Global cocktail comps can catapult relative unknowns to almost celebrity status in our industry. They can open (previously locked and bolted) doors and create a tight-knit group of individuals with endless back-scratching potential.
As 54 competitors from across the globe tried to hold their nerve this week for Diageo’s World Class final, we caught up with the first winner of the Chivas Masters Global Comp, Masa Urushido, to talk Japanese drinking culture, and how to use big comps as a career springboard.
‘Global competitions are a great way of bringing together talented bartenders in one collaborative environment,’ Urushido said.
‘There’s so much you can learn – not only from the other competitors but also often from the esteemed judges.
‘For me, one of the best things is that winning is by no means the end of your journey. Competitions are a great way of forming strong relationships with bartenders from all corners of the world, providing a great opportunity to really expand your network and build bonds with people who can support you later in your career.’
Four years on, Urushido said he still feels part of ‘The Chivas Masters brotherhood’. ‘I’ve made friends for life who inspire me and help me grow as a bartender. I am confident this network will continue to expand as the competition grows each year,’ he added.
They might bring you together, but there’s a lot to be said for retaining your own style, according to Urushido.
‘In Japan the bartending philosophy, as identified by Max Warner, focuses on the four Ps – process, prestige, precision and politeness. These are key skills for creating a unique experience that is tailored to the needs of each customer, with perfection at its core.
‘Winning the competition provided a great platform for me not only to represent my country and our wonderful industry – but also to put Saxon + Parole on the global stage. It’s undeniable that the Chivas Masters is well recognised as one of the leading spirits competitions, so being crowned winner was a real honour.’
Other than exposure and a contacts book to die for, the skills gained at these sort of comps can set you up for life.
‘The skills you gain as a finalist are really valuable and can be applied when you get back home behind your own bar,’ he said. ‘The competition really allows you to think creatively and allowed me to expand the ways that I use whisky, and in particular, Chivas Regal, which is something that I’ve been putting to good use since winning.’
But how do you win? Surely it can’t just be the four Ps? ‘You just have to focus on what you do every day. When I was in the final, I tried to keep things simple so I could bring out my key strengths in every challenge. It’s important to strike a balance between producing a drink people will enjoy whilst making sure your personality shines through.
‘For me, the focus should always be on the guest – they are the start and the beginning of the story and I use the drink as a vessel to carry this. In Japan we have the term, Omotenshi, which is a form of hospitality that focuses on every aspect of the customer experience. From the moment we greet the guest to the moment they sip the cocktail, I always ensure that they have a memorable experience.’