It is easy to mistake South Africa-born Roxanne Read for a model, when she is not behind the bar. The beetroot-red ends of her hair first caught my attention when I saw her smiling teasingly from a billboard announcing her professional engagement with the Park Hyatt in Hyderabad. “Finally, a woman bartender in Hyderabad,” I made a mental note. The second time I caught a glimpse of her, Roxanne was in action: concocting a drink for a photo shoot at the hotel’s Southeast Asian restaurant, Rika.
Instead of letting the professional photographers decide the angle to shoot her signature drink, she took charge. The outcome was brilliant. It was a fleeting sight, but enough to speak volumes of the confidence she exudes through her profession. Roxanne comes across as a person with zero tolerance for nonsense, which she veils with the sweetest smile ever. “My profession is such that I cannot be rude, and at the same time not allow anyone to cross their limit,” says Roxanne.
I catch up with her between her training session and lunch one day, and see the head bartender busy at work. She shakes the cocktail shaker in rhythm, as if it were a choreographed samba. She pours it into a martini glass, takes a sip and asks me to try it. Mildly fruity and oh, that perfect dose of alcohol! At the time of writing this, she is preparing to enter an international competition, hence the trials.
The USP of Roxanne’s drinks is they are made with the freshest ingredients available. So it is no surprise when she says her signature drink has fresh beetroot juice.
Shake stir muddle Roxanne Read’s cocktails has everything from taste, style to innovation; Roxanne’s signature drink, Secret Garden
It’s the climb
Roxanne comes with nine years of experience in the bartending industry across various countries. This despite not being a student of the hospitality industry. Roxanne was studying film production and sound design, “like any other student in South Africa, my parents too sent us out to be on our own. It is very common to pick a retail job or a job in the hospitality industry. Since my university happened to be in the vicinity of the most famous cocktail bar in South Africa’s bustling Johannesburg, Six Cocktail Bar, I did the obvious,” says Roxanne.
But the managers and owners didn’t offer her a job without a laugh. They warned her that only three girls had ever worked there, “and they stayed no longer than three or four months at a time. It was a high-intensity job even though they were making mojitos and cosmopolitans at that time. I took the training, aced it and gave the owners a run for their money. I don’t mean to boast, but I was like a machine, making six to seven different drinks in a minute,” she smiles.
While at Six Cocktail Bar, Roxanne finished her degree and was loving her work. When one of the owners split and opened another bar called The Office, Roxanne was offered a job. She took it up and went on to work in specialised cocktails. “The Office was all about different cocktails: the owner went overseas to learn them and then passed it on to me. Soon he started sending me for competitions,” adds Roxanne.
The more competitions Roxanne entered and won, the more she travelled to various countries over those two years. From all this, she only learned more. “I was mentored by several masters in the industry, and made a splash. I was a more marketable commodity because my filmmaking and marketing background reflected in my drinks,” says Roxanne, who has also worked in Hell’s Kitchen as a consultant.
When asked to name a mentor she would like to go back and learn from, she responds without batting an eyelid, “Kurt Schlechter, who owns Cause Effect. It is a new-age bar which uses only fresh produce from the mountains. Kurt is a legend, according to me, and it is because of him that I stayed on in the industry.”
Roxanne points out that it is important to respect the person and the job; if that is done, both women and men will feel safe and empowered in whatever they choose to do. After all, making drinks for sloshed customers is no cakewalk, “so I usually stick to my work and do not entertain trouble-makers. When I sense things not going the right way, I can always call for help. A bar is also not just a place to push drinks: I make sure I educate those who want to know their drinks. Interaction in the right direction makes things easy for bartenders,” says Roxanne.