Gethin Curtis got his first job in hospitality behind the bar, and since then he has been hooked. “I have had other roles,” he told Restaurant & Café, “but I always migrate to where I feel I can be most creative.”

Curtis acquired most of his knowledge with on-the-job training, experimentation and research – as a fan of cooking, these skills lend themselves to many aspects of his creations behind the bar.

Curtis has plied his trade up and down the country, working at places such as Wakatipu Grill in the Queenstown Hilton, Ostro/Seafarers in Auckland and Jervois Steakhouse Queenstown. “Looking back, it seems that I have a tendency to jump at the opportunity to be a part of opening teams for brand new venues,” he said.

Curtis is involved in a constant process of playing with new techniques, recipes and flavour combinations – a cocktail may evolve from something simple and expand from there. Curtis gives the example of The Wilding Pine, which was on his last cocktail list. “It came to fruition due to the pine smoke swirling around Queenstown in the winter,” he explained. “With this inspiration and a little experimentation, I discovered that this smoke created a wonderful contrast when paired with a light gin sour.”

This constant state of flux makes it hard for him to name a signature drink. Last winter was all about bourbon, chestnut and beetroot, but this spring he’s getting excited about locally made Saké paired with snow peas, lemon and Fino Sherry. “Although the South East Asian Mojito is a drink that I feel pretty nostalgic about,” he admitted. “It was the first time I really made a drink that stood out from the list.”

The possibilities for cocktails are endless, according to Curtis, and he and his team are currently working on a concept called ‘Blurred Lines’ – a plated cocktail degustation, featuring things like Gewürztraminer Oysters dressed in gin, mint and dill, or an Apertivo plate with goats cheese spaghetti, Prosecco air and melon liqueur crystals. “We are just working on the techniques and how we would deliver it as a concept.”

The romance of the hospitality industry is what keeps him coming back for more. “You can always make a drink or a meal at home, just like you can put on a DVD,” he explained. “However, people still go to the cinema. It’s all about the show and the experience. People should leave a venue and have talking points for the journey home. There’s no other industry quite like hospitality.”