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The Professional: Soumi Tannous

Calum Stenning

Soumi Tannous is a bartender.

You might think “oh yeah, I have a mate that does that,” but few of you probably have a mate that tends bar like Soumi. And that is because Soumi is a professional. He comes from a place and culture that treats hospitality as a career, not as something you do while you’re studying. And he has probably won more awards for his “art” than most bartenders you could order from in this city.

“Hospitality is actually one of the main streams of income for the country,” explains Soumi. “Lebanon is known for its nightlife right throughout the Middle East.”

“I’ve been working in hospitality for around 15 years now. I actually started out as a chef studying at Le Cordon Blu (a French hospitality school in Lebanon),” says Soumi. “I worked in a few restaurants in Lebanon including for one of the country’s leading hospitality groups, Eddè Sands. But there was something about being tucked away in the kitchen that didn’t really suit my personality. I was drawn to the fun and dynamic nature of the bar and decided to make a move.”

The move suited Soumi, and he entered the competitive bartending scene in Lebanon.

While there he won a succession of national awards, including the Lebanese Bartender of the year in an Association of Hotel, Restaurant and Cafeteria (HoReCa) competition, the Lebanese Bartender Tiki Challenge, 2013, hosted by Paradiso, the Lebanese Bartender Shots Challenge, 2010, hosted by Lunar and the Lebanese Bar Challenge using local produce and Lebanese botanicals, 2014, hosted by Paradiso.

“Winning HoReCa was definitely a highlight,” he says. “I worked in a ‘pub street’ in Downtown Lebanon where neighbourhood pubs and concept bars sat shoulder to shoulder. We were always keen to show off our skills and friendly competitions were a regular occurrence.”

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After moving with his wife to Leeton, NSW, and spending 18 months there “pulling beers and mixing around 150,000 Lemon Lime Bitters at the Leeton Soldiers Club,” the couple decided to make Canberra their new home, and for Soumi, AKIBA his place of trade.

“I’ve certainly found my home in AKIBA,” says Soumi. “They are really pushing boundaries and bringing new and innovative concepts and techniques to drinks – from bottling their own soft drinks (‘AkiPops’), to extracting colour, a ridiculously delicious sake range with a number of flavours and blends.”

Canberra often bears the brunt of certain criticisms regarding its nightlife, but Soumi has made some different observations.

“Canberrans don’t want crap. And I love that. They are knowledgeable when it comes to liquor and spirits,” he explains. “I believe this has also shifted how people view bar workers. A bit like the return of the barber and provedores, there is a growing appreciation of the ‘art’ attached to such professions. It is a really exciting time to be in hospitality in Canberra with new places opening every week, it really lifts the bar (pardon the pun).”

You can take your cocktail requests to Soumi at AKIBA, and don’t be shy if you want to try something specific!

“I love a challenge and nothing gets me more excited than when a customer sits the menu to the side and just tells me what they want – a cocktail colour matched to a brand colour, a flavour, a spirit to hero – bring it on!”

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Calum Stenning

Calum Stenning is Her Canberra’s newest and most male (read: only) intern. Three years spent living overseas has given him a renewed appreciation for Canberra life. Every day starts with coffee and the Sydney Morning Herald crossword at a favourite coffee haunt, as he is wary of the perils of dementia, and thinks crosswords are a viable safeguard. If he lives to a dementia-appropriate age (evidence says he won’t), he’ll let us know. More about the Author

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