Since 2009, Diageo, the global leader of fine wines and spirits, has annually been on the lookout to find the world’s best bartender with its annual World Class competition that pits together some of the most talented mixologists you’ll come across on this planet to mix, stir, shake and brew up the best in the art of fine drinking.
Winning this year’s Southeast Asian leg is none other than Shawn Chong from Omakase + Appreciate, who has been crowned the Malaysian champion no less than 3 times prior to clinching this year's newly-implemented 2015 Southeast Asian title. As they say, third time's the charm!
The Johnnie Walker Keep Walking ambassador tied with Steve Leong from Singapore for the title this year, beating 26 other contestants from 7 other Southeast Asian countries after an intense 2-day judging by bartending personalities like Marian Beke, Hidetsugu Ueno and Jeff Bell, as well as last year’s winner Charles Joly.
Before Chong flies off to Cape Town, South Africa, to represent Malaysia for the global finals in August, we caught 5 minutes of his time to learn more about his winning experience and how he intends to take on his second Global Finals as Diageo’s most all-rounded bartender.
Congratulations on your win! What were your first thoughts upon being announced the winner?
The first thoughts of course was that, “This is Awesome!” because I had set quite a few goals when I joined the competition . When I won, it’s a validation of all the hard work and that the goals are realised.
What did you think your chances were when you first joined? Did you imagine being crowned the champion (again)?
I did think my chances were good from the start as I have been involved with World Class since the start in 2009. And having already represented Malaysia in the Global Finals in New Delhi in 2011, it gives me some advantage in terms of experience of how to approach the competition.
What was your game plan going into the competition?
Prior to the competition, there was a lot of research and practice. Going into the competition was just to focus on myself and not worry too much about what everyone else is doing. Also, the so-called “work” for the competition is already done even before we arrived in Bangkok, so not being so stressed and up-tight before every challenge was also my game plan. It’s just being well prepared.
What were some of the flavours/ingredients that you used that you feel made you stand out?
There were some bartenders who used more obscure ingredients than I did. It’s also about thinking outside the box for some of the ingredients, for example, I opted to use tomato water for a lighter style cocktail in the Bloody Mary Challenge instead of the generic tomato juice.
What do you think made you stand out in general?
I would say it was my consistency in my technique and presentations that made me stand out a little more. People who witnessed my rounds mentioned it was my confidence.
Tell us a little about the competition – was there anything in particular that they were looking for in this year’s leg, and how did you meet their criteria for winning?
No, not much actually changes from year to year. Of course the judges are looking for good cocktails that are in line with the challenge theme. At the end, it’s trying to find the most all-rounded bartender.
How are you planning on taking on the Global Finals in Cape Town?
More research, practice, with a winning mindset.
You can have a taste of some of Chong's winning cocktails at Omakase + Appreciate from now until 22 August 2015. Log on to the official Facebook page here for more information.
(Photos: Shawn Chong)
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