In his latest concept PACIFICA, wunderkind Peter Chua delivers an exhilarating range of complex concoctions in a hushed, intimate setting.
Being a bartender is never easy. It is about flair. It is about style. Attention to details. At the end of the day, customers need to have the impression that their friendly neighbourhood bartender is saving humanity from the brink of destruction, diffusing an atomic bomb or finding a panacea for poverty rather then just simply making a drink. That thought would be almost be tantamount to blasphemy. It is a tough job, but someone needs to do it.
Lucky for us, we have Peter Chua, one of Singapore’s rising young stars. A talented bartender who is well loved by the local and regional media, he is known for his speed, hospitality, and media-ready smile. Before Junior, Peter spent time as a Spirits Journeyman at Proof & Company Spirits, where he worked on menu and concept development, spirits curation, staff training and education for venues all over Asia.
Like any child star transitioning into adulthood, Peter can no longer rely so much on the novelty of youth, but instead he proves himself to be an exceptionally gifted and inventive bartender by any measure, capable of going head to head with his more established compatriots.
Charming and affable, Peter captures our hearts and fancies, not just with his killer mega-watt smile, humorous jokes but also those expertly crafted drinks.
For Peter, his first gig in the world of bartending was a being “bar back” at Le Noir. His role was relatively simple. Top up ice, juices, spirits, garnishes and clean the bar top. Bartending was never a first choice of profession. Peter started working in clubs as a means to pay his way through college while waiting for his next music gig. It did not take long for him to learn that he was not meant for the music world. Like a true shaker wielding mercenary, he jumped from club to club working for whoever could pay him. It wasn’t until he met Michael Callahan did the start to his professional bartending career began. He sold Peter the idea of a then non-existent 28 HongKong St.
The conversation between both went like this. “We are planning to open a bar that doesn’t exist in Singapore yet. Your pay starts at $10 an hour. You in?”
Like Dorothy to Jerry Maguire, Peter immediately quipped: “You had me at $10.” $10 was all it took. His initiation into the world of spirits had begun.
After being a member of the opening team at 28 HongKong St and successfully running it for a couple of years, his bosses invited him to join them as a ‘Spirits Journeyman’ for Proof and Company, where he worked on menu and concept development, spirits curation, staff training and education for venues over Asia. Fast forward to a few years later, the team wanted to create another bar that would be as unique as 28HKS. Hence, Junior was born. Junior was positioned as an ever-changing incubation space for potentially fun and interesting concepts. Similar to the way an art gallery would change exhibitions, Junior rotates and presents two original concepts each year. With only ten seats in a private space, Junior focuses on one core topic every six months.
The tiny space is impeccably outfitted and mood-lit, panelled in heavy wood. Enthusiastic bartenders walk you through a few too many generous pours of exciting concoctions. This incredibly intimate space is Junior. Tucked behind an unassuming door in an alley way, Junior is a carefully constructed refuge that takes its cocktails seriously.
This season, Junior’s latest and undoubtedly most exciting concept by far is Pacifica. Pacifica pays homage to authentic Tiki traditions and unrivalled tropical escapism. The concept encapsulates the enchantment of Polynesian culture through a selection of artisanal exotic cocktails. Pacifica’s cocktail menu is divided into four unique sections.
Legends of Liquid Lore is built around six essential Tiki tipples that define the genre; each drink is paired with a “modern contemporary” version. Curated from top Tiki destinations around the world, the intricate themed menu features six classics which carefully incorporate selected blends of rum and homemade spice blends that pay homage to their creators. Patrons can delight in complex cocktails such as The Zombie, Mai Tai and Hua’ai Tai.
As clichéd as it sounds, his biggest inspiration in life is none other than his mother. He also attributes his success to his extended family as well.
“The Chuas” as we like to refer to ourselves, are a motley crew of try-hard Catholics, music lovers and entertainers. They remind me of the uncertainty in life and how much fun it can be when filled with love. My mum stands as the pillar of logic and support amongst the chaos that is “adulting”.
When it comes to drinks however, music and world history are his two biggest creative catalysts.
“I enjoy taking my interpretation of music and the emotions it conveys and converting them into flavour profiles in my head. From there I usually find complimentary flavour elements and make them into a cocktail. Similarly to music, I use history for a specific time and place. I then use ingredients and flavours commonly associated with that period as an inspiration for my drink.”
“My biggest professional challenge was trying to carve a career out of a profession that was not considered a ‘real’ job at the time.’’ Wrestling through the stigmas of being a professional barman back when Singapore didn’t have a cocktail scene was essentially the most challenging aspect for Peter professionally.
On the personal side, Peter finds it a challenge trying to balance work and life. Being a professional bartender demands a certain choice of lifestyle. Like how a yogi chooses scented candles and tights over nuggets and leather pants, bartenders choose the seductive embrace of the night over the sweaty slap of sunshine of the day.
“It is easy to be quickly consumed by the work and lifestyle as the people we hang out with also chose the same path. Like a group of soldiers returning from another battle or those sparkly fairies from “Twilight” that band together to fend of the humans, we find comfort in each other’s’ drive to succeed in the industry. Far too often our health and families are the ones who get sacrificed.”
THE LOCAL SCENE
Notwithstanding his popularity, Peter remains as one of the most unassuming individuals we have ever met. He has always felt genuinely honoured, proud and humbled to be able to be part of this vibrant community in Singapore. Aside from the numerous award-winning F&B venues that Singapore possesses, Peter believes that Singapore has one of the most supportive bar communities in the world. He strongly believes that the biggest reason for Singapore’s success in the cocktail scene, is due to the support received from the industry players during the infancy stages.
“From dropping off notes between bars using our guests as couriers to organising charity events to support industry friends in times of need, we have proven time after time that you really are only as strong as your weakest link.”
Truly, in this blacksmith of a country, our chains are consistently being forged by all.
Choice of Spirit?
Mezcal, an artisanal Mexican spirit that was thought to be the most uniquely eloquent expression of terroir. Mezcal is a distilled spirit and can be made from some thirty varieties of agave or maguey. It is produced using a laborious and antiquated method at primitive distilleries known as palenques and sold to mark births or funerals. For Peter, anything from the Karwinksi family would suffice.
“One of my favourites that you can get locally would Don Amadao Largo from EC Proof. As much as I am an equally big fan of rum, scotch and agave spirits, the production story of agave spirits won as the answer to this question due to romance behind it. Making a bottle of agave spirit requires care, precision and patience. A lot of patience. To make agave spirits, one has to grow the agave plant, harvest the plant, ferment the plant, distill the fermented wash and then age the distillate (if need be) and finally bottle it. Some agave plants take 5 years to mature while others take up to 30 years!”
The art behind making good agave spirits is not exactly recorded in an empirical way but instead is passed down from generation to generation via father to son. It is one of the few remaining crafts that is still handed down simply through family.
When it comes to cocktails, Peter would choose a Daiquiri anytime for its sheer versatility. The drink in its essence is a simple recipe of rum, lime and sugar. Change any of the components and it becomes a different Daiquiri than the last. His current favourite iteration? Diplomatico Planas, lime juice, rich simple syrup and 2 dashes of salt solution.
WORDS OF ADVICE
Do not let his boyish looks beguile you. Peter may look youthful, but he is wise, offering indispensable nuggets of wisdom to all young bright-eyed neophytes making their way into the local bar scene.
He espouses the importance of learning to walk before one can even learn to fly. A good foundation of knowledge is essential in order to learn bigger and better things.
“The Empire State Building wasn’t built on sand alone, and that is why she is able to stand tall and proud for tourists to take pictures of her till today.”
The key to success is to remain humble forever. Being arrogant and cocky is usually supported by the notion of the idea that one has more knowledge than others. When that happens, one essentially blocks himself off from learning new things.
His most fundamental piece of advice?
“One should never take oneself too seriously. A sense of humour is imperative, no matter how bad a situation might be. “The ability to laugh at oneself not only ties back to humility but also allows one to look at the lighter side of life. This can be used to make light of more difficult situations and in turn, allow it to pass easier.”