After three months of training and three waves of competition, the local final of the World Class competition for bartenders and mixologists was held last week at the La Boucan Room of the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre.
From an initial field of over 30 competitors, the distinguished panel of judges selected ten finalists and nine were able to compete for the grand prize trophy.
Last year's winner, Stephon Scott of the Tradewinds Hotel in San Fernando, repeated his world-class feat and once again claimed victory at the prestigious event.
"I am feeling great because the competition was a lot harder than last year and all the bartenders brought their A-game," Scott enthused after winning. "So I feel really proud to come out on top because I put in a lot of hard work and I just knew it would pay off in the finals. I knew the race was tight and it would be close between myself, Karlina and Tyrone Benjamin from the Hilton, so yesterday I went back to basics – one of my closest friends told me I just needed to relax and refocus, so that's exactly what I did and came feeling fresh to the contest today."
Hosted by internationally renowned spirits distributor Diageo, the World Class competition tests not only basic blending and mixing techniques and food-pairing skills, but also reviews every aspect of the presentations made by the competitors, including: their dress, speech, mannerisms, personalities and especially, their knowledge of the brands and other ingredients they use in each their drinks.
The finals were held over two days with competitors first required to "beat the clock" and make cocktails within a specified period of time. The second challenge on the first day involved the creation of a ritual for one of the three brands being featured, namely: Ron Zacapa Rum, Ketel One Vodka and Johnnie Walker Blue.
Scott faced fierce competition from the other eight finalists, namely: Ravi Maharaj, Kester Blake, Richard Atkins, Christian Pantaleon, Martin James, Tyrone Benjamin, Dale Gokool and Karlina Permell – and was obliged to "pull out all the stops" in order to excel and place himself "a cut above the rest".
On the second day of competition, all finalists were asked to make a "Classic Cocktail with a Twist" early in the afternoon and the top two finalists were then chosen to face-off against each other later that evening. Scott and Permell emerged victorious at this stage and were then asked to make two cocktails of their own choosing for a man and another two for a woman.
"The first cocktail I made today was for the challenge of a classic cocktail with a twist," Scott described, "and I did a lot of research on this and I actually found a cocktail which was made here in Trinidad in 1920 at the Queen's Park Hotel.
Now, this hotel doesn't exist any more and the building where it used to be is where bpTT and TGIFridays are now around the Queen's Park Savannah.
At the time, it was considered the premier British hotel on the island and guests paid anywhere from one to five pounds sterling a night. Now the recipe for this cocktail requires it to be swizzled and the swizzle stick was also made right here, so I knew this one would hit the judges in the hearts because it was made right here using a classic tool which was also made in Trinidad."
Setting the stage with a romantic display of roses and lit candles, Scott then wooed the judges and the audience with his final cocktail – which he dedicated to a very special lady.
"This cocktail was dedicated to a brilliant lady from T&T, Clotil Walcott," explained Scott. "She revolutionised the trade union movement in T&T and implemented a lot of things to help workers in the field. I dedicated this cocktail to her and it's a very exceptional blend of Amaretto, Brazilian Honey, Orang Juice and Ketel One Vodka — the World's Best Vodka. Before all of that, I perfumed the glass with some rose water, so that when the cocktail is being tasted you would get the essence of the rose water as well and that will give it an extra sweetness. I could think of nothing less for such a sweet and special lady from Trinidad and Tobago."
AS Bryden & Sons Co Ltd reserve brand manager Ramona Brahim is "excited" about Scott's chances at the global final this year and "extremely pleased" with the level of skill and improvement displayed by all the competitors.
"It's been very long and arduous," she revealed. "We started in April and its all come down to this moment and we're very happy with the journey and of course, the final results. We definitely feel like we got the best person to represent us in Brazil and we also helped to give the industry here a boost with all the training and the skills that we've seen on display. Yes, it's a competition, but to be honest, they were almost like a team in the end and we saw them giving each other advice and lending each other tools, which was quite remarkable because you know competitions can be quite fierce here in Trinidad and given what was at stake, I feel very proud of all the bartenders that took part and especially those nine finalists as well. I think they definitely showed that they want to learn more and that they are willing to learn more and apply this knowledge to their craft and we at Bryden's will always support that kind of initiative because we know it will contribute to the improvement of the industry, which in turn will increase the well being of all the people that they serve in their various posts."
Scott has less than a month to prepare for the World Class Global Final, which is scheduled to take place from July 8 – 12 at the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
For more information on Scott and/or World Class, please visit the World Class Trinidad page on Facebook.com, or log on to overtimett.com for exclusive footage from the competition.