Plant Life Balance

Between Two Palms with Michael Chiem

Bartender of the Year and creator of our favourite softies, Michael Chiem opens up with us about his plant life balance.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and the inspiration behind PS Soda/ PS40.

I’ve been in bars and restaurants for 14 years now. Thor Bergquist and I opened up PS40 and PS Soda almost three years ago. During the day, the space operates as a craft soda factory, producing PS Soda, which focuses on native ingredients, fresh ingredients, real sugars and no preservatives. In the evening, the sodas are showcased with spirits but we also focus heavily on our cocktail, wine and beer offering too. We like to play around with the tag lines “bubbles by day” and “party by night”. Good times is the goal, not any particular category of drink!

In 2016 you were awarded the Australian Bartender of the Year and PS40 was just named TimeOut Sydney’s best cocktail bar of 2018, the last few years sound like they’ve been a pretty amazing ride, what do you think’s been the biggest highlight for you?

Winning awards is great and the recognition is amazing too! But the biggest highlight for me is the launch of PS Soda just over a year ago. It was such a huge challenge, to create a brand and drink within the parameters that we gave ourselves and to get it shelf life-friendly and tasting delicious was lots of hard work from the team! We came up with the process and method from scratch, there was no manual or recipe given to us to follow. It is a super unique space that seems to breed creativity amongst the team and other peers.

PS40 is very well known for their experimental cocktails, tell us a bit about your process when it comes to experimenting with botanicals?

First things first, we try to do some research as to what the botanicals have been previously used for. Whether it was used for medicinal purposes or whether they have been used in traditional dishes. Once we understand this it becomes a bit easier to frame it within a cocktail and decide what type of technique and style of drink we want to use and achieve.

The mint you receive from the markets or from a shop is nowhere near the quality of something homegrown.

Are there any plants in particular plants or flavour combinations you can’t get enough of?

I love Perilla! Growing up in a Vietnamese family definitely has influenced me a lot. And also Mexican Mint or Indian Borage is currently used on the menu too. They both are very different in flavours but one thing they have in common is their intense aromatics.

Where do you source the plants you use in your sodas and cocktails?

We work hard to see what is seasonal and at the markets currently, but a lot of our plants can come from our regulars and my family home – thanks mum and dad! The mint you receive from the markets or from a shop is nowhere near the quality of something homegrown.

Tell us a little about your own Plant Parenthood journey, do you own many plants yourself and if so how do you think you go at keeping them alive and happy?

Doing the Plant Life Balance talk a few months ago definitely inspired my partner Carli and I to spruce up the tiny apartment we have. Whenever I would go home to my parents’ house, I’d always take a walk through their garden as they take so much care for it. So I’ve “borrowed” quite a few pots to make our little balcony very green! So far all are accounted for! (thanks to Carli)

How would you rate your Plant Life Balance?

7/10. I have a great connection with plants but have a bar in the middle of the city does limit your balance. I’d love to see what I saw lots in New York where there would be lots of community gardens in places that probably are of high real estate value throughout the city.

Do you have any tips for people looking to increase their daily dose of green?

Follow @theweedyone – I went on a foraging tour with him once and was absolutely amazing. Also, talk to your parents or their parents about plants more often! They don’t need the internet to tell you what’s up.

Any fav leafy venues or locations you like to get away to soak in the benefits of plants?

Old Mates Place around the corner from PS40 has some great indoor plants and a great bar vibe. And Hyde Park is always underrated in my opinion.

If you could spend the day gardening with anyone in the world who would it be?

My dad. He’s the plant whisperer.

Look for PS Soda next time you’re out and about, or hit up the cocktail bar in Sydney CBD!

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