The inaugural Courvoisier Toast of Paris global competition final was held recently, and Witek Wojaczek of the Beaufort Bar at The Savoy was there to represent the UK.
The five global finalists competed in Paris, after a walking tour of the city conducted by Courvoisier global brand ambassador Rebecca Asseline.
The day after the competition the finalists departed for Jarnac, where they enjoyed a gala dinner at Château Courvoisier before staying the night there. But not before visiting the cognac house’s Paradis cellas, where all its oldest and most prestigious cognacs are kept, and where the winner would be presented with an exceedingly rare decanter of cognac.
We talked to Wojaczek about his impressions of the trip, and of the Toast of Paris competition overall.
What made you enter the Courvoisier Toast of Paris international cocktail competition?
It’s a great cognac with great history, having been served at the opening of the Eiffel Tower, and it was also the official spirit of Napoleon.
I’m just starting to build my reputation and to meet people, so I’m entering as many competitions as I can, but only those where I like the history and the inspiration behind the comp. I love competitions – and spirits – that have a story behind them.
The competition was focussed on the Champagne Cocktail. What were your thoughts about this classic cocktail before you entered?
Well the Beaufort Bar was originally opened as a champagne bar, and we still have a huge selection of champagnes, so there’s a connection there. I also think the Champagne Cocktail is underestimated and underappreciated by many people – it’s almost a forgotten part of the cocktail world.
What’s your background in bartending? Where were you before you were at the Beaufort Bar?
I’ve been bartending from an early age – earlier than I should have been! I started out as a half bartender-half barback in Poland, but over there people are still convincing consumers to get into cocktails rather than into beers or spirit-and-mixer stuff. A big step forward for me was getting a job at a cocktail catering business, doing events. It really opened my eyes about bigger-scale cocktail work.
Having only moved to the UK 10 months ago, I was lucky to find myself working at The Savoy seven or eight months ago.
How did you feel when you won the UK final in London?
It was crazy! I wasn’t expecting it. I’d only just arrived – this was my first comp in the UK. So it was a huge step for me, and quite shocking to be announced as one of the global finalists. I basically still can’t put it into words. I’d also never reached first place in a competition before. So that’s a cool feeling.
If you’d asked me a year ago where I’d be by now, I’d have said I’d still be in my home town.
What was the inspiration for your winning cocktail, La Haute Bohème?
Without the Belle Époque we wouldn’t be the same people we are today. The high bohème specifically were the wealthier ones. They had a great connection with the city, and with the events going around the Golden Age. The Exposition Universelle, for example, was widely visited by this group of people. They were quite modern and I think Courvoisier is trying to be that way too. They’re the people in the cognac world that are going forward and being modern. Maintaining their tradition, but also looking towards the future – it’s that connection between two worlds I find most inspiring.
What will you take away from your trip to the Toast of Paris final and the Courvoisier Château?
It’s really hard to say. The whole trip was amazing, from seeing the production process, to being able to smell the ageing cellars. Basically, it was all the most amazing experience.
What was your favourite moment of the whole experience?
My favourite bit was definitely getting down to the Courvoisier Paradis cellar – the amount of history there! There’s cognac from 1789, the year of the French Revolution.
Has the experience improved you as a bartender?
Yes of course. I’ve got more self-confidence, and that’s always important in a comp. And I’ve learnt a lot about presenting a cocktail, and how to create one – focussing and finding the right balance. All the creative parts – those were all developed thanks to this competition.
by Witek Wojaczek of the Beaufort Bar at The Savoy
Garnish: Rose petal with patchouli oil
Method: Briefly stir all ingredients except champagne, strain into flute and top with champagne.
40ml Courvoisier VSOP
10ml Cabernet Sauvignon
25 French rose liqueur*
5ml sugar syrup (2:1)
2 dashes absinthe
5 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
70ml champagne*French rose liqueur: 200ml Chambord, 300ml St-Germain, 20ml Pernod Absinthe, 60g rose buds, infused together for 45-60mins.
The winnerFive competitors converged on Paris for the global final last week, hailing from as far afield as Austria, Canada and Germany, plus one local representative from France, of course. Each had taken top spot in the Toast of Paris competition in their home country, but only one would be crowned the global winner.And that winner was Aleksandrs Sadovskis, representing Germany, from Berlin's Prinzipal Kreuzberg. He interpreted the theme of the Golden Age in a different way and drew inspiration from this in creating his drink. ‘It was rough and tough, not fancy like we imagine,’ he explained, adding smoky lapsang souchong tea to his Champagne Cocktail to evoke this.
The other finalists were Patrice Plante from Canada, Lukas Hochmuth from Austria, and Roman Tournay from France.