Timothy Barnes: World Class 2011

What an amazing week.

It’s difficult to put a complete introduction together that communicates the entire event, and does it the justice deserved, so I’ll just get right in and tell my tale of the 5 day event.

Daniel Estremadoyro and I

I was named as one of the bar captains for the week, which meant overseeing one of the 6 bars that hosted a different challenge for all 32 competitors. We were to run the bar, host the competitors, look after our esteemed judges and for me I was to liaise with the kitchen as I was captain of the Asian Food Matching Challenge.

The judge I was paired with was Daniel Estremadoyro, owner of The Real McCoy Bar in Cordoba, Argentina. Daniel is one cool dude, he was so kind to the competitors, helping keep the nerves at bay and basically being the judge we’d all like to have on the other side of the mahogany when being scrutinized on technique, taste, imagination and interpretation.

Day 1 Welcome Party

After a few weeks of preparation, making liqueurs, redistilling vodkas and training support staff, the first day was finally here. I strolled out of my accommodation and down the stairs to my waiting taxi, manned by Tahir, a gentle fellow of little English. From the rear view mirror he could see the anxiety in my eyes and sped me through the busy streets of Delhi to the Imperial hotel, where preparation for 1000’s of welcoming cocktails was to be done. Tahir had taken the speedy route to the hotel, avoiding a legendary set of traffic lights, where motorists and agitated ginger Australians can be known to wait for up to 8 minutes.

Ridiculous. Although, when we came to one of the sets of lights on our particular route, Tahir took a knock on the window from a portly motorcyclist who had stolen a plastic Ferrari helmet, from one of his children, explain something in Hindi. We pulled over and Tahir inspected the rear corner of the car and then opened the boot. This meant only one thing. I got out the car and despite our language barrier, Tahir and I set to work on changing the flat tyre like a couple of Jenson Buttons pit dudes replacing his softs with hards.

I was on the jack and Tahir was on the nuts, hahaha, and between us I think we set a new record. Tahir even knew the order in which to tighten a 5-stud wheel pattern. It would’ve annoyed the shit out of me being in the back of a car that hadn’t had a tyre replaced correctly.

I arrived at the hotel and was blown away by the marquee that housed the 6 challenge bars, an entertainment bar, stage and grand floor with a lotus flower inspired couch at the centre. The builders had done so much work and they were clearly knackered. So cream crackered, I would find them sleeping in the most obscure places and occasionally, I’d find 2 or even 3 of them spooning. Far less homophobic than the builders I’ve ever worked with.

The captains, Amanda Wan, Angus Zou, Tim Etherington-Judge, Rohan Carvalho, Adi Ruiz and I set to getting our challenge bars up to speed and getting the main bar organized for the first night. Having all the captains together for the first time was great, we knew we had a crazy week in front of us, but led by Tim E-J who, not once took his eye off the summit and kept us climbing throughout.

Guests arrived, cocktails were supped, announcements were made and a large, warm Delhi welcome was given. The following day would be the start of the competition seeing the Bartenders through each challenge to whittle them down to regional winners and then of course the Global World Class winner who would be taking the mantle from Erik Lorincz. Who was going to take the crown? You already know, I’m sure.

Unnecessary comments/jokes about my height tally: 7…a good first day.

Day 2 First Day of competition

Preparing for the pairing

It had started; there was a major buzz in the air. In fact I hadn’t seen this much excitement for cocktails since I was making them for my cousin Greta Wohlstadt and her crazy, crazy pals, Eliza, Sophie, Jill and Lauren earlier this year. If you see this quintet of exquisiteness high heeling around Adelaide, keep your distance. It’s for your own safety.

The first morning was a little shaky for some and embarrassing for others. For starters, I wasn’t dressed like the rest of the captains, but I maintain that I was told, that for the challenges it was traditional Indian garmenting. Lucky for me, my red face blended in rather well with the outfit. At my bar food was served, on time I might add, and paired cocktails were dreamt up. The idea, as you could most likely imagine was to create 2 cocktails to compliment or contrast 2 of the 6 canapés on offer.

The first contestant was Olivier Jacobs of Belgium, my god did he set the standard high. Presentation, eloquence and a damn sharp outfit made this guy one to watch, my stand out for the first session.

The afternoon session saw the next batch of contestants through where I was to meet with Raconteur Bar legend and UK representative Jamie MacDonald. My money was firmly on him from day 1. A great performance by the wee lad, a cool presentation peppered with sharp wit and a pair of blue suede shoes that unfortunately couldn’t be judged by the aforementioned Dan Estremadoyro. All this gave me further hope for Jamie take the overall prize. Wish I jotted down what he made that afternoon. Aye.

Unnecessary comments/jokes about my height tally: we only had another 3 today, taking it to a total of 10.

Day 3 Half day of competitions and the Johnnie Walker Blue Label new bottle launch.

Today was slightly more relaxed in terms of amount of bartenders through my camp as we had just the morning session to get through. It was however the most testing in terms of organizing everything around the bartenders and the kitchen. Dress rehearsal, yesterday, anybody? Heinz from Austria stood up and made a rather large impression on me that day, an impression to match his mighty European frame.

Speaking of large European men, I also met Torsten Spuhn for the first time, the German representative. He had a list of requirements for his day of competition (tomorrow) and given his reputation, I wondered just how long and obscure this list could be. I was also wondering why, the day before he had even tried the food, he knew what he needed for this particular challenge. Did Torsten have the secret police working for him? Possibly so, rumour had it that Torsten exceeded his baggage limit by some 70kilograms. You put 2 and 2 together, that’s all I’m saying.

The latter half of the day was all about Johnnie Walker Blue Label; literally the whole place was turned blue through the afternoon, in earnest of the Global Launch of the new bottle shape and design. Spooning with your colleagues just wasn’t an option that day, so much had to be done before ‘curtains up’ Bitters needed decanting into atomizers, some 1600+ serves of Whisky needed to be poured and most surfaces needed to be painted or lit in some shade of blue.

Two fine gents from Purl Bar, London had been called upon to come up with some memorable serves for the evening. One such serve was a simple lashing of Johnnie Walker Blue in a wine glass set in a traditional Scottish quaiche. Inside the quaiche was a Scottish fog, fuelled by crumbles of dry ice, bringing the sweet, aromatic fog to life for a visual appeal like no other. Then the Blue Label Launch invitee was able to select from a range of reputed bitters and some purpose made bitters.

This was a popular way to get the party simmering and one that will cement the night in guests’ memories for a long time to come. A Big Blue Label thank you goes out to Tristan and Tom from Purl for working that afternoon and helping to make it a smooth evening for all.

Unnecessary comments/jokes about my height tally: 15, getting back up to speed.

Day 4 Halfway through the challenges and the forsaken Bar Safari

So, challenges were becoming second nature to myself and to the kitchen and today was a squeaky clean act, something I tried to create every day, so as to put the competitors at ease. Ensuring good performances could be recorded on the judging sheets. The only hiccup today was the loss of our dear German friend, Torsten Spuhn. I wasn’t sure how a man of such huge stature and grand persona could go a miss.

This unforeseen event set everything back by a couple of hours and had me a little ‘pissed off’ as it was eating into my afternoon break. Time where I planned to curl up behind a little Indian man and lose a couple hours snoring in his ear. Sure enough though, the big Spuhn (no pun intended) appeared, and as soon as I saw Torstens friendly face apologize and explain that he was upstairs in his room preparing and polishing his equipments, Ja, I instantly forgave him and realized that sleep was just not necessary this week.

This man worked so hard, the previous day he told me he had been awake until 5:30am, most nights, rehearsing, preparing his ingredients and “polishing his equipment”. Hats off to Torsten.

Into the evening, the captains along with other World Class Ambassadors were to host 4 separate parties around town seeing busloads of invited guests experience and taste the different offerings of each destination. In the lead up to this event I had trained a couple venues bartenders in making the drinks and was looking forward to seeing all the familiar faces from the competition come through and sample the tipples.

Unfortunately though, there was a bit of danger surrounding the event after news of explosions in Mumbai had come to our knowledge. The night was called off and we were to return to the safety of the Imperial Hotel. A bit of a shame, but I didn’t really fancy hearing any bad news or having that kind of a stigma attached to such a wonderful event.

Unnecessary comments/jokes about my height tally: 23, a big day. Lots of the Asia Pacific supporters through my bar though. Oooh Rusty, you so big…Ahem.

Day 5 Last day of Competition and Awards Ceremony.

So, the final day, just the morning session of challenges before large amounts of celebration for one and all. This was also my chance to have a couple Australian lads through my Bar, Ryan Norieks (China rep) and Tim Phillips (Australian rep and fellow barlifeUK blogger) Unfortunately I know very little of the Australian Bar scene, but both of these guys came to my knowledge with a reputation of being great bartenders and all round good guys. This was more than true of the pair.

In fact Tim Philips and I shared a most memorable VB together the night before the competition got underway. During the challenge, I was blown away by Ryan’s absinth, kaffir lime, mint and lemongrass fog that he produced for one of his drinks. Something I’m sure it would take most bartenders a good week to think of and Ryan pulled it out the bag within a mere fraction of that time. Tim dazzled me with his drink prepared over naked flame.

I stood beside armed with fire extinguisher, secretly hoping something would go wrong so I could unleash the pressurized contents of the red can. However, his was Tim Phillips, nothing was going to go wrong. A slick presentation, definitely the most confident and full delivery in explanation of the flavours and beverages he chose to pair with the foods. Tim deserved to have the tag ‘red hot favourite’ from what I witnessed.

So, challenges were done, the last thing to do was a blind tasting by all contestants on a spirit of their choice. The task was to distinguish a reserve brand from an inferior competitors and a ‘super market’ brand. A swift exercise for most, made easy by the fact that the ‘supermarket’ stuff here in India is as easy to separate from the bunch as we used to do on playschool. Sing it, “one of these thing is not like the others, one of these things is not the same”

So with a small break before the evenings fare, Adi Ruiz and I escaped to his hotel room. No. Not to spoon. But for a gorge on some of the cured meat Torsten Spuhn had given me earlier that day. Amazing!

Returning to the Pavilion, the captains gathered for one last push from behind the bar. Adi was paired with Angus Winchester, pushing Juniper delights from his bar, the lucky git, while other individual bars around the pavilion, previously used for challenges were adorned with reserve brands. My bar housed the Zacapa 23 and XO, another saw Antonio Lai concocting signature serves with Ketel One.

We also had a Malt Bar, A Johnnie Walker bar and another one, meh. We also had the main bar pushing Ciroc deliciousness and Johnnie Walker Blue Label sublime. Before this got into full swing though, we were blessed to be present at the announcement of the Global Finalist Winner. This gave bragging rights to the one bartender that put in all those months of preparation, dazzled the judges and gradually edged out his rivals as the weeks challenges were met.

From the dazzling pavilion the 32 finalists were snaked around the stunning hotel grounds, guided by elephants, gorgeous saree’d ladies and the loudest traditional Indian band I have ever heard, to one of the grand banquet rooms to find out who was to be this years winner.

We were welcomed by Dr. Spike Marchant, dressed in a traditional Indian, collarless suit. He created a warm ambience in the room, while giving the crowd a well-rounded commentary of the week that was, and a Dr. Evil impression that will stay with me for a very long time to come. I had my fingers crossed that he’d give the particular line from Austin Powers 2, when Bob Nolet came on stage “how ‘bout no! ya crazy Dutch…” Unsurprisingly, that joke went begging.

The first of the accolades to be handed out were the winners of the individual challenges. Our boy, Mr. India, Hemant Pathak, took out the Vintage, Challenge Twist round, not an easy round to win with the cocktail genius that was shared by the 32 competitors.

We had been working with Hemant in the lead-up to the event and this was a well-deserved prize for the lad, who isn’t even old enough to drink in the city of Delhi yet. Haha.  A few times, whilst working with him at The Blue Bar in the Taj Palace hotel, I caught him slumped in a chair, recipe sheets in hand, snoring his little face off. Bless the little man, all that work paid off Hemant. Great job, my dear friend! And yes, a few tears were shed. Not me though, too tough for that carry on.

The other 5 challenge winners were named, some of the most notable favourites of the week, stepped up and took the floral garlands from the saree’d beauties. Then we were to find out the 3 regional winners from the week, they were as follows.

  • Asia Pacific: Manabu Ohtake
  • Europe and the Middle East: Heinz Kaiser
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: Jesus Cabrera

These announcements sent everyone into a tizz, who was going to be the champ? If these names were regional winners, can they be overall winners? Tim Philips, for sure. Nope, Jamie Mac, deff. The atmosphere was electric.

And so the time had come to crown the new champion, the man, or woman, that could say that he was the best Bartender after a week long competition, being judged by the worlds most expert authorities on cocktails and come through the other side, scoring higher and more consistently than the 31 other competitors.

Drums were rolling, kind of, and the winner was named. The 2011 winner of the Diageo World Class Cocktail competition was…Manabu Ohtake from Japan! A worthy winner whose hand was swift and elegant and whose presentation of cocktail and self was exceptional. Manabu threw his arms up in excitement at the call and embraced 31 hugs, kisses and blessings. The boy was beside himself as Erik walked him to “The Chair” to sit as the World’s Best.

Manabu put his gracious self aside, as did Ueno san, who set Manabu atop his shoulders, I’m not sure how he managed it, but all 4’10” of him did. What a moment. I stood and observed from the back of the room, countries embraced, tears flowed and dreams were realized. At that moment I felt truly blessed to have been involved in such a brilliant spectacle, witnessing the toil that made it all possible and the emotion shared by every competitor, organizer, guru, chef and invitee.

This was our industry at her finest. I bathed myself in the atmosphere for just a moment more before Tim E Judge, Amanda, Angus, Rohan Adi and I ran to face the onslaught of celebration. We celebrated by welcoming competitors onto our respective bars to make drinks and ease the load. Funny though, the bartenders we allowed behind the bar, just drank the Johnnie Blue. Dry.

So, that was my week. A fantastic 5 days and a truly unforgettable time. People, thanked myself and the other captains for the work that was done throughout the week, however, I don’t feel like I work a single minute. I was so fortunate to be involved and I hope that I can be again. Thanks to one and all and congratulations go to all of the 32 competitors who represented themselves and their countries proudly.