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Accidental Adventures: Jishnu AJ’s rise in the world of Indian Mixology

  • Jishnu AJ
  • Instagram: @ji_sh_nu_aj
  • Industry Experience: 10 years
  • Favorite Drink :  The Last Word
  • Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drinks:  Fresh Lime Soda (sweet & sour, with water)

Like most unexpected adventures, Jishnu’s entry into hospitality is a story of chance, grit, and dedication to learning more. His first job after hospitality school was at the banquet of a popular 5-star hotel. An interview with Dimitri Lezinska for the role of a bartender at Koko, Mumbai, 6 years ago changed it all. Jishnu’s childhood inclination for creativity was what initially pulled him to a department as creative as bartending.

Like most professionals who forayed into the alluring world of bartending, Jishnu too had to contend with his share of stigma about his profession from his family and community back home in Kerala. “They think of it as a cheap job”, laments Jishnu. All this changed drastically post-pandemic, thanks to his current stint at Ekaa as the Head Mixologist. Between getting to travel all over and interest from the press as the mixologist at a popular, ingredient forward restaurant, there’s now a better understanding of his world from those back home.

Having started out as a bartender, Jishnu “spent 5 years wiping glasses and cutting limes” and is a big believer in putting in the time to hone and perfect your craft in this business. To become a mixologist of repute, Jishnu insists on first getting a solid grip on the basics, such as classic cocktails, spirits, and liqueurs. The next step is to “build your palette. Taste as many flavours as you can, only then will you understand how different ingredients can be paired.” For budding professionals in the field, he recommends putting in the hours to do their work and also diversifying their skills to open up more resources.

As Ekaa’s Mixologist, Jishnu has managed to deftly translate the ingredient-forward menu concept into a bar program that is focused on exploring mixology through Indian ingredients. Dwadash is Ekaa’s newest cocktail program featuring a curation of 12 ingredient-first cocktails, each inspired by a root, stem, flower or herb from the ancient Indian ingredients of Ayurveda. He’s also credited with the creation of “Mehfil”, a bar consultancy program, in collaboration with certified sommelier (CMS) Rahul.H. In its first season, Mehfil focused on exploring the untapped potential of Meghalaya in North East India, pairing local ingredients with experimental cocktails to propagate a modern bar scene while also giving tourism in the area a much-needed push.

Among contemporaries, Jishnu is deeply inspired by his mentor, ace mixologist Dimitri Lezinska, who taught him the nuance of balancing cocktails and pairing assorted ingredients to create liquid masterpieces. As a passionate creator, international brands like Beam Suntory rank high on his collaboration wishlist for their variety of brands, and someday Jishnu hopes to collaborate with Kayama of Bar Benfiddich from Tokyo.

– Nagwa Kureshi