Straight up refers to an alcoholic drink served neat without the addition of ice, water or any other lengthening agent. In other words…straight to the point
…I fell in love with my job and now it is no longer work. It is my passion, my life, my love.
With over 4 years of professional service behind the bar, Varia Dellalian who presides at Momo in the Souks, Lebanon, Beirut, has been praised for her ingenuity, inventive twists and intriguing libations. At 23, not only is Varia an emense talent, but an inspiration to female bartenders plying their craft within the noble profession abroad and in her native country.
Having represented Lebonon at this years’ Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Varia placed an unprecedented 14th among the 39 countries that were represented and won the Retro Chic Challenge. Varia was tasked to create a ‘Classic Chic’ cocktail, based on a list of 16 cocktails, and a ‘Twisted Chic’ based on her interpretation of a classic. ‘Retro Chic’ was one of the central components of this year’s competition, referencing the drinks and style popular in the Fifties and Sixties.
Salvatore Calabrese on Varia: “Varia’s drinks were spot-on, she understood the concept of Retro Chic and was knowledgeable. Her drinks kept me interested and she was charming all the way through. The full monty!”
How did it all begin? Where did you start and what inspired you to become the bartender that you are today, anyone worth mentioning? Any career influences past and current?
I started to bartend in nightclubs 4 years ago, at the time I was studying and needed a night job. It was just a job in the beginning, but that quickly changed.
After 3 years of working in nightclubs, I landed a bartending position at the legendary Momo’s restaurant, where I have been working just under 2 years now, gaining invaluable experience and learning to make the classics, discovering new techniques and being inspired by the legends of the bar. I fell in love with my job and now it is no longer work. It is my passion, my life, my love.
Each and every single person I have met has had an influence in my life, some negative, some positive, but in the end I have taken the positives and learnt from the negatives.
It is sometimes hard for people to realise that women can be bartenders. There are female bankers, female hairdressers, female chefs and now there is an exciting new breed of female bartenders.
Was there a period in your life where you decided to change career paths? The industry perceived by many in South Africa and possibly in many parts of the world in my opinion is seen as not a viable career choice but somewhat a basic means to generate income on the side, what are your thoughts on this? Do you think there is a global shift in attitude towards this and female bartenders?
Yes there was. I was working in a sales related position and briefly had a stint as a coordinator for an inventory group before I discovered life behind the bar. Initially, at the time it was a basic means of generating income, but once I started delving deeper into the profession I started to enjoy it ever so more. Its vast history is never ending, the delight of connecting with a variety of guests, learning how to read people, and how to mix drinks. Once you start to understand how and why to mix certain ingredients together, you unleash creativity in the drinks you portray.
There is most certainly a global shift in attitude towards this, especially with female bartenders in the Middle East. It is sometimes hard for people to realise that women can be bartenders. There are female bankers, female hairdressers, female chefs and now there is an exciting new breed of female bartenders.
What are your goals / aspirations within the industry?
I have just started to walk an exciting career path within the industry and have many objectives that I will achieve over time. I will work in different bars in different locations and countries from across the globe, learning and gaining invaluable knowledge which I would incorporate when I decide to open my own bar, giving my guests an unforgettable drinking experience.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Exactly where I want to be.
Any awards or accolades worth mentioning?
At the age of 13 I was a 2 times Billiard champion. I played basketball at National level and have a platinum medal.
Lebanese Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year 2012
Winner of the “Retro Chic” challenge at the Global World Class Finals 2012
If you weren’t working behind the bar, what would you be doing?
On Bartending in Lebanon?
The Lebanese bartending scene is constantly growing, like many countries in the region. Just a few years ago consumers were only drinking straight spirits accompanied with the usual soft drink, but now they are asking for cocktails, and heed by our recommendations. We are also seeing a revival of classical cocktails trending in Lebanon. The bartenders need more support. One cannot find quality bar equipment and reading material in the Middle East. At any moment when someone visits the United States, even Europe, we ask them to bring equipment and reading material. This is the passion we have for the industry in Lebanon.
…Bartend with all your heart, mind and love.
What trends and techniques are you currently seeing within the industry?
Classic cocktails are making a comeback, especially in Lebanon. Consumers are starting to ask for vintage and forgotten cocktails. With regards to techniques, Japanese bartending techniques are being incorporated; clean and meticulous, it is an art.
What is your process when conceptualising on a new drink?
I always try to find the link between ingredients and their flavours, then creating an overall balance.
What are some of your favourite tools?
My tools are my best friends, all of them are my favorite.
Any particular drink you enjoy making?
Negroni, Cosmopolitan, Old Fashioned.
Favourite Spirit Category / Brand and why?
Ron Zacapa Centenario 23. I am usually not a rum drinker but ever since I started drinking Ron Zacapa, I immediately fell in love with its amazing flavours, aromas and the unique bottle, it truly is a masterpiece.
What challenges were you tasked to do during the Diageo Reserve World Class event, which lead you to win the “Retro Chic” award?
The Retro Chic Challenge: To create a ‘Classic Chic’ cocktail, based on a list of 16 cocktails, and a ‘Twisted Chic’ based on my interpretation of a classic. I made a Bloody Mary, utilisng Ketel One vodka incorporating the Cuban throwing technique. The Twisted Chic was a classical twist on a Mai Tai (My Golden Tie) utilising Johnnie Walker Gold Label, Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 year old, honey and orgeat syrup mix, fresh lime juice and Grand Marnier, shaken and strained over ice and finished with a spray of Talisker 10 year old.
What was your most memorable moment throughout the competition?
There were so many memorable moments throughout the competition from meeting Gaz Regan, Salvatore Calaberese, Peter Dorelli, Hidetsugu Ueno, Steve Olson and Dale DeGroff not to forgo Spike Marchant renowned and respected ambassadors of the industry, to the competitors that competed at this year’s final.
Any celebrities you have served behind the bar or showcased your ability?
If you could be any classical drink what would it be and why?
A Bloody Mary. It can be manipulated in many ways; it can be spicy or not, you can add many different ingredients such as vegetables. It is like life, sometimes you need to either add or remove in order to make it better.
Any short pieces of advice you could share to aspiring bartenders/mixologists? What is your ingredient for success?
Bartend with all your heart, mind and love.
Hangover Cure? A well made Bloody Mary, fresh juices, boiled artichoke
First drink you ever tasted? Vodka & Redbull
Worst drinking experience? New Years Eve 2010
Worst experience working behind the bar? In my opinion there are no bad experiences when working behind the bar. You always learn something, whether it be good or bad.
There are far too many to list here.
A Negroni with Tanqueray No.10
Favourite Bar and why?
Momo in the Souks. The Best Cocktail Bar in Beirut because I work there.
Favourite World Location? New York City or London
Varia Dellalian Signature Drinks
Recipe by Varia Dellalian.
The Tinychawki is my signature cocktail that helped me win the Lebanese Diageo Reserve World Class Final 2012, inspired by the complex flavours of my favourite cocktail, the negroni. The wonderfully rich flavours of artichoke worked well with the citrus and chamomile notes of Tanqueray No.TEN which I accentuated with the chamomile tea syrup and bitters. The lemon juice balances the drink perfectly ensuring that you want to have another.
50 ml Tanqueray No.TEN gin
1/2 the piece of a boiled artichokes heart
15 ml Fresh lemon juice
25 ml Cynar artichoke liqueur
20 ml Chamomile tea syrup
1 Dash of Chamomile Bitters
Method: Muddle artichoke in a shaker glass, add remaining ingredients. Shake and double strain into a chilled, antique metal goblet.
Garnish: Select a big artichoke leaf, make two holes in the middle to use as an absinthe spoon. Place it over the goblet and add 1tbs of white sugar drizzed with 1tbs of absinthe and flame. Spritz a twist of grapefruit peel over the flame while absinthe and sugar are still burning.
Recipe by Varia Dellalian.
1/4 piece of Fresh ginger
1/4 piece of Fresh pineapple
2 tbsp Sugar mixed with cardamon
20 ml Fresh lime juice
20 ml Peach liqueur
25 ml Don Julio Blanco Tequila
50 ml Ron Zacapa Centennario 23 Anos
Method: Muddle ginger then pineapple in a shaker, add remaining ingredients, shake and well strain into a tiki glass without double straining.
Garnish: 1/2 a piece of lime squeezed, add cardamon sugar, 2 dashes of Angostura Aromatic Bitters and burn it with a torch and a leaf of pineapple .
Recipe by Varia Dellalian.
8 x Wild thyme leaves
16 x green grapes
5 x pinches of Sumac
50 ml “fruity” White Wine
100 ml Ciroc vodka
30 ml sugar syrup
40 ml Fresh Lemon juice
10 ml Lebanese Arak
Method: Muddle wild thyme leafs and the green grapes, add remaining ingredients. Shake well, add the cocktail to a big pottery with one big ice cube everytime you’ll serve it in a small pottery infuse the small pottery with Lebanese arak and crushed ice first then throw them and add the cocktail.
Garnish: On side (Lebanese yogurt, olive oil, 1 thyme leaf on top and bread )