PICTURED: Matt Arnold in front of the World Class Global winners Wall of Fame in São Paulo: could his name be next on the list?
Just in case you hadn’t heard, there’s a little event called World Class Global Cocktail Competition which has brought together 54 bartenders and hundreds of guests from all over the world to São Paulo this week. Representing GB, we have the super-talented Matt Arnold, co-owner of Passing Fancies in Birmingham who will be doing everything in his power to bring the crown back to Blighty, or more specifically, to the Midlands when the contest concludes this Thursday.
But before we get to that stage, we spent a few moments with him yesterday, in between him getting his presentations down pat, to find out how he’s feeling ahead of the start of the competition today (Tuesday).
So Matt, today (Monday) is the day before the big one – the day when the challenges start. Tell us about your journey so far?
I’ll start with the physical journey… We took off three days ago from London. I slept all the way through our night flight, so when we arrived in Brazil the next morning, it felt like I’d had a really weird nap and woken up somewhere hot!
Once we’d settled in to the hotel, we had dinner and then met up with all of the bartenders. It was very much the evening of 300 handshakes – saying hello and seeing the faces behind the Instagram accounts and the PDFs that we’d been sent ahead of the World Class Global Finals. It’s been really nice to meet everyone in person.
The second day is when you started doing all of the preparatory stuff. How was that for you?
I purposely designed a lot of my ingredients to be quite versatile in how I could transport them from home to Brazil, so they’re either quite high in acid ratios, or have been fortified with some sort of delicious booze. When we transported them, the only time they weren’t refrigerated was while they were on the aircraft. But even then, everything was bubble wrapped within an inch of its life! As soon as I got into my hotel room, I emptied my minibar of all the chocolates and beer and replaced them with my water blends and honey cordials etc.
Was the portability a key factor when you were designing your drinks? And if so, did that side of things make it harder or easier for the creative process?
What we do quite naturally at Fancies is we always design our stations to be very easy to use. None of our serves are eight-bottle pours where you have to get something from the top shelf, another thing from the soft store or things like that; what you have in your station can be used to make all of the drinks on the menu for the entire week. Consequently, when I was designing my drinks for World Class, it wasn’t difficult for me to think about transporting the ingredients to Brazil – it was almost as if I was setting up the station in the bar, which made it easy for me to prep.
Take the ‘woody’ serve in the Johnnie Walker speed round for example. I’ve already batched some of my ingredients together, so I have a mix of a forced rhubarb cordial and a palo santo white chocolate infusion all in the same bottle, which means that it’s not just speed of service that we’re going to get out in that challenge, but taking transportation out of the equation means I don’t have to carry another bottle and all the ingredients kind of fortify themselves, which is really fun.
That’s pretty nifty. Do you know if any of the other competitors have done similar things? Or put it another way: have you been checking out their moves?
Yeah, I think your competitive curiosity gets piqued from the second you arrive. I think every competitor, whether they’ll tell you the truth or not, has Instagram-stalked every other competitor at some point.
Of course! It shows that you care, you’re professional and that you’re here to win. So, with that in mind, what’s piqued your interest so far?
The different approaches that everyone has taken. The way that I’ve chosen to prepare for this competition is really comfortable for me, because I know that I’ve got my stuff ready to go, and I can get here and kind of, not chill out, far from it, but I can focus on other pressing matters, like my presentations and touch points of the station. But there are other competitors who have decided to do all their prep right here, right now, which I think is far ballsier than what I’ve done.
One of the tests that I’ve been confronted with is, one of my drinks has cream in, but there’s no such thing as whipping cream in Brazil, or at least, it’s not an accessible ingredient. So then the problem hasn’t been, ‘I need to change the drink.’ It’s a case of: ‘Okay, that’s happened. Now, how do I make whipping cream?’
If I was having to do all of my prepping on top of those minor problems, it would be a really big thing for me. So I’m very comfortable with the way that I’ve prepared myself. I know that if I was in the position of some of the other competitors, I’d be feeling very pressurised to make everything perfect right here, right now. I’ve spent time at home, in an environment where I am comfortable to make sure that my ingredients are at the point that I need them to be.
Which has been your favourite challenge to prepare for?
The Johnnie Walker speed round is definitely one of them, it has a very nice, unique twist to it. Historically, speed rounds have gone along the lines of, ‘make eight classics in six minutes’, but the fact that we’ve been given some creative freedom within the allocated time frame really allows each country to portray where they’re from. That’s really fun.
If I had to single out my absolute favourite challenge, it would be the Don Julio, Classics of the Future. I really enjoy pushing the boundaries of innovation when it comes to drinks and I love to have a concept that seems absolutely bonkers, then having to figure out the small steps to get there.
In a way, it’s been the easiest challenge for me to put together because it’s very natural to the way that I approach creating my drinks.
And the most challenging?
Definitely the Singleton Disco Challenge. If on the off chance I don’t make it through to the Top 12, this will be the last point that I’ll be representing GB, so I want to go out with a bang.
My drink is quite technical in process and it’s been a bit of a nightmare to get it just right – especially with the way that I’m presenting the drink: I’m building the music alongside the drink, which means that for almost every ingredient I’m putting in, I’m bringing in another layer of the music.
So, it starts off with the bass with one ingredient, then the rhythm and beat come in and it builds and builds until we have a disco track at the end. The logistics of getting that sorted here has been, like I mentioned before, a bit of a nightmare!
And then, a week before the competition I found out that one of my judges is dairy-free and my drink had dairy in it, so that’s been quite a turbulent build. If I pull it off the way that I want to, after I’ve presented it, I think I’ll probably just go in the back of the stage and burst into tears!
So tomorrow (today) is the first day that you actually get to present. Are you looking forward to it?
Oh, I can’t wait! The first two challenges are Tanqueray No. TEN and Johnnie Walker. I’m so excited to get up there and show what we’ve spent the past four months putting together. Not only that, I’m really excited to see the other competitors and their presentations.
I’m very lucky that I’ll be presenting in the middle of the pack all the way through, so it means I can catch one or two of the Tanqueray No. TEN rounds before I start prepping for my Johnnie Walker presentation and once I’m done with my presentation, I can watch the rest of the finalists. Not in a competitive manner, I just want to see how other people from different backgrounds take a brief that’s very black-and-white and turn it into colour.
Before we wrap up for now, between winning World Class GB and now, have you changed anything about your presentation style?
When you get put on a stage to represent your country there’s almost a pressure to, not to rein yourself in exactly, but really be a champion of where you come from, and there’s been a very clear idea of when you have to switch that on a little bit.
There’s only ever been one World Class Global champion from the UK, that’s Erik Lorincz with his very pristine white jacket and classic, clean style. Whereas we’ve built Passing Fancies to be very Carhartt and Crocs which is completely different. It just goes to show how things have changed and in some regards shown what’s acceptable in the UK market and bartending worldwide. That makes me really excited. I can’t wait to get on to that stage and just be me.
Matt will be presenting his Tanqueray No. TEN ‘Make It A Ten’ Challenge today (Tuesday 26th September) 2.30pm GMT and his Johnnie Walker ‘One Step Beyond’ Challenge at 6.45pm GMT. Tune in via @worldclassgreatbritain
Check back tomorrow where we’ll be talking to Matt about the challenges and how he thinks his first day went.