportive hospitality community who do what they love and love what they do. The industry will continue on this exciting path, it is truly wonderful to be a part of it.