DIAGEO’S World Class is far more than a bartending competition. Success requires creativity, a deep understanding of craft, and in the final round, where the top eight go head-to-head against the clock, a fluent knowledge of 30 classic cocktails, and the skills to make quality drinks quickly. But with a trip to the finals in Sydney, Australia to compete against the world’s best bartenders as first prize, no one said it was going to be easy.
Đọc bằng tiếng Việt
It’s exhausting. Two long days of intense rounds for the 19 competitors at Tê Cocktail Bar, Danang with the discerning five judges’ eyes (and tastebuds) trained upon them. And lots of waiting around between rounds for the bartenders hoping to win World Class Vietnam 2022 and that trip to Sydney.
Not that the event was overly serious and stressful. There were singalongs, slideshows, acoustic guitars, Strepsil throat sweet garnishes, Thai-greetings, a cathartic awards ceremony and closing event at Kiseru where the winners were announced, and in between lots of power naps when no one was watching.
Previous winners have gone on to great things. Pham Tien Tiep, winner in 2012, from Hanoi’s Nê.Cocktailbar created the Pho Cocktail and has gone on to open bars like Cocktail & Wine Lab. 2013 winner Thanh Tung, former beverage manager of QUI (a bar which provided three more finalists this year), is now brand ambassador for Beams Suntory. And Tu Hoang Duy, The Vinh, and Thep Dinh, winners over the next three years have all opened bars that have helped shape the industry here – most recently with Thep Dinh’s Stir – Modern Cocktail Bar which was the only bar in Vietnam on this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars extended list. Finally, last year’s winner Vu Ngoc, who made a clean sweep of the rounds on his way to the title in 2021, is the co-founder of Doozy Hanoi, and a soon-to-launch new project in Saigon. It’s a timeline that also brought us up to ten years of World Class Vietnam this year.
The five discerning judges, Anan Restaurant’s Peter Cuong Franklin, writer and F&B marketer Jovel Chan, Mood Therapist Richard McDonough, PK Maltroom’s Nguyen Minh Khanh, and Pham Minh Tan, founder of The Alley Cocktail Bar & Kitchen, The ATM Cocktail Bar & Kitchen, Tre Eatery & Bar, and The Liquid House, gave marks on the three rounds before the top eight were announced.
First, was the ‘Tanqueray No.TEN Martini Atelier’ Challenge, won by Ngo Kim Uyen. Then the ‘Don Julio Culture Club’ Challenge, won by Alex Phan Thanh Phu, from Madam Kew, and finally the ‘Singleton & Talisker Dram Dialetics’ Challenge which Ngo Kim Uyen also won. Then the top eight went to the timed classics showdown. Paired up, the contestants picked five classics in a ‘lucky draw’ – anything from a Negroni, an Old Fashioned or a Moscow Mule, to a French 75, a Rosita or a Bee’s Knees – which they had 30 minutes to prepare for, without the help of Google after reluctantly handing over their phones as the round began. Like the previous rounds, they were judged on strict criteria: hosting, craft, flavor, knowledge and this time a challenge bonus for speed. After an intense series of showdowns, Vang Hieu Trung from Dot Bar won, making his five judge-pleasing cocktails in a time of 6 minutes 11 seconds (while Kim Uyen clocked a remarkable time of 4 minutes 11 seconds).
Which left us waiting for the announcement of this year’s World Class Vietnam winner, and a new ‘Rising Star Award’. After a tense wait, and the challenge winner announcements being completed first, Ngo Kim Uyen became the World Class Vietnam Rising Star and Vang Hieu Trung the Winner of World Class Vietnam 2022.
So, we caught up with all three challenge winners, special award winner and main prize winner, Alex Phan Thanh Phu, Kim Ngo Uyen and Vang Hieu Trung to find out what it took to succeed at this year’s event.
To you, what three things does it take to be a great bartender?
Vang Hieu Trung: For me the three things are passion, being humble and being patient. Passion because you should do what you love…and love what you do. Being humble because there’s always something to learn and ways to upgrade your knowledge and skills. And we should never forget that. And being patient because sometimes things don’t go the way we wanted them to. When you think about quitting, remember how far you’ve already come.
Alex Phan Thanh Phu: I think knowledge and hospitality are really key. You really need to know your ingredients – for example you probably don’t want to use durian with alcohol, right? And as for hospitality, it’s such a huge topic you could spend all day and night talking about it. But, in short, the best bartender knows what the customer wants, and how to give it to them…
Ngo Kim Uyen: For me, it’s knowledge, connection and the heart and courage to go out there and be great. Knowledge is more than bar knowledge – in fact it’s really important to know about life beyond the bar, about culture and rituals, and art and much more. Similarly, we need to connect to customers, but also to the industry and our peers. And we need heart, because we need to live and breathe this life every day, every moment…
How did you respond to the three challenge briefs?
Vang Hieu Trung: With My Heal The World, made with Tanqueray no.TEN, I wanted to share a story about the connection between our past and our future. A Profession Of Hope, made with Don Julio, was a tribute to farmers both in Mexico and in Vietnam, which allowed me to show my love of my hometown, Dalat. And finally, my Connect The Dot, with Singleton Glen Ord 12 Years Whisky was a Highball with tea, which showed the cultural exchange between Asia and Europe.
Alex Phan Thanh Phu: I made Prayed For Land, with a ginger pandan syrup solution, hot tofu coconut foam, and black sesame seed, a tribute to Vietnamese spiritual rituals. Then I made my Green Gift, with Tanqueray TEN, guava vermouth, and corn silk mint spheres, a drink that gives thanks to the gift that mother nature has given to us. And finally, The Keeper, with Don julio, smoky chao brine, cinnamon syrup, lime, tomato juice, tabasco, burnt okra, a cocktail about giving and receiving, and the gifts of the earth.
Ngo Kim Uyen: For the Tanqueray No.TEN challenge, I made a signature Martini. I called it the Martini Melody – a melody of local ingredients, and a Martini built like a symphony with the Tanqueray No.TEN as conductor leading the sounds of my aromatic wine. The aromatics I made from fermented don du guava with mang tang from Tay Nguyen, and lots of other ingredients from other places too. For the ‘Don Julio Blanco – Culture Club challenge’ my cocktail was called Diamond From Mud. I used lotus as the main ingredient, making a pickled lotus root. I drew a parallel between the growing lotus and the blue agave cactus inside Don Julio tequila. The theme of growth also applied to us contestants, to never back down and to always go further. Finally, for the ‘Dram Dialectics’ challenge I used Talisker to recreate a ritual from Phu Le commune Ben Tre – VietNam, the Sac Bua cocktail based on a ritual of singing during Tet holiday. Like the ritual, my cocktail had four parts.
What strategy did you use to make your drinks so quickly in the timed head-to-head round?
Ngo Kim Uyen: I studied really hard before the event. And then, after we drew the five classic cocktails we had to make, I thought up a detailed plan and executed it as quickly and as well as I could.
Alex Phan Thanh Phu: There’s no secret. I just wanted to be me, and express myself. The hardest was the Old Cuban. I’ve actually never made one before in my life. I may have made some mistake with that one.
Vang Hieu Trung: I ran through how I would make the cocktails in my head so many times in the time we had to prepare. And before the event, I’d pushed myself to make four or five different drinks as quickly as I could again and again. For me, the hardest to make is the Classic Dry Martini. It’s simple, but hard to get right.
What advice would you give to a bartender to succeed in 2023?
Alex Phan Thanh Phu: Read the rules carefully and follow them to the letter! And if you don’t know, ask. Personally, I suggest not sleeping between rounds – you don’t want people sleeping when it’s your turn so if you’re tired take a break and go home. Applaud the success of others and you’ll get it back in return. Besides that, keep it real and be yourself. Practice. And enjoy.
Vang Hieu Trung: Practice, practice, practice. Also, find your strengths and develop them. And fight with all your might until the very end.
Ngo Kim Uyen: My advice would be to act confident, even if you don’t feel confident! And prepare meticulously.
Finally, what will be your abiding memory of World Class Vietnam 2022?
Alex Phan Thanh Phu: The night before we went home, after the awards were announced. Finally, there was no more competition between us, and no more nerves. It was just a bunch of people having fun.
Ngo Kim Uyen: Honestly? I think I’m going to remember every single moment of these two days at World Class Vietnam 2022. It was two days of excitement and happiness, and those memories are going to propel me to get even better.
Vang Hieu Trung: So many, but my thoughts now turn to Sydney. I’ll keep a close eye on plans for the event and seek advice from these incredible people that have gone before me.
All photos courtesy of DIAGEO World Class Vietnam.