Lebanon’s bartenders face off
Lebanon’s bartenders face off

Mixologists show off their talents at Horeca
Paige Kollock, April 28, 2010

Thirty bartenders, hailing from 15 of Lebanon’s watering holes have gathered at BIEL to compete for the formidable title of “Lebanon’s Best Bartender”. The three-day contest constitutes just part of Horeca,the country’s annual hospitality convention, which runs until April 30. (The word “Horeca” derives from Hotels/Restaurants/Cafes, staples of the hospitality industry.)

Participant Fiona Chamoun mixes up concoctions at TGI Friday’s. She specializes in “sweet drinks” and says most of her customers order margaritas. Chamoun spent a month preparing for the contest.

“I worked on my recipes, my entertainment, my garnish, I caught up on some of my bar knowledge,” she said of her preparation. Yet, despite her hard work, Chamoun says she doesn’t care if she wins or loses. “I’m not nervous…I’m here for the experience and for fun.”

Competitors hailed from a range of establishments, including family joints like Applebees, edgy nightclubs such as Gemmayzeh’s Gem, and luxury hotel bars including The Phoenicia. Bartenders from Kashmir, Motion, Copper and Entourage were also among the participants.

Before a panel of four judges, participants were given seven minutes to prepare a “specialty drink” of their choosing, followed by another libation made with Jack Daniels whiskey, one of the contest’s sponsors. Judges graded the contestants on the following criteria: entertainment skills, technical skills, bar knowledge, overall appearance, and uniform and personal skills.

Constantinos Kouvaras, head of Bacardi liquors for the Middle East, which is also a sponsor, is one of the judges. “I am looking for everything that a good bartender should be, which is clean, fast and precise,” he said.

“And of course, whatever comes out should be a good tasting drink, what we call a ‘perfect serve.’”

Kouvaras says the key to good bartending is certainty. “If he’s not confident, shaking, looking for things and running around, then most probably he’s lost it already, so it’s all about confidence,” he said.

The contest lasts three days. The over-all winner, who will be announced Thursday evening, gets a free trip for two to Cyprus. But those recognized also get prestige, which is why Jimmy Berro, who works at Alcazar in Gemmayzeh, decided to sign up.

“I entered just to show the people how competent we are in our work,” he said. His potion? The purple haze. A cocktail with ginger, lychee, vodka, borana lime and parfait amour.

His colleague, Diva Khoury, is also competing for the challenge. “I thought that I could come up with something original and interesting, and I wanted to compete against all these males and bartenders from five-star hotels,” she said.

With less than a year on the job, Khoury is less experienced than most of the pack. Just one of only four women competing, she says she enjoys tending the bar for its social elements.

“You get to meet different kinds of people, you get to make them happy, and it tends to open very interesting conversations. Also, it’s a challenge to come up with something that hasn’t been done before, give it your own twist, and still make it tasty,” she explained.

Khoury’s submission was a vodka-based beverage with paprika, fresh pepper, chili and “some other secret ingredients.”