IAG sat down with Leo Leng, Director of the Catering Department of Macau’s Sun Food and Beverage, to learn about his journey from bartender to group executive.
IAG: Thanks for speaking with us Leo. Can you start by telling us about your background?
Leo Leng: I’m not much different from other children born in the 1980s and 1990s. I was urged by my parents to go to school and played with my classmates after school. At the age of 16, I started working after school. As I didn’t have any work experience at the time, the food and beverage sector provided me with the easiest way to land a job. I still recall my first formal job was working as a waiter in a Thai restaurant at Rua da Praia do Manduco in Macau. I went to work directly after school every day and didn’t finish until 1am.
IAG: Why did you start your career in the food and beverage industry?
LL: When I was a child, I said I wanted to become a chef when writing a composition about my dreams, probably due to the influences of my family. When I was young my family owned a restaurant, so I was more interested in the food and beverage industry. More importantly, the living environment at that time was not good, but meals were at least provided [for employees] in the food and beverage industry so I didn’t have to spend extra [on meals].
IAG: You’ve spent time as a bartender. What is the secret to being a good bartender?
LL: I don’t consider myself a good bartender, but an experienced bartender at best. An outstanding bartender must have a good memory for the world’s classic cocktail recipes, and the characteristics, flavors and histories of various spirits and table wines, as well as the preferences of guests. Bartenders must also be patient and pay attention to the needs of guests, becoming their most familiar strangers.
IAG: What is your favorite cocktail?
LL: One of my favorite classic cocktails is a Negroni, a simple but delicious blend of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. It tastes bittersweet with a touch of citrus and a complex flavor of herbs. Coupled with a strong aftertaste, this cocktail is very suitable for seasoned men.
IAG: How did you end up with Sun Food and Beverage?
LL: I still remember I was 21 years old when I applied for a position of assistant manager at Sun Food and Beverage. However, after a day of interviews, I was not hired. My superior at the time then argued with the senior management that I was competent for the position so that I could have an opportunity for development. Fortunately, the senior management at last recruited me.
I got along well with my colleagues in this new workplace, and given my past experiences I was able to change the interviewers’ perception of me quickly. He did not have a favorable opinion in the beginning! Afterwards, I had many opportunities to showcase my abilities in the food and beverage industry as I developed within the company.
IAG: As a member of the Union of Bartenders & Cocktails of Macau, can you tell us the background of your association?
LL: The Union of Bartenders & Cocktails of Macau (UBCM) was formally established in 2012 after a year of preparation. It has been 10 years since its establishment. While the association has not organized many activities, it has brought many happy memories for local and foreign bartenders in Macau, local residents and merchants throughout the years.
UBCM has organized a bartending contest in Macau annually since 2012. With the development of the hotel and catering industries in Macau, many overseas bartenders have been attracted to work here and the bartending skills and level of practitioners in Macau have also improved.
IAG: You have competed in a cocktail competition in Copenhagen. Can you tell us how you have benefited from this experience?
LL: I’m extremely honored to have represented Macau by participating twice in the World Cocktail Championship, organized by the International Bartenders Association (IBA).
The entire process of the competition was nerve-racking. When the host of the competition introduced the contestants from each country on stage one by one, I felt like I waited for a long time. When the host introduced the representative from Macau, I just saw a strong white light in front of me and I only remember stepping on and off the stage. The seven-minute competition seemed to be over in just a second, and I only managed to pull it off and completed a cocktail due to muscle memory and subconsciousness.
IAG: What are your future expectations?
LL: Although I failed to win any accolades for Macau on both occasions, I learned a lot from these experiences and I’m determined to look for more opportunities for bartenders in Macau to participate in overseas competitions and improve their skills. I believe one day Macau bartenders can win various awards in cocktail competitions on the global stage.