We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Ng and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
Being obsessed with the craft and the paranoia that someone out there is hustling more than you are. In my opinion, these two things make up the impetus that drives success. Creativity and standards are constantly pushed to new levels. Obsession opens the mind up for any and all inspiration. Even topics that have nothing to do with cocktails can generate new ideas. For example, sushi has been a trove of creative garnish skills. The knife work is impeccable and the imagination of sushi garnish is incredible. I’ve incorporated so many techniques from sushi garnish into my own repertoire. Not only sushi, but I’ve studied plating in the culinary world as well as baking presentation working with spun sugar and tempered chocolate. Practice and honing of skills are also driven by obsession. Taking in new information is integral for education, but these ideas must be practically implemented into service. Practice is integral and techniques must be practiced over and over again until they are second nature. To know is not enough as mastery leads to ingenuity to go beyond boundaries. If anyone watches our videos, they will be immediately met by a barrage of vibrant colors and creative garnishes. There’s the old adage that people drink and eat with their eyes first. Cocktails are no exception to this rule. This is just a conventional application of advertising. Aesthetics are crucial because of how media-driven consumers are-especially with social media sites like Instagram. People will appreciate a tasty cocktail, however, a beautiful cocktail will be permanently etched into the public via pictures and video where content can be infinitely shared. Because of the visually-focused tastes of consumers, it has opened up a niche in this competitive world of mixology. We are lauded for our creative cocktails with unique ingredients and stunning over-the-top presentation. Garnishes such as edible butterflies printed on rice paper and edible gold are common ingredients. What further separates us from the pack even more is our ability to do bartender’s choice cocktails where guests can order a unique cocktail that is created on that spot that most of the time exceeds the flavor and visual appeal of cocktails on the official menu. Of course, these skills all come back to obsession and paranoia in the pursuit of wildly exceeding guest expectations.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
It took a long time to get to this point. I started with no knowledge of alcohol with my education consisting of barely being able to tell the different between red and white wine (of course by color). After a stint teaching in Korea for two years, I took a bartending course for fun while I was waiting for my graduate studies to start. I thought this would be a fun side-job to pursue after finishing the course, but I couldn’t find a bartending job or even a barback position that would fit in my school schedule. My bartending instructor suggested applying for bartending jobs in catering companies because they were very flexible with scheduling as I could pick and choose my schedule on a week by week basis. I had to start off in catering as a busser and work my ass off to become a tray passer, a waiter, and then eventually getting some bartending shifts. I was going to graduate school for linguistics, but I felt a connection to bartending that I couldn’t ignore even after graduation. After working as a lead bartender for a few catering companies, I incorporated what I liked and didn’t like to eventually form my own company that started off with me being the sole bartender. Somehow with sleep deprivation I managed to start a thriving bartending company during graduate school and have continued to this day. I always told myself that I would stop bartending once I started my academic career, but I built up such a stellar reputation that never stopped. This experience with catering companies was invaluable because it was the foundation for my creativity and resourcefulness. Every event had its problems with logistics including access to ingredients, space, and scheduling. Even with limited ingredients, the onus was on me to impress. It really helped me learn the limitations and possibilities of a plethora ingredients used in cocktail-making. I learned to substitute and be extremely creative working with little. The experiences instilled an inquisitive mindset that made me want to explore ideas to the point where cocktail creation became more conceptual rather than an iron-clad specific set of cocktails or category of cocktails. My mind just became open and hungry for new interpretations or ways of doing things. For example, one day I ate Persian food and came across a sour spice called sumak that I had in a salad. It had a nice tangy flavor that I that paired well with a dirty martini. Well I was inspired even more when I substituted the traditional olives with traditional pickled red beets that I carved out with a melon baller. Also, garnish is always important for presentation and the red sumak spice provided a nice two-tone layered effect that looked great with the skewered pickled red beet balls. I guess my skills and repertoire have evolved to a higher level because it’s not enough to just watch videos and read. You have to practice and experiment. A lot of time and perseverance must be invested to try new recipes and ways of garnishing. See what is out there and get inspiration from others-it doesn’t even have to be sourced from the world of cocktails. I mean look at what chefs are doing to with fruit and vegetable carving. See what you can change about the cocktail experience from preparation, to where you pour the cocktail into, to novel ways of garnishing. I changed the recipe for a made-from-scratch Spanish gazpacho soup into a bloody maria-style cocktail!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
For upscale gourmet Chinese food, a must-stop would be Bistro Na in Temple City. Mama Lu’s dumplings for great comfort Chinese food in Monterey Park. For a ritzy night out on the town, the Edison would definitely be on the agenda for its incredible vibe and decor. Another night would be hanging out on the rooftop bar at the Perch in Los Angeles for the views. A scenic ocean drive down the Malibu coast to check out Getty Villa and later in day explore nearby Santa Monica Pier and 3rd Street Promenade. Venice beach on another day with a visit to Griffith Park Observatory in the evening with a late night jaunt to Davey Wayne’s in Hollywood.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
To all our clients and vendors who work with us and our supporters on social media platforms THANK YOU. Your feedback and support inspires us to new levels! Also a very special nod to Klaudia and Max at Kloud Nine Photography for eloquently capturing what we do on video!