Drinks with Hebe & Cyan Wong
Swift, Old Compton Street
What we drank
Cyan: Tempest –
Hebe: Droplet – Gin, St Germain, aquavit, lime sherbet £11
Cyan is a magical woman. Brand Ambassador, a genius behind the bar and all round drinks guru. I had the best time sitting and chatting with her on a Wednesday evening, finding out more about how she’s made her way in the drinks industry.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m Cyan, currently a brand ambassador, but I’ve been in hospitality across a few decades. I am the UK brand ambassador for Oxley Gin, but I was representing a delicious French elderflower liquor called St~Germain and just moved to Oxley, which is very exciting.
What does your typical working day/ week entail?
Last year it involved either working during the day, events some evenings and hosting brunches on weekends for St~Germain or evening shifts for Mint Gun Club. A lot of people believe that bartenders and brand ambassadors have the dream role doing what we love but when the two worlds collide it can be a challenge to step back. Last year was about trying to find the balance and do both, whilst not working seven days a week (which I was not 100% successful for quite a few months).
Monday’s are a big admin day, preparation for your week(s) ahead. Thursdays and Fridays are finishing off what you need to set up for the next. Early in the week is an ideal time to give training sessions and workshops for the trade and bartenders; Thursday, Friday and Saturdays are when I would tend to pick up shifts/ guest shift just so that I don’t lose my touch in the bar. I like to have my finger on the pulse and be immersed on new methods, flavours and trends. Sundays I try to keep them sacred.
How long have you been working in hospitality?
I grew up in restaurants. My grandparents immigrated to Newcastle from Hong Kong (I’m actually from the North) saw an opportunity to set up a Chinese supermarket for the emerging Chinese community in the 70s to be able to purchase flavours from back home. From this point, they opened one of the first Dim Sum restaurants in the city. Creditable Dim Sum chefs from Hong Kong came and worked in our restaurant and people would travel from all over the UK to come and taste authentic Cantonese cuisine. I was blessed to grow up around great food and have the restaurant as my playground (outside of working hours of course!) I was shown how to make a non-alcoholic cocktail when I was six- it was a Shirley Temple; and played around with affogatos (with those block vanilla ice creams that you got from the freezer back in the ’80s and pouring filter coffee over it!) My first paid job was for one of my family’s restaurants around 21 years ago and then I started in cocktail bars 14 years ago.
I was going to ask what got you into hospitality, but that seems to be already answered…
I guess looking back now, on reflection, of course, I was going to end up in hospitality! But I think, as with most families, there’s an expectation to go into something different. Something more ‘professional’, doctor, lawyer etc. I kind of fell into hospitality after uni. I was science orientated at school, had a creative direction at university, but always having had a foot in the business, hospitality made sense.
What’s your favourite part of working in hospitality?
I think people. It must be the people. You can’t do it if you dislike people. It is difficult to like everyone all the time, but I have a lot of faith in people and it is best to give them the benefit of the doubt. Most people are wonderful until they prove you wrong – be it the guests, your team or partners in business.
I also love being the host. I am a shameless feeder. I love people’s bellies being full, I love making sure their glass isn’t half empty. It is also being able to curate not just a cocktail, but the entire experience. The ambience, the mood of the staff, the type of music you play. Everything that builds unique moments. It is a privilege your guests chose to travel and spend their precious free time at your event or your venue. As one of my favourite food writers Fuchsia Dunlop once described the cuisine of Jiangnan ‘…I know of no other that can put one’s heart so much at ease’ I hope to aspire to be able to provide the same experience be it through cocktails or service; to put one’s heart at ease.
What’s your least favourite part?
Hours. Pretty much the hours. If the hours were less antisocial that would be ideal.
Do you think being a woman has affected your career? Has it been positive, negative or a bit of both?
It’s a hard one to answer because we only know what it’s like to be a woman in this industry. I can only imagine what it would be like for a guy to be the only male on a team! It depends on the venue and the environment in which you work. From my experience, if your team is not balanced, I can feel it’s not filling its potential. I believe the business can be much improved if there is an equal split.
You want a diverse crowd; everyone brings something different to the table. I’ve worked in both all-female teams and all male teams and I’ve found it works better when there’s a more even number of genders and personalities.
I think the most noticeable difference is that men go for it no matter what. They take that risk. Broadly speaking, women are a more cautious when it comes to diving in and I think at times we hold back. We want to make everybody else happy, which lends itself well to hospitality, but it be a hindrance when it comes to your career. So that can be quite tough.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had in this line of work?
Having a belief in yourself and making sure that you give yourself credit where credit is due. That’s a challenge I’ve had to face and am constantly working on.
What trends have you’ve been seeing, what do you think is next?
I think the trends have been developing for quite some time, sustainability and low ABV. As we get older we’re more health
If you could give one piece of advice to someone wanting your job what would it be?
Be kind to yourself and don’t underplay your talents. Listen to people around you and follow through with their advice. Surround yourself with good people.
It may sound cheesy but, act from a place of love. If you really love your job and you need to make hard decisions, have faith it comes from a good place then you’ll always get the best results. When you doubt yourself, just remember that the only thing you can control is your intentions. If you have clear, sound intentions anything beyond that (how it’s received, what’s next, how it’s interpreted) is out of your control.
Is there anything we can do to support you?
I hope everyone will either fall in love or rediscover how great our Cold Distilled Oxley Gin is. We have some wonderfully cool sub-zero adventures to look forward to! Join in our crusade to balance the science behind our gin, with flavour and exploration into something genuinely new.
To finish off, what is your favourite drink?
At the moment, a martini is a very strong favourite. I know this is may sound cliché because we’ve been talking about Oxley and gin, but these are two cocktails I really crave when I go travelling – martinis and gimlets.
(Cyan drinks her martinis wet with a twist, in case any of you would like to make her one)
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