Our community has said you want to hear more about our fellow members – so we’re beginning a new blog series on our members, and the board to get you more connected with each other and celebrate our success! First up, we welcome Stefano Bussi, of the NoMad Hotel, and consultant with non-alcoholic drinks specialists, Dedicated. He will be representing the UK at the Mattoni Grand Drink 2021 Competition (COVID restrictions willing!). We managed to distract Stefano from his bar duties long enough to run a quick interview!
Stefano Bussi hails from the Alpine foothills of Italy’s Piedmont, a region rich in its tradition of wine and the birthplace of Vermouth. Joining the many Italians and European comrades who have imported their skills to our little island, Stefano’s had a wonderfully diverse career that that has taken him across Europe – and now to the Mattoni Grand Drink Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Mixing World Championship this month, where he will be putting his specialised skills to use.
How did you get into bar work, and how has your career path been?
My passion for hospitality comes from a lot of different places. My mom is the ‘Queen of Hospitality’, and she had a big impact on my life. My family used to own a very small bar, and my earliest memories were of me always being there and helping out and a kid! I’ve always had a curiosity about food and drink and a passion for making people happy, creating experiences for guests.
My very first actual job was at a nightclub in my hometown – at the age of 16! I balanced my school studies with working every single weekend – I loved the culture and work, and that job gave me the drive and confidence to keep working in the industry. I was working at a lot of different places. I got work experience in Spain around that time then went straight into seasonal work around Italy and Europe, Courmayeur, Portofino, Venice and Trieste just to name a few.
Fast forward to 2017, when I moved to the UK – a little town north of London called St Albans. Soon after, I came to London, joining the Ritz’s Rivoli Bar, moving on to the world renowned American Bar at The Savoy. I was there right up to the start of the pandemic.
Right now you can find me at The NoMad hotel in Covent Garden – we’re in the middle of opening. It’s going to be a really exciting venue with a massive focus on food and beverage!
What have been the greatest challenges you’ve personally faced in your career?
Working in Hospitality is a lifestyle choice. You sadly need to sacrifice a lot of things and many people might not understand that. Personally I initially struggled because I was always away from my family and my friends. My passion kept me motivated – and I’m glad, because I am super happy for what I have achieved, am looking forward to the future.
How – and why – did you move towards specialising in creating non-alcoholic drinks?
I guess it was the understanding of what our guests might need. I empathise with the fact that not all of them fancy an alcoholic cocktail. Until the last couple of years guests didn’t really have a choice as most non-alcoholic drinks were mostly a mixture of juices, multiple sugars or simply a soft drink. If you view drinks in the same way as food dishes, you begin to get into the mindset of being able to craft a non-alcoholic beverage that looks, tastes and behaves similar to an alcoholic one – flavour, texture, bite, sparkl. This is a very important step towards creating a more mindful drinking culture.
What is Dedycated? How did that start?
Dedycated was started by Domenico Di Bucchianico and Marcella Murtas – a great couple who had the aim of changing the perception of non alcoholic cocktails. It started as blog and evolved into an all-rounded consultancy platform that creates marketing plans, menus and provides training to many bars and restaurants who want to expand their non-alcoholic offerings. I joined the project a couple years ago, creating recipes and helping develop the business with them.
You should definitely check out their work on their website – they’re an amazing company.
What advice do you have for young people looking to start and maintain a serious career in the bar sector?
My advice is to take it slow and not rush things. Take your time, build yourself up. Every experience helps you develop your point of view. Be open to feedback. It doesn’t really work if you want to start in a super-renowned place if you don’t have the basic skills to support yourself in that environment! Slow down to speed up in the future!
Prior to the pandemic, what do you think have been the problems facing the sector that have persisted and may continue to persist after the pandemic is over?
Definitely the balance between work and private life. This is something we tend to underestimate. It’s a big problem and impacts everyone and affects how you execute your everyday work. Creating a space for yourself – giving yourself enough time to rest is crucial especially when working in high profile venues.
We should work for a living, not be living for work. Find your balance.
What’s your favourite non-alcoholic cocktail recipe, and why?
I’ll share one of my favourites – one of the most refreshing and crushable drinks i have made for the Dedycated program;
50ml Non Alcoholic spirit (Check Diffords for brands!)
5 drops Kaffir lime essence
1 drop Saline Solution
Stir and top up with soda in a nice highball.
Garnish with a Kaffir leaf
What is the Mattoni Grand Drink Competition?
Mattoni Water put together the first non-alcoholic Competition in the world, and this year is it’s 10th anniversary. I decided to enter, because of the challenge of doing something very different, something that would help me stand apart from my peers. It’s really different from other competitions – the regulations are incredibly strict! Working on this was so much fun! I CAN’T WAIT to represent the UK in this incredible competition. Prepare to see a mix of Italian and British charm, a bit of laughter and a new perspective on Non-Alcoholic drinks making!
Why should young bartenders consider entering competitions?
I am not a career-competition bartender – however, the very few I have entered have made great memories. The competition environment is a very humbling experience. It’s pretty much the one time you get to really push yourself in the spotlight, extend your knowledge, learn from others and meet new friends!
Taking your career seriously means putting yourself alongside other professionals, being able to learn from your failures and mistakes, learn where your skills are – and most importantly, being able to have fun while you do all of that!
How can we, the public, support you?
Support is always a reflection of the good you do for people so, if you think I am doing good please follow me on my Instagram – ste.bussi – and if you want to enjoy a couple of drinks with just pop by the NoMad hotel in Covent Garden!