Interview with Kenneth Otto - Häktet

I first met Kenneth when he was working at Hotellet, and I remember that I was very impressed with his Mai Tais - because back then no bar in Stockholm seemed to be able to make it right except for Tiki Room. Suddenly he disappeared and it wasn't until quite recently that I started seeing him around again at bars I frequently visit. At the moment he can be found at Häktet, which was nominated for Best Cocktail Bar, Best Newcomer, Best Cocktail List and the People's Choice at this year's Bartenders' Choice Awards.

Kenneth Otto, photo ©

What made you pursue a career in bartending and how did you get your first bartender job?

I just finished school and was out one night, ended up at Olssons Skor. A friend was in need of a barback so after a couple of beers and laughs I was in and I've never looked back from that moment and the easiest job interview ever.

Where are you originally from, and how did you end up in Stockholm and at Häktet?

I'm born in Kenya, from Uganda. Raised in Gothenburg for a couple of years then ended up in Oxelösund. Ended up later in Stockholm where I studied media/photography at Saltsjöbadens Samskola, that's the Stockholm bit. After doing a long summer at Fredsgatan12/F12 with The Little Boys Club, I needed something else to do and ended up with the boys Ola Carlson and Jimmy Hult at Häktet.

Where have you worked prior to Häktet, and which place has been most important regarding your knowledge and skills?

Olssons Skor would have to be the answer, starting as a barback. Then working behind bartenders like Daniel Crespi/Pubologi, Paul Ingulfsson, Thomas Bergkvist/Grand Hôtel, Ralf Tjärnlund/Storstad. I have learnt a lot of skills from all the people I have worked with in the years, in the end stuff just rubs off on you. But it all started with the staff at Olssons Skor. Recently this year I was chosen to work with Liquid Management's Nick Sitbon and Peter Mcconnell/Brass Bar at Fredsgatan12/F12 with a bar we named The Little Boys Club which was located downstairs.

Which is your favourite and least favourite drink to make and why?

OK it's easy, I would make any drink a customer orders. But it's those drinks that take a long time to make when you're really down knee deep in orders - those are my least favourite ones to make and they change every day.

How would you describe the perfect customer?

One who shows respect and just keeps it calm. Since we bartenders are constantly trying to please everyone, it doesn't help with people screaming, flashing stuff in one's face and such. Respect and calm..

What's the weirdest drink order you've gotten?

Donno!! I get back to you when I get a really weird one.

What do you like most about your job?

Every day there's always something new.

Do you have any special bartending skills you're extra proud of?

I'm proud of being down to earth, not sweating about the small stuff and that I'm still loving the game.

How do you spend your spare time?

In the shadows at home.

What do you drink when off duty?

I'm easy, sometimes I would love to chug down a Dry Martini or Old Fashioned, and sometimes a beer with a shot.

What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

A lot of bourbon, gin and some batches of aged cocktails.

What upcoming cocktail trends do you think we can expect in the near future?

I'm hearing a lot about mezcal so I will say that.

Which are your favourite bars/bartenders around the world?

ECC/NYC - Nico
Yaki-da - Göteborg
Milk & Honey/NYC-Sam Ross
Dutch Kills/NYC

In your opinon, how do bars in Sweden compare internationally?

We are becoming a name to fear around the world. Since bartenders are in big competitions and showing that we can also stand out with big major players in the scene. I can see Sweden as a big name in the cocktail world within 5 years.

How do you come up with new cocktail recipes and what inspires you?

Inspiration can come anytime, so it's the knowledge to know which liquors marry together and go from there.

What’s your opinion on cocktail competitions?

They're good for one's morals and also to show what you're working with, also to find out if you have something or not.

Which of your signature drinks, if any, and what else in your career are you most proud of so far?

I don't have any signature drinks, but when I come up with one worthy you will be the first to know. I'm proud of knowing bartenders with more experience to learn from and keep learning from.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Then I'm 35 years of age, that's a hard one. But I'm looking forward to gradually growing up.

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