After two intense days and three incredibly tough challenges we finally know who will be representing GB in the World Class Global Finals: ladies and gents, please be upstanding for Mr Cameron Attfield from Disrepute in London. Whoop, whoop!
In true World Class style, he had his work cut out to gain the title – that World Class GB trophy doesn’t come without testing the finalists’ mettle to the max. Not only did he have to compete against 19 other kick-ass bartenders but he, like all of the other competitors had to pull out all the stops on the creativity front whilst also keeping their cool.
The one featuring Great British produce:
Using a minimum of 30ml of Ketel One Vodka as a base, the competitors were tasked with choosing one British ingredient and using three forms of flavour manipulation/extraction to really make it shine. There wasn’t going to be any getting away with bog standard infusions here – our wannabe World Class finalists had to show the judging panel comprising UK Ketel One Ambassador Kate Jackson and not one but two World Class Global Winners, Erik Lorincz (2010), and Orlando Marzo (2018), as well as us, that they could transform a simple, single ingredient into an all-singing, all-dancing, lipsmackingly tasty super hero. Which they did. Big style.
The one inspired by a journey:
The Singleton of Dufftown was the star of this round. Here’s where the competitors had to dazzle Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky Ambassador Alistair Reynolds and Global Singleton Whisky Ambassador Ervin Trykowski, as well as Simon Difford, head honcho at Difford’s Guide and last year’s World Class GB Winner, Daniel Warren. The mission? To create a cocktail based on the theme of exploration, travel and adventure. Competitors could base their cocktail on any country but had to take the judges on a journey with their story and of course, their drink featuring no less than 35ml of The Singleton in the glass.
The one with the need for speed:
While day one saw the first two challenges being held in separate rooms in Rakes Bar at the Andaz Hotel, London, the third and final challenge was outdoors Taste of London. All the better for showing off the bartender’s skills to the public…
This was the Speed Round, four minutes of pure adrenalin where the bartenders had to make five drinks selected at random. These could be anything from a Tommy’s Margarita and Batanga in the Don Julio Tequila category; White Lady and Collins in the Tanqueray Gin category; Espresso Martini and Dutch Mule in the Ketel One Vodka category; Boluvardier and Julep in the Bulleit Bourbon or Rye category and Rob Roy and Whisky Sour in the Johnnie Walker Black Label, Talisker or The Singleton category.
If memorising that little lot wasn’t enough, the excitement level was dialled up to intense as two competitors were up at a time, making the same drinks and essentially competing against each other. Oh, and get this, while they were shaking, stirring and generally whipping themselves up into a frenzy, they had two minutes each to chit-chat with Erik Lorincz (yes, him again), UK Bulleit Bourbon Ambassador Jenna Ba, UK Talisker Whisky Ambassador Jason Clark, Simon Webster of BarLife and various members of the public. Sound easy? You try doing it while you’re focusing on making a round of perfectly balanced drinks, complete with the correct garnishes. Not to mention the little matter of a coveted title up for grabs…
Wait over, it was time to announce the winners. In third place was the stylish and slick Jo Last from the Beaufort Bar at the Savoy. Next in at a fiendishly close second was the amazingly talented, extremely suave Sean Fennelly from Fitz’s Bar at the Kimpton Hotel. And you know who came first, right? We mentioned it at the beginning. Cameron Attfield missed out on the top spot last year but he didn’t let that put him off. Lessons in life: if you want something bad enough and you get it first time round, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again.
Our 15 minutes with Cameron Attfield starts here:
Well done champ! Let’s rewind to this time last year, do you remember how were you feeling?
I was really gutted and emotionally upset but I knew the best man had definitely won. And that’s what helped me. I thought I’d put everything into the competition but on reflection, my presentation style was pretty unconventional. Coming into it this year I wanted to refine a lot of stuff. There’s still a long way to go before I’ll be a great presenter but basically, I didn’t want to feel the same way that I felt last year.
Did you have any hesitations about entering this year or did you want to get back to it straight away?
I definitely wanted to get straight back into it, even if I didn’t make it through to the final. The competition itself is such a great experience – everyone involved is amazing, you get to meet great people and make so many good friends. As soon as I settled down after the disappointment of not winning last year, a week later I was like, “that’s it, I’m going back and I’m going to make sure I give it my all.”
The difference was this time round I knew I had to really work on my presentation style – be more polished. Getting through to the final 20 was definitely a cause for a lot of excitement but there were nerves as well because I was in the final last year. The thing is, when you get to this stage of the competition, you definitely want to win.
Why does the World Class competition mean so much to you?
For a multitude of reasons. For me, you learn and grow so much. I’ve definitely grown a lot since last year – this is essentially the biggest and best competition in the world. I’ve been in this industry for about 10 years and it’s always been a goal of mine to win the title, it’s so highly regarded all around the world but it’s also a steep learning curve. It gives you the best experience, helps you grow as a bartender but it helps your creativity as well. Thanks to this competition I’ve pushed myself to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t have done.
How do you know that you’re ready for World Class?
I don’t think you can ever know until you enter. Until then you don’t know where you are or what your strengths and weaknesses are. I would really encourage everyone, at any level to enter because it really helps you to grow. Whether you win or not, you get to take away so many experiences from being part of it and you get to see how you can perform under pressure – you actually end up surprising yourself. Last year I thought I was ready but I wasn’t. However, I took a lot away and incorporated those things into my presentation. Essentially it was the competition last year that made me the bartender that I am today.
You keep referring to what you’ve learned about yourself since last year, tell us about that? And how easy (or hard) is it to acknowledge and work on your perceived weaknesses?
Everyone in the finals is there for a reason: everyone can create a great drink but it’s how you present it, matched with your poise and essentially your presentation style that really makes the difference. Last year I think my drinks were good but my presentation style was slightly unorthodox. It’s funny because I always recommend people letting their personalities shine through but then obviously there’s a limit to that, particularly in a competition like this.
Staying calm and relaxed is key – when I get excited, I speak really, really fast – so it’s about controlling your emotions and staying poised and calm. For the most part, your worse enemy is yourself. If you allow yourself to get into a situation where you’ve gone into your head, that’s what affects you and I think that’s what happened to me last year. The main thing is to relax, take time to understand that you’re there for a reason but getting really your point across.
Did you have a plan? If so, please share.
I wanted to make sure that I had a key message for each drink and every ingredient I used, it was important to have a solid reason why it was there. Nothing was superfluous. My main objective was to stay calm and relaxed while trying to convey the message I wanted in the correct manner. Last year I think I was jumping from point to point – I was all over the place. The main thing I did differently this year was having a structure and focus.
As always, there were some great but extremely tough challenges, which was your favourite this year and why?
The Ketel One challenge was my favourite. It focused on a single British ingredient, which I really liked. I went for peas, something that was a part of me growing up, and made them into a Champagne-style drink. I think the good thing about it was taking something that can be seen as being quite simple but elevating it in a more complex way. The idea of doing a Champagne style was to give myself space to relax and explain everything about the drink and I think the techniques I used were pretty unique.
The room was light, bright and everyone was relaxed, it was just awesome – just like talking to a bunch of friends and serving them a drink. I really enjoyed it. Highlighting British produce, using innovative techniques and championing sustainability are three of my favourite things in drinks. So yes, that was definitely my favourite challenge. I felt calm and much more confident.
And the hardest challenge?
The one I was most worried about was the speed round. Essentially, it was the final challenge – you could be in first place at that point but if you make a mistake, all of a sudden it’s gone. There’s a lot that can go wrong in a speed round, you’ve got four minutes and if you make a mistake, that’s a huge portion of your time to get back. Also, I was last up so I knew that there would be a lot of people there and everyone would be a bit more pumped up by then.
Going into that one I was a lot more nervous. I tried not to let it show but I think having a methodical approach helped me. I changed the style I was going to do – initially I was going to do it slightly differently. I was going to do a more methodical approach very time I used a liquid that I didn’t need anymore, i put it to the side so I knew there wouldn’t be any confusion going forward. I have worked in a lot of fast-paced bars and it’s what we do on a daily basis but when you have to do that in front of 100 people, it’s not quite the same.
It was super, super fun though – the crowd was really good, especially being last up, but presenting in front of all of my peers and the industry was tough and going up against an old colleague was really nerve wracking.
Well, it certainly worked out well – you’re the new World Class GB champion! How did you celebrate your win?
With a lot of laughs. I wanted to hug everyone who was part of the final, it was down to them that I eventually won. The competition is so high, no one really made a mistake and that was a really, really big driving factor. I watched some of the rounds and the ones that I saw were just incredible. The first thing I wanted to do was celebrate with all of the competitors, we went straight out for a Guinness. But to tell you the truth, I was so elated when we went for that celebratory drink, it still felt very surreal – I was going through so many emotions, I didn’t know how to react. Right now, I’m looking forward to a few days of rest before getting ready for the Global Finals.
Cameron Attfield will be representing GB at the World Class Global Finals in Glasgow in September. Follow the action at #worldclass2019, #makeitworldclass