Sustainable Bartender
Tom Egerton

From washing pots in Christchurch to mixing cocktails on the lip of an active volcano in Vanuatu, Potato Head Hong Kong’s G&T-loving bar manager has come a long way in his 28 years.

 

Three months into his new role at Potato Head Hong Kong’s brightly-hued, tropically modern bar, Tom Egerton pauses to share thoughts on his zeal for hosting, his most bizarre bartending experiences and how the humble-yet-versatile coconut inspired Potato Head Hong Kong’s menu of socially conscious tropical cocktails.

 

Tom’s industry experience spans high-end venues in Dubai, North America and Sydney, where he managed Eau De Vie, an award-winning drinking den for whisky worshippers. A decade of serving in stiff speakeasies left the New Zealander yearning for something less formal and more funky.

Introducing Tom Egerton, The Sustainable Bartender

Tell us more about socially conscious cocktails.

First off, we’re switching to suppliers that are locally based and which operate ethically and sustainably. We’re also recycling some of the leftovers from our suppliers. For example, we’re using a local coffee company that roasts in Hong Kong; reducing our carbon footprint but also making use of the cascara [coffee husk] which is usually discarded.

 

We also use as much as possible of our fresh ingredients. With pineapples, we save the skin to make a fermented pineapple soda called tepache. We juice the flesh and save the pulp, dehydrating that and powdering it to use as an ingredient again. Pineapple crowns and stems are used as garnishes. Anything that we can’t use is composted and given to a local farm to grow herbs for our kitchen.

 

Kalpavriksha is the concept that inspired your eco-centric cocktails…

Yes, Kalpavriksha—also known as the Kalpa tree—is a wish-fulfilling tree, which in Hindu mythology is one that provides everything. In India it’s the banyan or fig tree, and in Indonesia, it’s the coconut palm that you can get many things from—water, flesh, oil, husk, leaves and wood. So it’s about not only using an ingredient for one thing.

 

What sparked your passion for the F&B industry?

Hospitality is a family thing for us. My grandparents were hoteliers. My elder sister and brother were bar and restaurant managers when I was younger, and they still work in hospitality. Growing up in New Zealand, I was pruning vines as a kid in the Central Otago wine region. Then, when I turned 13, I started working as a pot washer at a club that my sister was managing.

Introducing Tom Egerton, The Sustainable Bartender

Fruits, herbs, spices—what are your secret ingredients?

Many of our ingredients are native to Bali—think ripe pineapples, green and yellow mangos, fresh young coconuts and sambal [chilli relish]. I’ll start tying in tamarind and torch ginger very soon.

 

Any Balinese arak?

Every time someone comes over from Bali, I ask them to bring over a couple of bottles of arak. Essentially what I have on the shelf is arak that’s been hand-carried, so if people ask, I pour a little for them to try and chat about it with them; it’s about giving people that extra bit of service and treating them to a true taste of Bali.

Introducing Tom Egerton, The Sustainable Bartender

Can you explain bar bugbears?

Someone who’s more interested in the drink that they are making than the person who’s drinking it. A few years ago, I mixed drinks in the mouth of an open and active volcano in Vanuatu for a Hendrick’s Gin cocktail competition. We had to hump the gear up to the peak, so it was a pretty challenging and unusual experience.

 

What’s the vibe like at Potato Head Hong Kong?

Our space is very light and open; we try and deliver that sense of escapism that comes with a cocktail. We’re very much drawing inspiration from Potato Head Bali, where you’re facing the ocean and the atmosphere is tropical, refreshing and relaxing. We are one of the few bars in the city that is focusing especially on Indonesian flavours, textures and temperatures and matching that with the Hong Kong palate, which is a very sophisticated drinking taste.

Introducing Tom Egerton, The Sustainable Bartender

Congratulations on banning plastic straws!

Yes! Just imagine, if I’ve got six bartenders, making on average 35 drinks each a night, that’s 210 straws a night plus around 40 for tasting. That works out at 23,000 straws—half a tonne of plastic waste—in just one year for just one bar. Suddenly you can see how much plastic waste is being produced just by people having a drink.

Introducing Tom Egerton, The Sustainable Bartender

What do you love most about mixology?

I try to look at it beyond the creation of a drink. It’s no longer unique for a bar to simply make good drinks. No matter where you go in the world—be it Vietnam, the Middle East or the Caribbean — people will be able to make you a well-crafted drink. Fifteen years ago, when I started in the industry, that wasn’t the case. Now, for me, it’s the steps beyond that—the hospitality, the hosting, the experience from when a customer walks in the door until when they leave that really sets you apart. We’re very lucky to be in the business of making people happy.

 

When can we see you behind the bar?

You’ll find me behind the bar most nights. I’d definitely recommend coming in for Mid Week Sundowners on Wednesdays – we do a Potato Head Mai Tai for HK$50 or a rum and fresh juice for HK$30.

 

Cheers, Tom. We look forward to some socially conscious drinking with you soon!