Sep 12th 2019
Peeps & Places
South Africa

Meet: Mish Chinnah

We met Mish in Berlin, at BCB, 2018.

Mish was in Berlin to promote the venue that was MOOTEE, sadly, has since closed its doors. A woman who struck our attention, and intrigued us, through her huge heart, and passion that was visible in her excitement and the way she absorbed knowledge whilst at the industry exhibition.  So we thought, let's share her story and introduce her to The Blend community.

Where are you working currently, and what is the style and concept of the venue?

I work for Mootee Bar in Johannesburg, South Africa. The bar is themed by a unique interpretation of modern Africa, while the concept is to celebrate South African experiences through culture, stories and local ingredients, as well as to innovate and push the boundaries with cocktails.

What is the bar culture like in your local market and has it progressed during your time in the industry?

The first bar I worked in was a dive bar that made only Strawberry Daiquiris and Long Island Iced Teas, which were considered high-end cocktails. A year before Mootee had opened, a speakeasy called Sin + Tax opened. It was possibly the only bar in the country that had a different spirit ranging from other venues, and became the starting point for South Africa’s growing cocktail and spirit industry.

Since then, it’s spread like wildfire and Mootee has added another space for exploration and innovation. Now, more South Africans understand that not all cocktails need a paper umbrella and flaming pineapple.

Jo’Burg has an up-and-coming bar scene but is still a far cry from the major cocktail hubs across the globe. What’s appealing about an emerging market? 

Mootee’s advantage is that it’s been able to introduce a concept that’s genuinely original. International bars have some difficulty coming up with concepts that haven’t already been done.

Are there any downsides or challenges you face daily?  

Every profession comes with its downsides, nothing can be perfect, and as much as the saying ‘find what you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life’ goes, work is hard, no matter how great your passion is. 

The main challenge I find with working a six days a week is keeping a positive mindset. You’re always in contact with people, so if you’re having a bad day, trying to turn that around and still give people positive energy and welcoming presence can be taxing.

Do you have any challenges with sourcing supplies and fresh produce?

For a very long time, sourcing the best and cost-effective, fresh produce was very difficult. If the quality was up to standard, the price was unsustainable, especially for items that were single-use, such as lime wedges. And, if the price was fair, then the product was not as fresh. We have a saying in SA that ‘local is lekker’, which means local is the best. By engaging with smaller business and local suppliers, we have found we get better produce than ordering from a large business that fly in theirs over long distances.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I initially struggled to find my channel of inspiration. I know many people find their inspiration from the classics, while others find their inspiration in people and places, or art. I, however, find that a single ingredient can be the root of my inspiration. I find or see a new spirit or seasonal ingredient,  and that can give me ideas for new cocktails.

Who’s driving the trends, is it consumers visiting your venue and requesting specific flavours and spirits, or is the venue leading the way? 

Up until recently, brands and bloggers were pushing the trends. However, now bar owners and bartenders have a lot more voice in what’s trendy.That shift was sparked by the new wave of venues opening and taking risks, instead of giving into what was popular at the time.

Who is your clientele - locals, tourists or a combination?

Mootee’s location brings in a broad clientele. It has been a huge tourist attraction because it’s a culturally rich area. The venue has been open for over a year now, so we have our regulars and a new wave of residents who are looking to be tourists in their own city.

Your menu is unique to your market and almost futuristic to the palettes of your guests. How do you bring them on the ‘journey’ with the Mootee menu?

We believe that before you can know what the world has to offer, you have to know your home very well. Our first menu was based on storytelling and including familiar sentiments to South African consumers. We created a sense of nostalgia by serving milk tart (a very famous South African dessert) for example, as well as by telling the story of Hildagonda, who wrote the first South African cookbook, while recreating her milk punch. By delivering a sense of comfort we set a foundation for our current menu, which is based on ‘the art of texture’. That’s not to be confused with mouthfeel, but the flavour of textures and how they are perceived.

You’ve recently renovated, can you share with us the new direction of the venue?

The newly renovated Mootee is all about focusing on the standard of service, the guest experience and attention to detail. It became more and more difficult to control those aspects with such a large venue. The smaller space is more intimate and the bar is run like a kitchen; bartenders work in stations designed like a plating station. The focus is on making sure guests are receiving a more personalised experience, a bar where everybody knows your name and the place feels like home.

What motivates you and why do you enjoy this industry?

I was told many times that if you are looking for money, bartending is not the path for you. At first, I thought that there was no way that I could work hard and not be driving a Lamborghini. However, I found a passion and I love a challenge.

Being challenged daily is what really brought me to love this industry. Every day something is pushing me to do better, whether that’s creating strange combinations, perfecting my skills or expanding my knowledge.

In which moment in your career did you know this was your passion?

Very early on in my career I found a passion for not only hospitality, but also bartending. There wasn’t a ‘grand display of fireworks’ kind of moment that left me thinking I could never do anything else besides bartend, but rather a collection of moments I had with my mentor and friend Dominic Walsh. He gave me reassurance; shared stories of his travels and showed me that hard work is not overlooked in this industry.

What do you think the industry needs more of?

Mentors. I am lucky to have an abundance of mentors; my parents, Dom Walsh, Denzel Heath and Devin Cross. Whereas many bartenders my age have little or no guidance. Every top student needs at least one teacher to show them the way, and anyone starting out in this industry needs the same.

What do you think the industry needs less of?

Unhealthy competition, with the emphasis on ‘unhealthy’. As far as I’m concerned, when the bartender next door to you makes a better drink or receives recognition, that should drive you to do better. Too often we don’t compete to improve our skill set, but to belittle fellow bartenders.