World Class Vietnam 2023’s Rising Star Nguyen Cong Truyen Can Taste The Future

This year, World Class Vietnam welcomed some stellar international bartending talent as judges. And it offered some of the toughest challenges ever for its 20 contestants during the two-day finals held at Qui Lounge Saigon. In 2022, Nguyen Cong Truyen had reached the top eight. But this year, he went one better. Meet The Rising Star Of World Class Vietnam 2023 for a taste of the future.

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

Nguyen Cong Truyen is a bundle of energy and enthusiasm. The diminutive bartender (he’s nicknamed ‘ant’ for obvious reasons) found a fitting home, when two leading lights of the Vietnamese bartending industry, Thep Dinh and Lam Duc Anh, opened Stir – Modern Classic Cocktail Bar in March 2021. 

A little over a year later, Stir – Modern Classic Cocktail Bar entered Asia’s 50 Best Bars 51-100 list at #84. And the same year, Nguyen Cong Truyen entered World Class Vietnam for the first time. There, while serving his cocktails, he rapped, he recreated a night out eating street food, and he charismatically climbed his way into the Top 8. 

Now, he’s The Rising Star Of World Class Vietnam 2023.

Bartender Nguyen Cong Truyen
“I want to be the kind of star that makes everyone around me proud.” – DIAGEO World Class Vietnam’s Rising Star Nguyen Cong Truyen

What Kind Of Star Are You? And Where Are You Rising To?

Oh man. What an honor to be named a rising star! It’s definitely the highpoint of my career so far. But I didn’t get here alone. I’m eternally grateful to everyone who’s helped me along the way. I want to be the kind of star that makes everyone around me proud. And I hope I can inspire people following in my footsteps to continue doing what they love!

While We’re On That Topic, Which Three People Have Made The Biggest Impact On You So Far?

First, there’s Trung Nguyen. He’s based in Da Lat, and works at 444 – Cocktail Lovers and Don Quixote. He was my first teacher, the one who taught me the foundations of this industry. 

Second, and I’m not just saying this, is Lam Duc Anh. He’s Brand Ambassador for DIAGEO and also the co-owner of Stir – Modern Classic Cocktail Bar. He was instrumental in persuading me to join the team. Lam Duc Anh showed me the beauty in the business we’re in, and the spirit to never give up. 

Which brings me to my last choice, the entire Stir – Modern Classic Cocktail Bar team including Thep Dinh and Hoai Bao. I’d be nothing without them. It’s that simple. 

You Always Bring A Unique Energy To Competitions Like DIAGEO World Class Vietnam. What’s Your Approach To Success Before, During And After The Events?

Time, spirit, practice and attitude! Take the time to develop concepts and ideas before competitions take place. Then, when the opportunity comes, conquer it with the spirit of a warrior. And make sure you practice. Go after it like ants go for food. Then, even if you win, keep the attitude of a student. Keep learning new things until it’s time for the next journey. Never rest. And never wallow in defeat!

Which Part Of World Class 2023 Did You Enjoy The Most And Which Part Scared You The Most?

Honestly, the joy and relaxation only comes the day after the awards ceremony! Then, I get to reflect on how well I did. And I’ll try to draw some lessons from what happened. Plus, I can finally get a good night’s sleep knowing that it’s over. 

The scariest moment is one hour before the contest begins. I’m nervous. I’m stressed. I won’t have slept much in the days leading up to the event. But, I remind myself that I’m also excited. 

DIAGEO World Class Vietnam 2023 Rising Star
“Never rest. Never wallow in defeat!”

Which One Cocktail You’ve Ever Created Would You Serve To A Guest For Them To Understand You As A Bartender?

For me, classic cocktails are always the measure of a bartender’s skill. Each one has different ingredients and a different method of preparation. If I had to choose one, it would be a Whisky Sour. It took me so much practice to perfect it. 

You Can Invite Any Three Guests To Stir Living Or Dead. Who Do You Invite And Why? And What Do You Serve To Each One Of Them?

The first person is my dad. We’re super close. And we’re always planning and scheming together. I want to make him proud, and I hope that he will be, seeing me behind the bar doing my thing. 

The second person is Nujabes. He’s a pioneering Japanese producer and a beat maker that I love, who sadly passed away in 2010.

I often listen to his music when I’m creating cocktail recipes. The music gives me all these emotions, and I try to channel some of them into the drinks I’m concocting. That way, drinking it will be more sensory. And satisfying. 

Last, I’m choosing Joe Schofield, one of my idols from the early days of my career. I’m always impressed with his wild creativity. The only question is whether I’d be able to handle making drinks for three of my idols? I’d like to have the chance to find out. 

Nguyen Cong Truyen at Stir - Modern Cocktail Bar
Truyen at his beloved Stir – Modern Cocktail Bar counter.

If You Came To Stir As A Guest, Where Would You Sit And What Would You Order?

Naturally, I’d opt for the bar counter. I like to watch what the bartenders are doing. And I would order a Nấm và Hoa, one of Stir – Modern Classic Cocktail Bar’s best sellers. It’s a twist on a Martini. It’s sweeter and easier to drink. And it has a balance of truffle and gin, followed by some elderflower notes.

Name The Top 3 Bars In Vietnam Right Now Besides Stir.

Enigma is a new and unique space. The drinks are handled delicately, with many layers of flavor. That’s thanks to their use of lots of devices for making modernist cocktails, like their rotovap. It makes me feel like I can taste the future. 

Then there’s Hybrid Saigon. Like Enigma, it’s a bar with a simple but eye-catching design that reflects the moon and the sea. They make their drinks with unique Vietnamese ingredients. And they process them in new ways. The result is some thoughtful and impressive cocktails. Besides drinks, the  bar snack menu at Hybrid Saigon is also a special experience.

Finally, I’m choosing PK Maltroom. Their whiskey collection is huge. And the space is cool – all dreamy and romantic. The classic cocktails are good there too.

Right Now, If You Could Create A Bar From Your Wildest Imagination To Own, What Would It Be Like? And What Would You Call It?

I always think of a bar with only 12 seats, maybe 6 couples or 3 groups of friends. The fewer the seats, the more I can interact with the customers. 

I’d change the drinks weekly. The ingredients would be local. There’d also be a small table with two seats. That would be for the special service. Guests there would wear headphones, we’d turn on their favorite music, and they’d watch life go past with their favorite soundtrack. We’d serve drinks based on the different emotions the music is giving them, like a personalized music and cocktail pairing. 

The bar would be called Slow Motion. 

Rising Star Nguyen Cong Truyen
Rising Star Nguyen Cong Truyen is back to earth, and back to Stir – Modern Cocktail bar.

What Will Vietnam’s Bar Scene Be Like In 5 Years Time? And Where Will It Rank Regionally?

I’m guessing that the bar industry in Vietnam will develop greatly. Customers will understand more about this culture. 

The best part is that young bartenders are becoming more and more professional and taking advantage of the knowledge gleaned from lots of different industries. I don’t dare guess Vietnam’s position on the world rankings, because wherever we are, it will be a pleasant surprise!

And Finally, Where Will You Be Then? And What Would You Like To Have Achieved By Then Personally?

In five years time, I’ll return to Vietnam from a journey around the world. And I wouldn’t come back empty handed. I would return with enough knowledge to enrich the industry here. And I’d share everything with my colleagues and bartenders here. That way, we could transmit Vietnamese culture with more vibrancy, to even further around the world than I’d have traveled.

Photos by Nghia Ngo for The Dot Magazine.

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