A little jig and a drink

The two winners at the regional round of the SKYY Vodka Global Flair Challenge 2010, share their spirit of adventure in the line of cocktails with a dramatic touch
By Smriti Daniel, Pix by Gemunu Wellage and J. Weerasekera

It’s all about discovering the best bartender in the world. The SKYY Vodka Global Flair Challenge 2010 was everything you would expect - new flavours, fabulous performances and a healthy dose of competition. The regional round began in Sri Lanka last week at the BMICH. Two winners Ashwel Handy (Hilton) and Emali Gunesekera (Cinnamon Grand) were chosen to represent Sri Lanka at the South Asian Final – if either wins there, then it’s off to the Global Final in Barcelona in October.

Martin Pala
Winners: Ashwel (above) and Emali (below)

“Each year the competition gets tougher, the shows slicker and more spectacular. We know there are some ‘Flair’ bartenders in Sri Lankan cocktail bars, restaurants and clubs and we hope to see many of them this year,” said judge Martin Pala of SKYY Vodka before the event kicked off. He explained that in the penultimate round the top six finalists will be competing for Euros 7,000 in prize money and the title of SKYY Vodka Global Flair Challenge Champion. Aside from Mr. Pala, the panel of judges this year included Mac Lee, President , Singapore Bartenders Association and Jeremy Coulbeck, of MONIN.

As part of this year’s competition, bartenders were asked to create and name a SKYY cocktail and demonstrate their bartending skills. It was Ashwel’s first time at the Challenge. A service provider at Spoons at the Hilton, Ashwel says he first became interested when he participated in an in-house competition. “One thing led to another,” he explains, adding that he trained for just over five months for this competition. His signature cocktail –Mesmerize – included vodka, campari, triple sec and sprite, but the judges found his routine even more impressive. Flair bartenders perform a ‘sequence’, turning the creation of a cocktail into a performance and employing dramatic movements and juggling while they mix and serve.

Looking back at the competition, Ashwel says his most critical test came when he slipped up seven times during the semi-finals. However, he staged a successful recovery and made it through.

Emali, the winner of the classic bartender section, has similarly harrowing tales to share. She spilt her cocktail but started from scratch and still finished under the six minutes allotted to her. Luckily, the pressure brought out the best in her – “it was the first time my cocktail came out perfect,” she says. Dubbed ‘Pink Attitude’, the cocktail included among other things berry vodka, fresh pineapple juice, strawberry cubes and triple sec. The recipe was her own, developed over two months prior to the competition.

Emali says she was drawn to the competition because she saw it as something different –“especially for a girl”. A Destinations Officer at the Cinnamon Grand, Emali also got her start with an inhouse bartending competition. Emali and Ashwel both say they’re looking forward to the next stage of the competition. They’ve already begun planning new cocktails and performances.

The Sri Lankan event was conducted by the Ceylon Hotel School Graduates’ Association, Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management and the Tourist Hotels Association and sponsored by Free Lanka Trading Company. Over 6000 bartenders have been trained over the past 19 years as part of the programme and Sri Lanka has won the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals on many occasions.

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