At the bar with… Art Fatkullin

The gently spoken lieutenant-turned-mixologist talks to us about inspirational people in the local bartending community, mental wellbeing and what kind of superhero he would be.

Art is assistant beverage manager at Ovolo Hotel’s Veda and the winner of Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year 2021 Hong Kong and Macau.

Since arriving in Hong Kong in 2019 he’s worked at Dear Lilly in IFC, Rubia on Hollywood Road, and has been in the finals for Gin Mare, Italicus Art of Aperitivo, Bacardi Legacy and Black Cow competitions.

Originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, Art started bartending to earn a living while studying sociology at military university. After graduating, he attained a special diploma to join the Ministry of Emergency Situations University – where he was a lieutenant – and went to work in their investigation team.

What exciting projects are you currently working on?
Right now, we are working on a new drinks menu for Veda and on an upcoming event with the Happiness Factory. For the event, our chef and I will teach guests to cook healthy food and give a masterclass on making healthy drinks.

What gives you happiness in your working day?
Good feedback, but I don’t mean the comments from guests. I mean when I see people and they smile or wave because they’re open and comfortable in themselves, and because I made them feel like this.

Of course, I like when guests ask me about my drinks. People are curious when they are happy and this can give you energy. It’s a bit exhausting working in F&B. You have to show a happy face even when you don’t feel like it, and this drains your energy. So you need good people to give it back to you.

Where do you find ideas for drinks?
From books. For our new menu and for my World Class competition entry I read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and The Period of Chaos. Literature gives me brain food. These books made me ask questions and think maybe I can find answers for my drinks in these books.

How so?
For example, the concept of the new menu is about the theory of knowledge. There are five main branches of this: arts, history, natural science, human science and maths, and each cocktail will represent these.

It’s a bit like the Marvel films. Within their history each movie has a link to another. Every small detail has meaning. So for the descriptions of my drinks I’ll do something like include a question in one and the answer can be found in another; I’ll link them with clues. I want to make people curious and create a menu as interesting as the Marvel Universe.

What, where or who inspires you in the Hong Kong bartending community right now, and why?
I would say Alex Ko from Tastings Group. He’s a professor. He studied aerospace engineering and then transferred into bartending. He has so much knowledge and is such a nice person. If I have any questions on any topic he has the answers.

Also, Nikita Matveev [from The Old Man]. His flavour preferences and experiments are out of the mind! When I ask him advice his answers are always unexpected. His nose and palate are incredible, and he has a very curious mind. Like Alex, he is very hard working.

I would also mention Antonio Lai [co-founder, Tastings Group]. He is so kind to everyone. He’s like a father taking care of all the bartenders. If you have questions he’ll answer them or refer you to someone who can.

When I worked in Dear Lilly I messaged him to ask if I could join his team, for no pay, to get some experience. He wasn’t able to fit me in, but he linked me up to an agency that gave me work and more experience. Antonio didn’t know me, but he knew I was new to Hong Kong so he took me under his wing.

All these guys are smart, bright, caring people. I can talk with them about any topic. We can just sit, talk and be ourselves.

Was World Class your first virtual competition?
The final was virtual but the first part was live – actually we were live on ViuTV, so everyone in Hong Kong could see us on TV. There was a lot of pressure because you don’t get a second chance, so if you run over time they’d just move the camera [laughs].

A couple of hours before going live I rewrote my speech so I wouldn’t go over time – it probably became meaningless but at least I knew I wouldn’t get cut off.

Did your previous competition experience help you with this one?
I definitely learnt things from the previous competitions, but when they announced World Class I thought, ‘OK, I know what mistakes to avoid, I need to be precise with time, be different and stand out.’ I started telling my friends “I’m joining World Class and I’m going to win it this year!”

What kind of issues are close to your heart?
Mental wellbeing. I think because I studied sociology, I believe people can solve problems by thinking, talking and working on their mental health. Firstly, by identifying their stress triggers, and then asking themselves questions and being honest with themselves.

Working with therapists also helps. I know people who’ve done this and become brighter. They find peace in their soul. Of course, they’re not saving the universe, but maybe they will start caring more about their home, city and country. So first, we need to take care of ourselves.

You say we can’t save the universe but if you could, like a superhero, what kind of superhero would you be?
A super smart scientist so I could find ways to reduce waste, harness natural energy – wind and solar – and stop polluting the Earth. I think science is the answer. We already have technologies that could help too. So I’d be a scientist superhero with a huge head!

Quick-fire questions… go!

What is your favourite food? Meat.

Drink? Cognac.

Where is your favourite place? Hong Kong!

Why? Because every day I feel very good here.

What is your best trait? Being accepting of others.

Your hopes for the future? Opening the borders!