Ethan Leslie Leong: What grit looks like

Mar 01, 2020, 02:00 AM
Before 28HKS, Tippling Club, and Jigger & Pony, there was Maison Ikkoku, the OG of Singapore’s craft cocktail scene. Sitting at its helm is Malaysian-born, classically-trained chef-turned-mixologist Ethan Leslie Leong.
 
Since his first big break in 1997 at the International Flair Competition in Birmingham, Ethan has nabbed more bartending awards, made his rounds in the nightlife circuit as a bar manager in the ‘90s, and gone on to create cocktails for F&B establishments and brands including Chanel, Mont Blanc, Guess, and Penhaligon’s.
 
Of course, there’s no easy road to success. From juggling different jobs at a young age to enduring multiple challenges in business, the cocktail maestro recounts the triumphs and adversities he has faced in the 10th episode of Buro.’s Brave Living with Simon Heng.
 
1:23 Background
Born in Malaysia and raised by his grandparents, Ethan grew up in a kampong with 13 other children in his family. His father was murdered when he was just a baby. To support the household, his grandfather would do all sorts of odd, hard-labour jobs. Not fond of school, Ethan abandoned his studies and began working in a restaurant at 17.
 
7:40 Started out washing dishes
While he was serving up to 100 tables every day in a busy restaurant, his mother gave him a one-way ticket and $300 to help him move on to the next phase of his life. His first job was at an American steakhouse, and his next was bartending at a rowdy discotheque frequented by gangsters.
 
21:32 Learning to speak English and going to Birmingham
Having moved from Malaysia to Singapore abruptly, Ethan didn’t speak a word of English at the time. Nevertheless, he went ahead to compete in the world finals of a bartending flair competition in Birmingham. Held in a stadium with four giant screens and packed with over 5,000 spectators, Ethan came in 13th.
 
26:54 Job-hopping
He returned to Malaysia to open his very own bar, but business was slow to pick up. To continue operations, he worked in Singapore to support the bar’s finances. Things turned around after some time, but to his dismay, his name was removed from the bar by his business partner.
 
37:25 Maison Ikkoku
Never one to quit, he set up Maison Ikkoku in Singapore with another partner, where he crafted drinks using natural ingredients. He later became the main shareholder of Maison Ikkoku after parting ways with his business partner. Maison Ikkoku then evolved from a cafe to a restaurant-bar. Most recently, Ethan re-branded the ground floor of Maison Ikkoku with a new concept called SLING, which serves renditions of Singapore’s national cocktail alongside Peranakan dishes inspired by his childhood.