International cocktail competitions are where you’ll find the creme de la creme of bartenders. But how can you show judges you and your drinks are number one? Holly Motion asks a world champion
Back in May, Ran Van Ongevalle of The Pharmacy bar in Knokke-Heist, Belgium, came out on top at Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition and made his mark on the bartending world.
The multi-stage competition is one of the biggest among the cocktail community – and overall winners receive a year’s worth of support from Bacardi to help them achieve their career goals.
But with so many big hitters on the bill even at national level, entering this competition – and others – can often be a daunting prospect. We caught up with Ongevalle to talk top tips, trends and training.
‘Practice making your drink and your presentation over and over again. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments,’ Ongevalle says.
‘I asked for feedback from many people and always valued even the slightest piece, to help me improve my presentation and my drink.’
Practice, in the Belgian’s case, made perfect. The winning drink, Clarita, is pared-back and sleek in its appearance; served straight up with just a few drops of olive oil for garnish and only five ingredients.
That doesn’t mean he would avoid a complicated recipe, however – the most important thing is making sure the drink’s components work with each other. ‘I don’t see why over-complicating drinks would be dangerous, as long as the flavours match and the total package makes sense,’ he says. ‘They say that less is more, but if the combination works, it just works.
‘I think a good bartender today is aware of the produce he/she uses, i.e. the source and quality of them,’ he continues. He gives the example of his friend Rich Woods, whose single-origin menu at London’s Duck and Waffle aims to extract layers of flavour from one ingredient for each cocktail – tapping into the trend for a no-waste, sustainable approach.
So what else is hot right now? ‘I honestly think it depends on the market,’ says Ongevalle. ‘In Belgium, for example, we’re seeing a growing trend in aperitivo and bitter-style drinks, whereas in other countries, we are seeing a revival of old style cocktails.
‘My drink, Clarita, from Bacardi Legacy, reflects the revival of older drinks whilst bringing in the innovative side of bartending by adding ingredients, such as olive oil and salt.’
His last piece of advice is to believe in yourself and use body language to show your confidence. ‘When you’re on stage and have an audience of over 200 people in the room and over 200,000 people watching online, you have to be self-confident, because the slightest hint of a lack thereof makes you look like you’re not prepared.
‘You have been training for a long time and this is your time to shine. You only have a few minutes to show who you are as a bartender.’
Certainly, it seems, Ongevalle used those minutes well, and we’ll be seeing much more from the global cocktail champion in the months to come.