KAJ GARA - #bartenderoftheweek
Ladies and gentlemen, I`d Like You to meet Kaj. The young and talented bartender who set himself lifegoals (pretty tough ones) and is doing everything to make his dreams come true. So far, with smaller and bigger obstacles, he (in my humble opinion) manages to give the best examples of how to do it right. Want to find out more about him and his journey? I give you then an interview with the man himself.
When I`ve heard about his story, I have not hesitated long I took the early train to Milan and drove there to listen to his tale in person.
1. What made You move to Milan? Your bartending career in Poland`s been looking great already whereas in Italy you had to start everything from scratch.
K:First of all, it was a strong desire for an adventure and experience. Not only that bartending one. Just life- in general. Changing the country, the environment. These will throw at you a huge load of new experiences, thoughts, conclusions etc. I wanted that. Actually- moving to Warsaw three years ago was something like a training- a little fraction of what will happen in the future, to prepare a bit for upcoming journeys. I didn’t know it will be Italy, but I was sure I would move abroad. So… why Italy? I will just mention them all here. I adore Italian art and architecture (got lucky to know some of it during studies). I was always in love with Italian language, wanted to learn it, which was almost impossible in Poland, surely not efficient. In some points, I found my approach to life really similar to Italians. The way they say: “ciaooo!”, while hosting you at their place. That’s the stuff, man 🙂 At the end- the obvious thing, at the same time really important- the huge legacy of Italian alcohol and cocktail culture, their spirits, way of creating, preparing food and drinks. I wanted to learn it from the heart, from the source. Now, we can smoothly get into the last stop- Milan. Somehow, while thinking, where I would like to settle and continue my bartending way in Italy, Milan was always in the first place. I’m sure it was mainly because of Campari. 2 years ago I won my first competition, and it was the Campari Academy. The price was a trip to Milan. It just made me sure that it will be a good place to move to. After applying to bars all over Italy, I didn’t receive a lot of responses (which is completely normal). So I just had to finally “grab my balls” take some risk and just go for it. I bought a “one-way ticket” (sing it, not read it) and I chose Milan. Luckily, I can tell that I was right 🙂
Yeah, the career in Poland was intense, fulfilling and fun, of course! I appreciate your words, man. But it was always a kind of a signal for me. If it’s starting to be too good, too easy, too comfy – that’s the time to run. I like throwing hard things at me. Putting myself in difficult situations. That works for me, and I think it generally works- in life. On the other hand i was just so so curious of how it would be to, literally, take those 3 years of hard, consistent work (my period in Warsaw) to my hands, put it on the shelf, say: “bye bye, see you in the future” and open the new chapter, as you said, from the scratch. Now it was just a bit more intense because of a new language, culture etc. And yes, you start from scratch and as a stranger/ question mark, which is completely normal. And it should be like this.
2. You and Sonia took the second place in the global Absolut Invite cocktail competition. How can you describe that journey? What have you learned through this experience?
K:It was an ABSOLUTely unbelievable experience, which I had the luck to share with Sonia, and our Absolut daddy- Maciek Starosolski who is carrying the really long, as well impressive title of Global Polish Vodka Ambassador. He was guiding us through the whole process of preparation, and his help was crucial. 6 months of really intense preparation with a person who really is your bartending soulmate. I mean, we are not similar at all, but when it comes to all bartending stuff, we just think the same. The crazy mix of opposites bonded by a skill of making a good party for our guests, sick sense of humour and a sack of ambition. I really enjoyed doing research and trying to use the legacy of Absolut. There are some brands with really inspiring stories and Absolut I surely one of them. Their marketing policy connected with art, creativity and a little bit of controversy is something really inspiring with a lot of potentials to play with. We felt like this was all made for us. What was actually the best was actually we were two. So the whole pressure, plans, preparation, stress etc. was divided by 2. One was stressed a bit more. The other one was chilling and trying to calm his partner. “You are better in that, take care of it, I trust You, and in the meantime, I will explore that thing, cause it’s more my world.” “This one we have to make together, this as well, but with Maciek. Let’s see our calendars and try to plan the meetings.” “You don’t have any free time right now, so I’m gonna take care of all the knowledge, write it down, so you’ll have it ready to read.” Then the speed rounds. Flying shakers and halves of lemon, broken glass bottles, cutting seconds by seconds. Man… how much fun and laughter we’ve had there. I think i got some videos so we can show them here, so you could laugh as well. Choosing music for presentation, changing the way we speak, nosing the alcohol till the time our heads were exploding, matching outfits, some arguments, failing, then raising up, getting the bottles of champagne fr the perfect nosing round… And on and on… Until the competition started. Almost a week of awesome time in Sweden, meeting new people, upgrading our knowledge and industry awareness. Absolut goes hard with sustainability and no-waste movement, so we could hear Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage from TrashTiki. And of course, competing. We love competitions. We prepared ourselves the best way we could, we were ready to rock. I can say that we were satisfied after all of the challenges, what’s more, important had a lot of fun and met a lot of crazy people. The lessons? You have to have the right approach to all the competitions. You have to aim for the win, believe in it and prepare to accomplish that goal… and stop yourself at that moment. Do everything you can to win that stuff, be satisfied and happy with it, because there is always only one winner and you won’t always be lucky enough to come in first. This lesson came to me before, but the process finished throughout Absolut Invite. Huge ambition is the key to all success, but you will suffer from it. And I kinda like it. Another one: mentorship and working in a team is just better and more effective. Maciek took care of us in an unbelievable way. He patted us on the back or was turning us down and telling we have to work more. All in the right moment, when needed. Big thanks to that man. Then at the end, when you are preparing for the huge effort. The competition is ahead of you, still have to work, have some life. Just take care of each aspect to be in good form. Diet, sleep, rest and all. I had one moment when working in two bars, one bartending school, preparing for the competition with any minute of free time (not mentioning keeping the gym routine) happened to be too much. After a really tough day, I passed out during the shift. Then I knew what not to do. That was the most brutal lesson, so just take care of everything and don’t take too much on yourself.
3. How can you describe your first half a year in Milan?
K:A rollercoaster 😀 Surely the biggest experience of my life packed with so many emotions, situations and conclusions. I had some things in my head, I wanted to implement to my life during that time. You’re new in the country, without any friends etc. That means you’ll have more free time and less “distraction”. I developed some really useful habits which, i believe, would be a great foundation for my future activities. That makes me a bit satisfied. The time at The Doping Club is a different story and another rollercoaster. During those 6 months i was given everything I wanted, and even more, i didn’t expect to come. I feel like a part of the family and that I’m in the right place. That is the most important thing to me right now.
Summarizing: first half of a year in Milan was hard as f*ck. Being honest, not making myself a victim. I got what I wanted, and I’m freakin’ happy with that. But all credit for going through it in a pretty good condition goes to two groups. My friends in Poland, cheering me all the time and that awesome bunch of people here, at Doping. I feel huge gratitude for that.
4. Could you give some guidelines to other bartenders who would like to follow your steps and finding a dream job abroad? Give 6 points of dos and 6 of don`ts.
- Do some research before- if possible try visiting this city before moving, visit some venues, have a chat, make some friends, and just show yourself in real life (sending cv’s via e-mail is not really effective).
- Be patient and remember that you’ve got nothing to lose- it might happen that you will have problems with finding the first place. I found mine after almost a month (better have some pocket money). Look for the new people, think if you’ve got some connections that might help. My breakthrough was a “panic” move of writing to Martin Hudak, who had recently been to Milan. So- even writing to a guy from another side of the globe might work. He connected me with Shane Eaton- a cocktail-blogger @questamiamilano. His help was priceless. Shane, Martin- one more thank you, legend!
- Use the time well. As I said before, in the beginning, you’ll have a lot of free time. Plan it and take advantage of it. It’s the same as in the winter. It’s cold and dark, so you stay more at home. Improve some skills, develop new habits, make something productive. On the other hand- remember to take some beers with new buddies. Do not isolate yourself.
- If you’re not able yet- learn to live with yourself, to be alone. It’s one really important skill. Even more crucial in all relationships with other people. Not being lonely, but taking care of your thoughts during it. Those moments will come and better be prepared. Personally, I am really social, but at the same time I appreciate the company of myself.
- Work as hard as you can with a smile on your face- none of the glamorous skills would guarantee you more appreciation than hard work and a positive, humble, genuine attitude. Do it always, not only in the beginning.
- Be grateful and helpful to everyone. “Thank you” phrase has bigger power than you’d think. I found about it
1. Don’t give up too fast- I’ve heard about bartenders that come back from the other countries after 6 months or less, saying that it’s not for them, that it was different than they thought etc. Nobody said it’s going to be easy. Probably they were just a step from a breakthrough, that 1cm of digging from “a treasure”. Choose a wider perspective, give yourself some more time, wait and observe.
2. Don’t lose faith in your plans- a big amount of work, new experiences, learning a language, stress. All of these factors can and will make your visions kind of foggy. You might start to lose some beliefs and self-confidence. For some reason you made this decision, so when the things will get messy, stick to your plans and don’t act chaotically. Work step by step and wait until everything calms down.
3. Don’t do anything more than asked/ desired. At the beginning, it might be taken wrong. There will be time for some initiatives. On the other hand, one of the most important things in our industry is the hierarchy. It’s better to know how it works. \
4. Don’t show off and treat your coworkers like rivals. Healthy competition is a growth factor, of course, but don’t fight and provide any bad, aggressive activities towards your mates. You are the team. You should support yourself.
5. Don’t rush and do everything at once. First, acclimatize, make friends, work for a stable position. You’re the stranger. Work for not to be one. Maybe then you should think about some competitions etc. I took that lesson and was really excited about how life reminded me what was important at that moment.
6. At the end. Don’t think too much and just do it. I think, Kacper, you can confirm that. I’ve heard that before as well. It’s really easier than it seems. It’s a gamechanger. If you feel that it’s for you, the world is open. Now is the best time to travel and of course everyone has to see it for himself (yourself?), but for now, you just have to believe us.
5. What are your future plans/ambitions?
K:Speaking absolute fluent/ rich/ correct Italian. That’s the first thing more short time. The better the Italian, the better I could serve people at The Doping Club, which is another priority.
I’m in the moment where I feel that “my style” is becoming more clear to me. I would like to share it with the world so you can expect more of it on Instagram etc. I developed a healthier relationship with social media so I will be focusing on seeing where it could go.
When it comes to knowledge, I want to focus on the category of agave spirits and fortified wines. These are the categories I want to push to the next level.
I would like to get rid of the arrogant, rude and despotic behaviour of some people in our industry. That’s just a dream, but it hurts me when I see it. Some people forget what’s important. I will try to change it, for sure. I’ve got even an idea for that… We’ll see.
There are a lot of them, but for the last one to mention here, I’m leaving the World Class competition. I didn’t get into this year’s semifinals, so I want to be back stronger, prepare myself the best way I can and compete in it. Preparation is in the process. That’s my strong desire and target for the upcoming year. Wish me luck 🙂
6.The Doping Club is… ?
K:cool af 😀
Now serious- An outstanding venue which is the part of The Yard Hotel Milan. A huge cocktail club, brother of “Gipsy” restaurant and “Dirty Gym” pizzeria. A space packed with amazing elements of decor, which make it so exceptional and attractive for people. Before seeing it live, it was the first place from my dream list “to work at”. After seeing it live, I told myself that I have to do everything to work there. Feeling so lucky to be here, I can enjoy serving people because the whole staff from reception to hotel boys just does everything to make people happy. Come and see for yourself.
7. What main differences could You point out between the bar scene in Warsaw and Milan?
K:I don’t see many. Level of bartenders in the best places is comparable. In Milan there are surely a lot more venues, because of the bigger number of people who go out and tourists. Maybe it’s too early for me to answer this question… I’ve been living here for almost 7 months, and first I’m not a really going out person, then I didn’t have a lot of time to do it, at the end it’s not the time for that; it will arrive in the future…when i pay my debts from changing the country 😀