Let's meet a chef and a bartender today... Just one man walks in. Yes a two in one combo – a concept set to change the meaning of bartending, as we know it. Using the word “Barchef”, Diageo, British multinational alcoholic beverages company with a portfolio of world-famous drinks brands, is changing the way we see bartenders. Based around the idea of a “Barchef”, Diageo blends the concept of a chef and a talented bartender into one. The ideal Barchef is able to prepare the perfect cocktail and pair it with the food that complements it entirely. Diageo recently hosted a competition in which each of the 13 contestants prepared a drink and offered the jury a small sample of food along with it, in a atmosphere of fun, food and drinks at Mar Mikhael’s Mandaloun Club.
I was one of the lucky few who had the chance to spend a good four hours watching the creativity and talents of some of Lebanon’s leading bartenders. Thirteen of Lebanon’s finest competed for the title of Barchef of the Year and will represent Lebanon in an international competition later this year. It all started at 2pm with a drink prepared by Tim Phillips, Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year - a special cocktail containing arak and coffee, a homage to Lebanon’s heritage.
Philips hails from the Hemmesphere cocktail bar in Sydney and was crowned Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year in 2012. Philips beat 50 other finalists from around the world in the finals round, which saw him impress the judges with his winning signature serve - the Hot Toddy Australia, made with Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve Blended scotch whiskey, honey, cinnamon quill and ginger. Joined by Hidetsugu Ueno know as Ueno-San, the renowned Japanese bartender and ice sculptor and top Lebanese chef Dory Masri, Philips and the team put on a remarkable show and judged the efforts of the local talent.
Each of the 13th contestants prepared their own signature drink and offered the jury a small, but tantalizing dish picked and prepared to perfectly compliment the cocktail. After tasting Al Mandaloun’s usual appetizers (crab sandwiches, halloum markouk wraps, chicken club sandwich, fried chicken balls and fried shrimp, it was time to watch the chefs preparing their creations without having the chance to taste any, unfortunately.
The competitors were as follows:
- Julian Youssef from Cassis: Crostini, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese with mint leaves
- Richard Kharrat from La Vida: Cream cheese canapé
- Ahmad Nader from Iris: Salmon bites in a spoon
- Alain Ashkar from Al Mandaloun: Maki rolls.
- Samer Nehme from Überhaus : Kebbe nayeh
- Joseph Antoun from Lei: Bacon rolls, pineapple and pepper made with liquid nitrogen
- Simon Sayyan from Alcazar: Salmon shrimp tempura with chilli sauce
- Rani Bayda from Zinc: Fresh Japanese scallops with Don Julio coffee sauce.
- Dany Farraj from Kribs: Canapés of Parma ham and sun dried tomato
- Walid Darwish from Caprice: Maki rolls.
- Haytham Mantach from Mad: Saudi-style dates (tamer)
- Wassim Baddour from February 30: Orange and strawberry jam on a French baguette
- Jad Ballout from Garcia's: Caviar canapés
The competitors in action:
- Julian Youssef
- Richard Kharrat
- Ahmad Nader
- Alain Ashkar
- Samer Nehme
- Joseph Antoun
- Simon Sayyan
- Rani Bayda
- Dany Farraj
- Walid Darwish
- Haytham Mantach
- Wassim Baddour
- Jad Ballout
The competition was varied and sometimes eclectic, here I humbly offer my take on some of the night’s contestants and their offerings:
- Alain Ashkar from Al Mandaloun: I liked this guy as he was the most confident. I think it's because he was at home, but he didn't win even though he used liquid nitrogen to catch the jury’s eye. His appearance and attitude were good and he promises future success.
- Samer Nehme from Überhaus: The only one offering Lebanese food, raw kebbe from the village were on the menu.
- Rani Bayda from Zinc: I simply loved this guy. He started by introducing himself, his company, and the drink he was working with. He created the only real Lebanese drink of the night : Don Julio tequila with Lebanese coffee. A nice setup of arguile and Lebanese copper materials. His English was not perfect but he made the effort to speak in English through out, preparing and memorizing all his sentences as much as he could. I would like to congratulate him on his idea, which I had the chance to taste, but unfortunately he didn't win. Bayda had prepared the drink 15 days in advance, possibly that cost him the title.
- Walid Darwish from Caprice: Using egg whites in his drink caught my attention with infused Platinum Label Johnnie Walker, honey, sugar and grapefruit.
- Joseph Antoun from Lei: Joseph used liquid nitrogen, a trend of the moment that might well have seen him win. His showmanship, appearance and attitude were clearly of a high standard. I thought that we was going to win from the minute he started, and he got a lot of attention from the press.
- Jad Ballout from Garcia's. Jad is a professional, you could see it. He started by offering minted water to the judges to neutralize their taste buds after the efforts of the 12 competitors that proceeded him. Than he changed his mixing and drinking glasses, because he detected a sight odor. After adding some vanilla aromas to the room, it was time to start mixing. Jad used Zacapa rum with dark chocolate and cinnamon, adding to the mix aged vermouth followed by black pepper and ginger, giving the mix a pleasant aftertaste. He prepared the canapés himself, using caviar that blended perfectly with the chocolate. Before serving his creations, he smoked the caviar with cherry wood and covered them in a cloche. Jad said: "Enjoy sea, clouds and my temptation above the clouds". It was clear from the start that Jad would win... and he did.
Jad Ballout and Joseph Antoun winners of the first round, will have to wait for the other four contestants which all will compete for the Lebanese Worldclass Barchef of the year following Varia Dellalian, the 2012 winner.
What I enjoyed and learned:
- The event was very well organized
- I loved the cocktail mix of coffee and arak prepared by Barchef Tim Philiips
- I loved the ice carving show created Ueno-San, an art… an ice ball and another ice diamond carved beautifully in less than a few minutes
- I learned that using the right shape of the ice cubes in a drink is important
- I learned that mixing drinks is an art and about the two steps and the three steps act where the movement of the hand changes with certain synchronization that moves around the ingredients better. Ueno-San shakes the cocktail as musical sounds produced are more of a musical instrument than a shaker
- Drinking is fun, enjoy it, don't abuse it
- Drink responsibly
- Don't drink and drive
- Read some responsible ideas on Drinkiq