Words by: Jane Ryan
Having worked his way around the bars and restaurants of the UK, Michael Braun is now an Edinburgh local and a successful staple of the phenomenal bar scene Scotland's capital can boast. Tending the bar at Panda & Sons he is part of generation of bartenders redefining the city.
I grew up in this industry, my father ran a hotel in South Africa and we were all raised with a great appreciation of what good food is. I started working in bars and restaurants there to earn money but, like most of us, ended up with a career in what was meant to be dead-end job.
Fine art or graphic design was where I thought I would end up, and that element of creativity still engages me. I feel I've found a career path that draws on that and allows me the flexibility to have fun.
Moving to the UK wasn't a tough decision. I wanted to chase my dreams away from the familiarity of family and home. I guess I needed to set out on my own for a while.
My grandfather on my mother's side inspired me a lot and helped me make the decision to move. He taught me to try my best at everything and work really hard. I didn't want to be a failure.
I started out in Manchester at Living Ventures which had a great training programme at the time and I can credit my palate to that group. I then moved to York as part of a promotion but the job had no customer interaction and I hated it. Leeds was my last stop before Edinburgh came calling.
Now I'm in Edinburgh all I can think is why did it take me so long to come here. I don't have family in UK but I've certainly created one. The bartending community here is populated with so many talented people. It drives you to become better, and that's what family is - one group of people who you rely on more than anyone.
I was always big on cooking, I wanted to be a chef but my dad said no. Funnily enough my sister is now a chef in South Africa. I love cooking for friends, particularly Asian cuisines. My spag bol is fairly decent but I can roll great sushi.
My first competition was a Bombay Sapphire one judged by Sam Carter and Sean Ware. I won and caught the bug for getting on stage and presenting my creations. Last year I made the UK final of Bacardi Legacy but made a few mistakes. It was that experience that made me want to win this competition so much more. It means an inexplicable amount to be given another chance a year on, wiser and better equipped.
It was at Bacardi Legacy that I met Iain McPherson who asked me to come and work at his new bar, Panda and Sons. It's accessed through a vintage barber shop and hidden through a bookcase and works on the simple premise of tasty drinks and great service. Plus there's a load of panda paraphernalia around.
London might have the finances but Edinburgh has tasty inexpensive drinks from creative and innovative bartenders. I'm competitive, just like most of the people on the scene here, but we never steal each others ideas. It's a very supportive community.
I'm glad I've entered Bacardi Legacy again and drawn on better inspiration, for me it's the biggest competition.
I'm pretty settled here. I'm lucky to have these friends, who knows maybe I'd still be stuck in Leeds sipping strong liquor and not enjoying my life at all if I'd not moved to Edinburgh.