Launched in 2009, the Diageo World Class Competition is now in its 10th year. In the USA, Canada and other countries, interested bartenders can now submit their entries. The national Diageo World Class 2018 champions will compete in the World Finals which will take place this fall in Berlin at the time of BCB (Bar Congress Berlin).
The search for the Diageo World Class 2018 Swiss representative was launched on February 5 in Geneva with events in Zurich and Lugano the following days. Sharing his experience to the bartenders in attendance was the exhuberant and charismatic Dennis Zoppi, the 2012 World Class champion for Italy and one of the 8 finalists in the global finals the same year.
The entry and selection criteria for the national champions differ in every country. You can’t really expect the US or Canadian judges who probably receive hundreds of applications to visit each of the applicants like the Swiss judges might do with their few dozens candidates, after all. In the USA, candidates have to complete education requirements – for example by attending a Live World Class Bar Lab seminar or taking one of the modules of the World Class Webinar series – and submit essay questions along with their cocktail recipe. Australian competitors must comply with the country’s “Wanderlust” theme and transport people with cocktails inspired either by a place in Australia or by an overseas destination.
Overall, bartenders around the world will have to address two prominent areas of interest in today’s bartending world. They have to show they are “resourceful bartenders”, applying the principles of sustainability. They also have to demonstrate an understanding of how the culinary techniques and ingredients used by chefs can be applied to cocktail creation.
For the last few years, Diageo has been encouraging bartenders to be more environment-friendly. Not only in their drink making process but in the general way they run their bar. Incidentally this helps them to work more profitably. Sustainability is not only about using local and seasonal products and not using straws or napkins. It is also about switching candles for LEDs; using natural cleaning products instead of chemicals or charging the dishwasher to full capacity before running a cycle. It’s about pre-batching drinks and maximizing the use of a product (ex: squeezing a lime for its juice and using its peel as garnish or to make falernum, etc.), all to avoid wastage. It’s taking into consideration the product lifecycle, its manufacturing/place of growth/carbon footprint, the bar energy consumption, water and disposables wastage, and composting.
Dennis Zoppi laid emphasis on sustainability during his Geneva workshop. His definition of sustainability: transform something that’s already been used into something new. Taking his Capisci cocktail as an example, he showed how to minimize wastage by using the leftovers of the ingredients used to infuse his spirits and bitters as garnishes. He makes a paste from pepperoni and oignon skin, spreads it thin, sprinkles it with sesame seeds and dries it. Thus, Dennis obtains crackers he serves along the cocktail. He also makes a powder out of dried onions. All these garnishes make sense as they come from ingredients present in the original cocktail recipe.
Making sense is another point Dennis, now a bartending coach and consultant, insisted on. The drink’s presentation has to make sense with the recipe. So does the cocktail preparation. Don’t roll a cocktail because it looks spectacular. Do it because it helps you get the desired dilution.
When you name your cocktail, think of its ingredients or what its taste evokes. Dennis created a cocktail called English Breakfast. Combining Tanqueray 10 gin infused with porridge, bitter strawberry jam, bergamot tea milk and rich sugar syrup, it indeed reminds of an English breakfast. The recipe and the name inspired the drink’s presentation in turn. Dennis serves the cocktail in a take-away paper bag from which a strong fresh bread smell emanates, courtesy of a small bottle containing a mix of dry ice and bread aroma. It’s like getting your morning fix from your local bakery.
Did this picture of fresh bread make you salivate? Does your mouth goes wet thinking of lemons? Yes? Without using a real lemon, just conjuring an image of it, you can produce something, a reaction. Cocktails are a multisensorial experience, something Dennis insisted on frequently during the Diageo Masterclass.
You first see your drink coming. Visuals are important: they set or activate expectations in your brain. To illustrate this, Dennis showed the attendees two pictures of different types of plumeria flowers. Some people thought the pinkish flowers looked tastier than the white ones. Others thought the smaller but more numerous white flowers would give more aromas. These are all assumptions from the brain. Play with them! “Play” with the way you prepare a drink too. A little bit of flair will captivate your guests’ attention and make them eager to taste your drink.
Once you get your drink, you smell its aromas. With the first sip, you feel their texture on your tongue and palate and you taste them, all the while listening to the bar music. Is the music cheerful making you happy or is it making you nostalgic? See, it’s multi-sensory…and emotional.
As Dennis Zoppi reminded, bartenders create emotions. When you prepare your cocktail, think of the emotions you want to communicate to your guests. Good music will make a lot of difference, if not all the difference, in the way your guests experience their drinks. Your attitude as well! Do you shake drinks with small gestures and a serious face or do you smile and shake butterfly style, communicating your joy to your guests?
When it comes to getting ideas, don’t hesitate to look at how brands in all sorts of industries communicate. It can inspire you in many areas, whether for your recipe, your presentation or even your cocktail name.
To catch the essence of Dennis’ presentation at the Geneva event: do things immediately (otherwise you’ll never do anything), never stop your imagination and change your way of seeing things. People are change, embrace change! Focus on the guests. And also: train, train, train!
Understood? Yes or yes, as Dennis would say? Do you want to enter the Diageo World Class competition? Yes or yes? Yes! Then, sign up for your national qualifications on the Diageo World Class competition website. Swiss candidates can submit their entries from February 15 to March 30; the Swiss finals will take place this summer in Zurich, opposing the country’s 10-12 most promising participants.
You can read more tips to enjoy a successful road at the Diageo World Class by reading my account of the 2017 Geneva workshop with Jennifer Le Nechet, global World Class bartender of the year 2016, Sophie Larrouture, Switzerland World Class champion 2016, and Mido Yahi, World Class France winner 2014.