Story by Cara Devine. Cara is our Melbourne-based drinks writer. She is the manager of Bomba in Melbourne and the face and talent behind the cocktailing youtube channel Behind the Bar. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
18th Amendment Bar, Geelong
I recently judged a cocktail competition for Paramount Liquor, which saw three bartenders go head-to-head in Masterchef style mystery box challenges, one of whom was Ana Mitchell. Self admittedly nervous (it was her first competition), she disarmed the room with her warm wit, making everyone laugh and putting up some delicious drinks in the process – her first round Boulevardier twist was a winner for us all. She placed second to a more comp-savvy competitor but certainly made an impression. Since then she has been making waves: winning the Fernet Branca coin competition, being nominated for Rookie of the Year at Australian Bartender Magazine Bar Awards, getting through to the second round of The Blend’s 50 Best Bars Scholarship competition and working on their Competition to Claremont, plus being a finalist in JimmyRum’s Victorian Daiquiri competition… All this and she’s just getting started!
“Geelong has a close community, you can really connect with your guests and other industry workers and although we have quieter nights than the city, it’s those nights you can really make an impression on your guests. I have enormous pride in my hometown and am thrilled I’m in a position to contribute to its growth.”
Mitchell currently hangs her hat at The 18th Amendment Bar in Geelong, and credits joining the team there with sparking her passion for hospitality. “I didn’t fully realise what I loved about the industry until I joined the crew at the 18th Amendment as their host. I loved that I was in an environment where I could use my extroverted personality to entertain customers, tell stories and connect with people.” She singles out co-worker Indra Saryani as an inspiration as she learns the craft: “each week I watch him work and I just think he is incredible, so creative, passionate and an absolute wealth of knowledge all while staying humble and willing to teach us kids.” She also feels that the bar’s location in a regional city has its advantages for an up-and-coming bartender, explaining “Geelong has a close community, you can really connect with your guests and other industry workers and although we have quieter nights than the city, it’s those nights you can really make an impression on your guests. I have enormous pride in my hometown and am thrilled I’m in a position to contribute to its growth.”
Competitions can be daunting; even the most outgoing amongst us can be prone to the shakes when the piercing gazes of judges and a time limit are thrust upon them. Mitchell has thrown herself into them headlong – does she have any advice for other rookies who might be anxious about putting themselves forward? “I’m still very new to this side of the industry, so I am constantly making mistakes or feeling a bit embarrassed. However, my advice would be to make mistakes, you’ll learn from them. No one actually knows what they’re doing and everyone in the industry is incredibly supportive of one another, they want to see you succeed, so most of the time they will offer constructive criticism so that you can grow faster. So just give it a go and have fun with it.” In return for her willingness to give it a go, she feels competitions are a great creative outlet which allows her to connect with others in the industry, inspiring her and pushing her to raise her game. Mitchell points to “female powerhouse” Millie Tang of the Gresham (“everything she does is so refined and personal”) and Grace Rawlins of Memphis Slims (“wildly talented, driven, technical and creative, everything I aspire to be”) as particular role models.
So when she’s not working or slaying it in competitions (which can’t leave her much time!), what does she get up to? “If I’m in Geelong I’ll be exploring the funky sour beers Valhalla has to offer that week, however, if I’m in the city I’ll be knocking back a Naked and Famous at Heartbreaker. I try not to frequent the same venue too much when there are so many new spots opening up worth checking out,” she says.
Mitchell doesn’t have particular career aspirations for now, explaining “I’m too busy having fun with whatever new opportunity comes my way” – totally fair – but she eventually wants to contribute to building a higher standard for healthy work environments in the industry, by providing mental health support for workers, encouraging diversity, and creating safe workspaces. A noble endeavour, and one that I have no doubt she will take in her stride, much like everything else in her hospitality career so far.