Dining Out Magazine

Diageo’s World Class: Lebanon’s Grand Finale

By Nogarlicnoonions @nogarlicnoonion

For the third year now, Lebanon has been part of Diageo’s World Class, one of the most prestigious bartending competitions around the world.  More than 39 Barchefs have been competing for the title during three consecutive events which took place in Lebanon’s esteemed places: Capitol, Caprice and Mandaloun. Each of the events included the finest cocktail designers who ignited all our senses with fine aromas, beautiful colors and exquisitely unique fine taste.

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World Class is Diageo Reserve’s global search for the world’s best bartenders, a competition that sees leading bartenders from nearly 49 countries compete for the coveted title of “World Class Bartender of the year”.

Using premium spirits from Diageo: Tanqueray Ten Gin, Ketel One Vodka, Ron Zacapa Rum, Johnny Walker Whisky, Ciroc Vodka, Don Julio Tequila among others, bartenders competed under five categories. A written test, the nosing challenge, against the watch, canapé pairing and the signature cocktail.

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Tonight, Jad Ballout joined the closed club of champion mixologists following a spirited competition between six professional bartenders in the final round of the Diageo World Class Competition at Iris Beach. The Lebanese competition, which showcases the highest level of bar mastery, has become one of the most anticipated annual events for the country’s restaurant and hospitality industry.  The event hosted the esteemed judges Dennis Zoppi, World Class 2012 Italy Champion and Abdou El Asfar, World Class 2012 Morocco Champion and Bartender Pierre Naal, Worldclass representative in Morocco.

I had the chance to chat with the judges and got to know their stories and background:

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Denis Zotti

World Class gave Denis a huge opportunity to grow outside the borders of Italy. It gave him a chance to learn quickly whats happening around the world, meet professional bartenders and taste different spirits which can be used to create a cocktail.

This is Denis’ first time in Lebanon where he got to enjoy our nightlife mostly. “Lebanon is a great country specially its people who are so friendly. What I loved about Lebanon is that you people enjoy premium things. It is an entertaining country after all.”

Denis’ signature drink especially created for Lebanon: The French Corner

  • It’s a twisted classic of the Negroni cocktail
  • Piccon aperitif (French bitter)
  • Gin Tanqueray
  • Suze
  • Peychaud’s (bitter) three drops
  • Mix with ice
  • Zest of orange
  • Cherry oak smoke

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Abdou El Asfar

Abdou, who speaks and understands Arabic, didn’t feel far from home. It was his first time in Lebanon where he enjoyed a couple of days discovering the city. Abdou has still a long road in front of him, learning about bartending and the art behind it. He is so passionate about what he does, that working is more fun than an obligation. He considers himself a mixologist, talking with his body behind the bar, and creating his own version of the common drinks. In Morocco, Abdou uses lots of Moroccan fruits and mint tea that he integrates in cocktails. “The bar is like the sea, it always provides you new things to learn about.”

“World Class, gave me huge opportunities that I’ve never dreamed about in my life. I work today in a bar in Paris, a job I got after winning the 2012 Moroccan award. I learn every day and will continue to do so from all the trips and new friends, the World Class has given me the chance to have. It was the first time I participate in a bartenders competition and luckily, I was chosen to represent my beloved country and try to win the world title.I loved Lebanon. The people are so relaxed, funny and welcoming that I would love to come live here one day.”

Abdou’s signature drink: The Moroccan drink: Arabica

  • Gin Tanqueray Ten
  • Mint leaves
  • Coriander
  • Fresh pineapple
  • Green chartreuse
  • Green tea
  • Lime juice

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Pierre Naal

Pierre, originally from France, has been living in Casablanca for sometime now, representing Worldclass and training bartenders about the art of this job. Working as a bartender for almost 20 years now, he has opened a company of events related to the bar. Pierre never participated in any of the World Class competition, but has been traveling with this unique organization as a judge and consultant. “World Class made me work with the best products available. World Class is making the world understand cocktails and use the best ingredients available.”

“I am enjoying my time in Casablanca, even though finding premium ingredients is not always easy. In Morocco, everybody orders mojittos. I took this as a challenge and wanted to change this habit, so I created a twist of the cosmopolitan that I called “Sexy Martini.”

“Lebanon: What a country. People are so nice and positive making the relation between them and the world so easy. I would love to come again the soonest.”

Twist Cosmopolitan: Sexy Martini

  • Ketel one
  • Cramberry juice
  • Peach liquor
  • Cherry bitter
  • Liche juice
  • Liche fruit

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The competition kick started with a written test about history and knowledge covering Diageo’s portfolio, followed by the “Nose Test” divided into five categories: Whisky, gin, vodka, rum, tequila with four different kinds. Bartenders had to smell, taste and analyze the colors to find which glass is related to which brand. After that, it was the time for the real show to start, where the speed-test was awaiting to be competed:

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The competition order was as follows:

  1. Sebouh Tato
  2. Alain Achkar
  3. Jad Ballout
  4. Elliot  Ouwais
  5. Joseph Antoun
  6. Sako Arkelian

Four bartenders from previous events, received a recognition diploma for their outstanding performance during the competition:

  • Walid Darwish

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  • Sebastian Emanuael

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  • Julien Youssef

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  • Rany Bayda

The Speed Test challenge consisted on completing all five cocktails in less than 5min:

Cosmopolitan/Tommy’s Margarita /Rassy/Citronella/Manhattan

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  • Jad 2,36min (Jad, the logical nurd, had prepared all the garnishes in advance, making him gain at least a minute)
  • Eliot 2,51 min
  • Sako 2,53 min
  • Sebouh 3.17min (The strength of the crowd and its cheering amazed me)
  • Joseph 3,58min (Here the buffet was served, so people ran to eat and forgot about the importance of cheering and supporting the candidates)
  • Alain 4,40min (Alain’s time was the highest since he was the only contestant not to have prepared his garnish before the time starts. Did the judges see that?)

The Entertainment tonight was provided by the band “Vanella Rock Pop” managed by Alain Makdessy (Hair Production): Lead vocal Jad Abi Haidar, lead guitar Alain Ouwaijan, base guitar Haytham Chalhoub, drums Ralph Choueiry, keyboard Bernard Najem

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Fire show by Nareg Zakarian’s from Art & Melon:

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Crowd gathered near the three bars to cheer and encourage their favorite bartenders

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On the Menu tonight:

  • Pizza Margherita
  • Steak Tenderloin charcoal grilled
  • Chicken wings
  • Mini burgers: I loved those medium well meat with a hint of cocktail sauce
  • Crispy bizreh fish
  • Watermelon with halloum cheese
  • Salsa shrimp in guacamole sauce
  • Crab salad, cucumber, carrots, cabbage
  • Goat cheese with beetroot
  • Lentils salad
  • Rocca tomato mushroom salad
  • Raw vegetable summer rolls with cucumber, carrots and shrimps
  • Mushroom and goat cheese tart: Delicious, crunchy and well created
  • Tart marmalade onions

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Dessert:

  • Achtalouna Achta bread
  • Brownies
  • Salad de fruit

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The Tappas contest was just beginning:

  • Cheese cake blueberry: Sebouh
  • Ham and cheese cucumber tomato: Joseph
  • Chocolate tart hazelnut: Elio
  • Bresaola and cheese: Jad
  • Goat cheese and strawberry: Alain
  • Avocado crab salad: Sako

The Ingredients available for the cocktail creation:

  • Herbs: Lemon grass, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Mint, Tea leaves
  • Powder and seasonings: Oregano, Raisin black, Cumin, Anise, Mint dry, Coriander powder, Gyms raisin golden, coconut, Ginger powder, Cinnamon, Cinnamon powder, Nutmeg, Cardamom, Exotic tropic
  • Fruits: Banana, Kiwi, Peach, Chilli pepper, Pineapple, Citrus, Melon, Orange, Passion Fruits, Ginger

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Sebouh’s drink: Syrup Twist
Pairing it with cheese blueberry cheesecake

  • Cirok
  • Lemon grass grapes
  • Lemon
  • Cranberry bitterness added sugar
  • Substitute lemon with grapefruits
  • Orange citric
  • Top up with 7up
  • Garnish lemon lemongrass

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Alain’s Temptation
Pairing with goat cheese and strawberry

  • Piece of lemongrass
  • Lemon juice
  • Coma may syrup
  • He always uses home made ice Crafting
  • Garnish Lemon grass pepper
  • Tanqueray ten
  • Grand Marnier

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Jad’s Golden Cherry
Pairing with bresaola & cheese

  • Cherry syrup
  • Gold reserve
  • Dry raisin
  • Red vermouth

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Joseph’s drink
Pairing with ham cheese cucumber tomato

  • Red chilli
  • Lime juice
  • Gold reserve
  • Sugar syrup
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Stir the lime with the cinnamon burn in the glass

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Elio’s Lorena Vaskes
Pairing with chocolate tart & hazelnut

  • Pineapple
  • Orange
  • Modeled the pineapple adding pineapple juice
  • Ron Zacapa
  • Cons on stick
  • Nutmeg
  • Served in a pineapple

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Sako’s cocktail
Paired with crab & avocado salad

  • Pineapple modeling
  • Gold reserve
  • Lime syrup
  • Vanilla
  • Orgeat Almond
  • Ron Zacappa XO
  • Ongustura Orange Bitters
  • Moet Ice Imperial

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Before kicking the final challenge 3 contestants with the highest scores were chosen:

The winners of the challenges are:

  • Written Test: Alain
  • Nose Test: Jad & Alain
  • Tapas: Joseph
  • Speed-Test: Jad

The Three Finalists Are:

Jad Ballout, Joseph Antoun, Alain Achkar

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Joseph’s signature drink:  My Morning Dew

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The table setup:

  • Partagas Cigarillos
  • Crystal glasses and carafe
  • Lemon zest and cucumbers
  • Tea cup and jug
  • Tenqueray 10
  • Acqua di Cedro Liquore
  • Old magazines
  • Rose petals
  • Ice cubes
  • Fennel

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The drink’s preparation:

  • Joseph started by cleaning and refreshing the judges palette with water infused with rose petals
  • Then he muddled fresh cucumbers
  • Added them into the shaker with fresh lime juice
  • Then, used a special bottle imported from Italy: Grappa
  • Tenqueray Ten fused in rose pepper
  • Rose water
  • Bitter lemon
  • Then added big ice cubes sculpted by hand followed by small normal ones
  • Shaking
  • Dried ice was already infused with rose petals than were used to cool the drink poured in the tea pot
  • The drink was served with Parmesan biscuit

 Jad’s signature drink: My BBQ Experience

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The table setup:

  • A charcoal grill
  • Crystal carafe
  • Pirate hats
  • Jewels and treasure

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The drink’s preparation:

  • Dressed the jury with different pirates hats part of his story
  • Story of a pirate on a deserted island looking for a treasure reached the bartender and this is how the making of the drink started
  • Grilled the fruits: oranges, pineapples, grape fruits
  • Gin Tenqueray Ten
  • Added pineapple
  • Added a Japanese herb
  • Fresh lime juice
  • St Germain liqueur flower
  • BBQ bitter
  • Egg white
  • Mixed everything in a blender
  • Added the content of the mix to the shaker with ice
  • Serving the shaker in a treasure box with a cup for the pirates to serves themselves

Alain’s signature drink: Tiki Club

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The table setup:

  • Ice platter
  • Dried raisins
  • Bitters
  • Chocolate caviar, passion fruit, cinnamon sticks, Togarashi
  • The signature ice cubes with a Japanese knife
  • A fruit basket
  • Mint leaves
  • Water infused with mint leaves
  • Chocolate liquor infused in passion fruit

The drink’s preparation:

  • Alain was the only one to grab a chair for the judges to relax after this long day
  • Served them water with mint as refreshment before tasting
  • Alain impressed me with his fine art of asking the right questions and interacting well with the judges
  • Johnny Walker Gold Label
  • Ron Zacapa
  • Passion fruit syrup
  • Dry Chocolate infusion with passion fruits
  • Zuccappa and sugar
  • Lime juice 20ml
  • Carved some ice cubes creating a perfect ball
  • After crafting an ice cube into an ice ball he shook and served
  • Sprays rose water over the plateau
  • Garnished Vanilla, sugar and a passion fruit along with Toparashi from Japan and bit of sugar for aroma

And the winner is … Jad Ballout

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2nd place goes to Alain Achkar

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3rd place well deserved by Joseph Antoun

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I enjoyed this long day and got to learn more about bartenders, how they use their ingredients, their inside traditions and know-how. What they are and offer, is much more than meets the eye.

I would like to congratulate:

  1. Alain for his know-how and perseverance to learn more. I really appreciated your English language and your skills of communication: You were the only one to ask the judges some questions and make them interact with your show. I was impressed to see you master the art of ball carving in such speed. Your maturity and fair play impressed me: I just looked at you when the results were pronounced and read the truth behind your applause. I am sure that you will be the winner next year.
  2. Jad for being professional and meticulous. You really deserve to win. You play with drinks like Ronaldo does it with a football. Your smile and good heart make you a close friend to everyone. I was seeing it coming: Mabrouk!
  3. I would have loved to see Rany Bayda among the finalists

The 2013 international competition will be hosted aboard the boutique luxury cruise ship, the Azamara Journey, from July 4th – July 9th.  While traveling the Mediterranean Sea, the ship will stop in the celebrated cities of Ibiza, St Tropez, and finally drop anchor in Barcelona. Jad Ballout will join 49 other international competitors to compete for the title of the Diageo WORLD CLASS Bartender of the Year. The international event is globally respected as the world’s largest and most credible mixology competition, highlighting some of the world’s most prestigious reserve brands.

Bravo everyone, hoping to see you next year with the same enthousiast and more creativity

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