A Chat With 'Mr. Lyan'
Ryan Chetiywardana is an acclaimed and accomplished leader in the food and beverage world. His best achievements are known in the industry and without. Dandelyan, the hotel bar in the Mondrian of London, reflects this best of all in the wide recognition the program garned with its Modern Life of Plants menu--a study in modern and industrial food systems and how beverage programs can operate sustainably.
In November the Gibson hosted Ryan and several members of his Dandelyan team for a two-day popup in the bar. The drink selection showcased two different styles of creativity. Dandelyan utilized a greater range of culinary techniques to draw flavors into their offering. It was an approach to bending flavors that sharply contrasted with the Gibson’s and we had to pick his brain about his process.
How do you understand the role of creativity in providing experiences that are important and/or valuable for guests?
Our approach we've always dubbed purposeful innovation. We want what we do to be accessible, but we also want to offer something distinct to what else is in the landscape. There's room within the food world for both traditional and innovative products – sometimes the same person wants different things – and we want to offer something that feels different to what else is around. But it has to be relevant else it's just gimmick, or arrogant.
When it comes to the combination of the feeling, flavors, and ideas experienced in your venues, how do you determine success? Specifically (e.g. at Dandelyan) or generally (e.g. across your various venues)?
Our main approach is to make people happy, so if we see that in whatever form, we see it as a success. But we also look for feedback. It's great that even the weirdest drinks in Dandelyan sell well, and the responses the staff get, and we see in reviews is wonderful – it's incredible and very humbling the number of people who give feedback that Cub is the best meal they've ever had.
You’re midway through closing what is well-known as the best bar in the world. What has that process been like?
In some ways it's familiar as we did the same sort of change with White Lyan (into Cub), but every project is unique and there's a huge number of people working really hard on a huge number of tasks to make it happen. The process started a long time ago, and it's different because Dandelyan is a very busy venue that's open, so the approach has had to be military!
When you announced closing Dandelyan, you wrote, “It would be a disservice to these amazing people [and what] we have created together to continue when we think the landscape and the conversation has shifted. There’s so much I think we can do, and so much we want to challenge, discuss, and create in this industry that, like with White Lyan, it makes sense to burn it down, start afresh, and rise again…” In a business where the overwhelming majority would cash in on the “best in the world” recognition forever, that’s an incredibly striking sentiment. What exactly warrants a hard reset for a wildly successful bar like Dandelyan, opposed to letting it live and continuing to “challenge, discuss, and create” through new projects?
I'm so proud of what we've achieved with Dandelyan, but the world changes, and I believe we have a duty as well as an opportunity to change with that given our statement that as a company we always wanted to be challenging conventions. That said, I don't think we wouldn't ever keep a bar going (!) it's just that the specific conversations we wanted to challenge with both White Lyan and Dandelyan (especially as Dandelyan was born from White Lyan) shifted – more quickly than we expected – so it's great to be able to look at new discussions we want to have.
What will the new concept for the Dandelyan space be (or feature) and how does it express the conversation and challenges you want to bring to the food and beverage world?
It will be called Lyaness and specific details will be revealed soon!
You’ve launched a number of different concepts by now. When it comes to developing new ideas, what if anything do you feel is consistent about your creative process?
I think the idea to challenge in a warm, inclusive way is at the heart of what we do. There are elements to our approach, methodology and style of drink that are consistent across the projects but the desire to challenge is probably the constant they have.
What was the first original cocktail you came up with (including specs if you’re willing to share)?
Ooft! I'm not sure my memory stretches back that far! I always loved making new drinks, and I loved competitions so there was always experiments on the go. Since I started bartending there were always trials, bits of equipment I built and archives amongst my house. I recall the first competition I won back in 2006 which was a Bacardí halloween competition and I did a pumpkin tiki style drink. Definitely can't remember the recipe though!
Isn’t DC great?
It really is! I really fell for the city after my first visit and I'm really excited to be able to spend more time there!
There are a lot of people excited that team Lyan is coming to the city. Is there anything new you’re able to say about Silver Lyan at this time?
It'll probably be the grandest venue in our group. It will still be tongue-in-cheek, playful and fun, but it will also have a sense of glamour that I'm really really excited for!
What do you hope to gain from or contribute to DC’s food and beverage community by bringing a new project here?
I'm so excited to learn from the city, and to offer something that's a compliment and a homage to all the other wonderful things already in the city – and across the US! We are excited to be part of a really vibrant community – I was so excited by what was happening in DC and the amazing momentum behind both the historic as well as younger operators. I want to be able to work with all those wonderful people to try and offer something special and exciting to those in the city!