Winning the final of a national World Class competition is no mean feat. In fact, you have to be pretty darn good. The national competition is never an easy ride, and most of you would have put in plenty of work to get there, regardless of whether you’re from Austria or Vietnam. Once your name is announced as the winner of the World Class National Final and your countrymen and women embrace you, you get your picture taken a thousand times, and you enjoy the party that ensues. Nevertheless, as soon as the dust settles it is time to get started on your next and much greater challenge: the World Class Global Final.
As someone who has mentored, judged, and back-slapped hundreds of bartenders heading to compete at the World Class Global Finals, not to mention having had the honour of competing twice and attending a further four, I find myself pretty qualified to tell you what you should do, but more importantly what you should not do during your week at this big-daddy of cocktail competitions.
Having a moment of reflection is vital before you can take the next step to prepare for the competition that awaits. So here it is, an article written for those who can call themselves the best bartenders in their nation. This is a simple five-step guide on how to prepare for the biggest professional test of your life.
First things first: embrace the media. You will have to if you want to go the whole way. There’s no time for shyness, obscurity, or too-cool-for-school-ness now. When you win World Class, you may be overwhelmed with people wanting your opinion on why you are your country’s best bartender. But embracing and obliging the attention, as well as making time for the people who want to hear your ethos on drinks-making is all part of the deal to enter the competition in the first place. Use this time to make a name for yourself and the bar you are representing, which has supported you through the process thus far.
You got to where you are because of your charm, your talent, but, more importantly, your incredible drink concepts. These drinks, which won you the right to call yourself a national champion, are obviously amazing, and there is no shame in re-using some of these concepts in the global final if they suit the nature of the challenges. Once the ‘Challenge Pack’ for the World Class Global Final is released, you will gain an understanding of the various hoops you will need to jump through, as well as how many challenges you will need to prepare drinks for. Once this is clear, you will have to devote a certain amount of time to prepare for each of these challenges. If you are lucky, some of the cocktails and concepts you presented at your national final can translate to the challenges you will face at the global one. In fact, that’s what the national finals are for: a chance to prepare bartenders for the rigours of the global final, and give them the best opportunity to shine on the global stage.
Recycling that refined and rehearsed serve that won you the national final and the plaudits of the judges will mean you have more time to devote to challenges you need to come up with fresh ideas for. Plus, the more time you have to get fast for a speed challenge (and work on some new jokes), the better.
BE THE BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF
Putting the best version of yourself forward is the name of the game. It’s not your job to be anyone but yourself, but make sure you put your most hospitable and charming foot forward. This means a little (but not a lot) of backside-kissing.
Make sure you make yourself known to the judges earlier in the week of the finals, rather than just before you have to make them a drink in competition. This sense of familiarity will not only help the judges to connect your personality with your performance, but also make your life a lot less stressful as you will be performing in front of a new friend, rather than a stranger you’ve read about on the internet.
REFRAIN FROM THE SIDESHOWS
The World Class Global Final is a circus. This analogy will hold you in good stead if you think of yourself as one of the performers. At a circus, you don’t see the lion-tamer eating cotton candy and drinking lemonade while the magician is performing, and likewise you shouldn’t be hanging out too long at that CÎROC party on a private jet, or whichever other incredible event has been put on for guests who are not there to compete. You are there to win – remember that. You are not there to party.
The World Class Global Final is a very exciting week, and you will have to be on your best behaviour to refrain from sideshows. But trust me, you will have a whole year to party after your name is called out as the winner on the final night in Mexico City.
DON’T LET WINNING GET TO YOUR HEAD
Just because you’ve won a few cocktail competitions doesn’t mean you are better than anyone else other than at that competition, during that day, to those judges. One of the pillars of being great bartender is humility. Wearing the title of ‘the country’s best’ means your ego will be given a constant gentle massage by thousands of people, but my advice is to ignore all of this. Be thankful for it, but continue to listen and learn from others, and know that there is always someone better then you.
This attitude, as well as taking heed of the former instructions, will help you to become the best you can be. Whether that’s finishing in the 50th or first place, you will have no regrets if you have worked your hardest and done your best.
At the end of the day, making cocktails should be fun. What we as bartenders do for a living truly is a joy, and translating that joy into your competition serves, as well as relaying your personality, should be your first priority during the competition.
I look forward to seeing you all at the Global Finals, and watching your creativity unfold. Good luck!