It is almost 12 months since Michito Kaneko was crowned the World Class Bartender of the Year at a triumphant ceremony in South Africa. Representing Japan, Michito masterfully stirred and strained his way into the top six before being crowned the overall winner at one of the most competitive World Class finals to date.
Think of everything, you cannot prepare enough. You need to practice, practice and then practice some more
In two months’ time our 2016 finalists will be descending on the cosmopolitan city of Miami, Florida, for a week of challenges and tests which will push the bartenders to their professional limit. Ahead of this year’s finals we caught up with Michito to check out how his term as World Class Bartender of the Year has been, and his advice for those preparing to represent their country in Miami this September…
Why did you decide to enter the World Class competition?
Living and working in a rural part of Japan, the bar culture is quite limited so I wanted to experience the bigger picture and discover what was going on overseas. The Japanese bar industry is very advanced in terms of skill and technique and I have learnt a lot, but I wanted to experience something new – that’s why I entered World Class.
How has winning World Class changed your life?
Since winning World Class my life has become so much busier and I love it! My bar, Lamp Bar, in Nara, Japan has become very popular – previously I did everything at the bar but in light of winning, and the increased worldwide interest that comes with this I have expanded my bar team. It is mind blowing that people are travelling from around the world to visit my bar.
Nara is a beautiful, traditional Japanese city which is known for its heritage and charm and not for being cosmopolitan so it is incredible that my achievement is showcasing Nara as a place of mixology excellence around the world.
Winning World Class has also given me the chance to travel. I am invited around the world to Judge and guest bartend in some incredible locations. Recently I was lucky enough to travel to Mexico where I filmed in the beautiful One&Only resort, creating a bespoke cocktail for the hotel’s menu – it was such an amazing experience!
What have been the main highlights of your year as World Class bartender?
Judging – I have loved this experience. I have judged in some brilliant finals in Japan, Korea and across Asia. It is strange as a year ago I was competing and worrying about taking part, and now I can sit back and enjoy as some of the greatest bartenders in the world serve me! I am really looking forward to Miami; I will be sad to hand over my title as World Class bartender – but I am excited to see what the finals bring and how much the industry has evolved and grown in the last year.
What were your highlights from the World Class 2015 finals in South Africa?
My highlight has to be the “Against the Clock” challenge as it was my first challenge and it all went perfectly to plan. I had practiced and prepared for it the most and my efforts paid off during the finals. This really helped my confidence; I believe doing well in the first challenge helped me to go on and win the overall title.
What did you find most difficult about the finals?
The most challenging aspects are the unknowns and the new environment. While it’s difficult to work in a new bar, trying to work at a bar that has nothing but what you bring requires a whole new level of preparation – you have no idea what will be there and need to be ready to improvise. As much as you can practice at your bar, everything changes if the bars dimensions are different.
What was the inspiration behind your pop up bar?
My first name Michito means “Man” and “Road” in Japanese, and would translate in English to “Travelling Man”. Taking inspiration from this I decided to base my bar on a cocktail journey around the world. I created this theme by dressing the bar with an antique suitcase, globe map, old books and even a model sailing ship, and calling it the “Travelling Man Bar”.
The journey began firstly in Scotland with a cocktail showcasing Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve then, moved to France where I made the Cîroc Emerald cocktail using the French based vodka. The final stop was Japan, where I mixed a Japanese punch based on Tanqueray No. TEN gin, as well as lots of Japanese ingredients.
What advice would you give to the finalists participating in the Global final this September?
I would advise the finalists to think of everything, you cannot prepare enough. You need to practice, practice and then practice some more.
I prepared the best I could, I even practiced making mistakes as you need to prepare for every eventuality. For the speed challenge I practised pouring the wrong ingredients into the shaker so I would know how to recover without losing a beat. I took items such as a pan and a hot plate with me to South Africa in case some ingredients were not available and I could make them in my room at night. I prepared for every eventuality and this gave me the best chance for success, this year’s finalists should to do the same.