In the 50th year of India’s independence, I woke up to the realisation that the career path I had chosen was still relatively unrecognised. And 16 years after I began understanding bartending, there still wasn’t a school that taught the skills that I had to teach myself over the years. Independence!
It slowly started gnawing at me, pushing me to not just take notice, but be proactive and do something. Thus was born STIR Academy – such a simple word; so utterly obvious in its translation to my world.
In actuality STIR was much more: It was a call to wake up, to stir oneself from apathy towards new purpose. To stir up a revolution that would light up the lives of the next generation and launch a million careers!
To free them from the shackles of relentless hours of thoughtless mugging to pass an exam; to give them learning that they could relate to, apply, understand, have fun with; and stir them from within, making them unleash their potential and win back their belief in oneself.
So many students came from a place of disbelief – even a conviction that they were incapable of studying and achieving anything. STIR was the way to show them and the industry that it was about time we stirred the nest. The year was 1997.
In the pit of my stomach and recesses of my brain I knew I was on the right path. It was a radical move, and so I chose the path of caution. Hold the academy for the moment but create a platform, a coming together of sorts, to confirm that there was a vacuum and that there was a need for learning as well as a need for collaborative efforts to bridge the gap between the hospitality industry, hospitality schools and the alcobev giants who were just about making inroads into a thirsty India.
We called it STIR, the “official meet for bartenders”, a half-day conference followed by 2 days of competition for bartenders from hotels and stand-alone bars, student bartenders and even amateur or home bartender. Here’s a glimpse at my first list:
- Space to hold this 3-day event;
- Relevant sponsors to add excitement;
- Get great speakers for the conference;
- Get the industry and schools to participate;
- Create logos for STIR and the event;
- Create competition rules and participating structure;
- Get a trade magazine to partner;
- Create print advertisements for trade journals;
- Create a core group of people who would help ensure we would present the best ever event;
- Design trophies that would stand out.
There was no dearth of excitement and cheering onlookers as the judges tallied the points.
I must have been crazy for sure, but the bug had bitten. My absolute belief in the plan obviously manifested in the way I wrote every letter and presented myself at every meeting with the most amazing people. Almost everyone agreed to come on board and suddenly the plan was a reality!
We put dates to the plan, we had a venue, speakers, sponsors and it was time for the next list. Shirin Batliwala gave me space at the Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai and was our guest and speaker of honour. Smirnoff was our key sponsor, Campari was the associate sponsor, and Express Hotelier was our media partner.
Our speakers were Phillipe Charradeau, then General Manager of The Oberoi; Sanjeet Padhi, then marketing head of Diageo; Simon, then vice-principal at IHM, Mumbai. My core team was finally together.
I roped in my husband and brother-in-law and managed to persuade Satyen Dasondi – I can’t remember if he was still teaching at Sophia Polytech or was working with Jazz By The Bay – to help me steer this mega creation in a good direction.
We made a list of the best people to judge all the competitions, and got them to agree. The design team was in, the logos were ready, the ad campaign done. We were ready to roll. This was collaboration at its best!
The participation was overwhelming, across everything we planned. It poured like crazy on the first day and I had the jitters, but the conference was packed. Everything went better than planned.
The awards ceremony and cocktail dinner at the Ballroom at Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai is one that is etched in my memory forever. Hoteliers from across Mumbai, luminaries from hotel management institutes, the best of the alcobev trade, media and even commanders from the Indian Navy!
They believed me and my path changed forever. And STIR Academy of Bartending followed in 2000, after two more STIR meets in Bengaluru and Mumbai.
If you believe implicitly in what you want to do, and work at it consistently to give it direction, there is nothing that is impossible. It will shape your mind, allow you the freedom to dream, teach you how to collaborate and get you to where you want to be.
The time spent recently at the Brews&Spirits Expo 2022 in Bengaluru reminded me that the spirit of collaboration is alive and we need to embrace it fully to be more ‘We’ than ‘I’.
Meeting today’s collaborators and listening to them put forth the immense possibilities that can arise from joint ventures and ideating without barriers was proof that the future is most definitely collaborative.
It is 25 years since my journey of changing lives began. In the 75th year of India’s Independence, I’m still looking forward to new beginnings!