From necessity, transformation

In our new column, Kelowna bartender Harry Dosanj reveals how his unlikely career was born

Bartender Harry Dosanj pours a cocktail in the well-stocked whisky bar he established at Kelowna’s Hotel Eldorado. Behind him, cocktails age peacefully in oak barrels. Hotel Eldorado photo

Harry Dosanj is a multiple-award-winning bartender who has twice ranked among Canada’s best bartenders in the Diageo World Class competition. His accomplishments are especially impressive given that before moving to Canada from Southampton, England, with his family in 2009, his interest in alcohol didn’t extend beyond an occasional beer. Here, Dosanj—who recently celebrated his second anniversary at Kelowna’s Hotel Eldorado—shares the story of his unlikely entry into the bartending profession.

“I never felt like Southampton was my home. I can’t really explain why, but I thought, ‘I want to move abroad. I need a change.’ And then my parents basically said, ‘That’s a great idea! We should all go!’ And they followed me.

“We really liked Kelowna. There was big, open space—it reminded us of the countryside at home. We saw the potential of this place. We thought, ‘This should be a good starting point for our new life in Canada.’

“I used to have the odd beer. But, honestly, I never used to have a social life. My family had two convenience stores back home. I ran a post office as well. It was the typical East Indian thing—we just worked our butts off. And in Canada, too, we have a family business [Poppadoms, a popular Indian restaurant] and we’ve always had a family member working every single day.

I’m one of these people who always wants to keep learning, always wants to ask questions, regardless of how silly the question is.

“For me to become a bartender was a really weird choice. The only reason why I became one is, Poppadoms didn’t have one. He quit. And I didn’t really have a role at that time, when we first opened. So, I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’ I was really mistaken on that! Especially when I had requests for, like, Bellinis, Mojitos, and stuff like that. I was thinking, ‘What the hell is this?’ I’d never ordered a cocktail in my life. I made probably the worst Mojitos you could ever make. I thought, ‘If I’m going to do this, I want to learn how to do it properly.’ I didn’t want to embarrass myself again.

“I went to Vancouver about three years ago, and I was lucky enough to work with Shaun Layton [formerly of L’Abattoir and Juniper; now co-owner of Como Taperia], who’s probably the greatest bartender in Canada. I worked with him for four months, and that really helped me understand the geeky side of cocktails, like dilution and how long to shake or stir things. It was like a different level for me. I’m one of these people who always wants to keep learning, always wants to ask questions, regardless of how silly the question is. Fortunately, I have a really good palate, and that came through over time.

“Bartending has made me way more confident. About 10 years ago, I was very quiet, very shy. But now, behind the bar, people say I’m very confident and they feel like I know what I’m talking about—even though I don’t always. And the accent really helps.”

—as told to Michael White

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