The lowdown on James
Like a lot of bartenders James started working in bars to earn extra money whilst studying at university. After graduation he was asked to open a bar for a friend in Sheffield and then moved to London a few years later. “I learned a hell of a lot working in and around various bars in Soho,” he says. He took his new found knowledge back to Sheffield in 2007 and opened a bar called 23 before investing in his first project in 2008, a bar called Menzels “which is still doing very well”. This year James opened his second venture, again in Sheffield, called The Great Gatsby. “Six weeks in and things are going great, and World Class is great advertising for both of the bars.”
James has competed in cocktail competitions for the last ten years, with numerous local wins. His major accolades include being involved in the World Class finals 2007-2009, visiting Venezuela, Mexico and Scotland in the process and finishing third in 2008 and 2009. He also won Jack Daniels UK Bartender of the Year in 2009 in Tennessee, and came second to Erik Lorincz in the Woodford Reserve Bartender competition in Kentucky 2009. “I didn’t compete at all last year as business was so busy, but I’m back in the firing line this year, and hope to get one step closer to the World Final in New Delhi.”
What led you to become a bartender?
It happened by chance really. I started off as a waiter, which is a great way to learn customer service before being thrown in behind a busy cocktail bar. When I graduated from university I didn’t fancy a 9-5 office job and got offered a good opportunity, and here I am today.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I love working with people, I am definitely a people person, and pride myself on customer service. The experience my guests get when they come into the bar is key, and to see people enjoying themselves is great.
Who do you admire in the industry and why?
Wow, what a question, there are so many. Growing up in the north the two key people who inspired me were Jake Burger and Mal Evans. I would spend hours in their bars watching, learning and probably being very annoying, but I gained so much knowledge from them. On the UK stage Dick Bradsell, Wayne Collins and Angus Winchester changed cocktail culture over here, and on a global stage Salvatore Calabrese and Dale Degroff have done wonders to develop the cocktail revolution.
As well as bartenders, I also really admire the writers and their research into this addictive industry, feeding us all with the knowledge which we love to pass on. These include Simon Difford, Jared Brown and Gary Regan.
If you could mix a drink for anyone alive or dead who would it be and why?
I would have to say Earnest Hemingway. I’m sure that would be a fun shift, mixing libations for such a legend!
What’s your favourite classic cocktail and why?
I love a Rob Roy. As my palate has developed I love it mixed with something smoky, like Talisker, or Lagavulin if I’m feeling really stressed out.
What’s the most unusual request you’ve had at the bar?
I once had someone complain that their Peroni was too cold! Now, how is that possible, too cold?
What’s your proudest moment as a bartender?
There have been a few, the first was owning my own bar for the first time, I finally felt I had made it to the next step. Making drinks for Marco Pierre White was great at World Class 2009, and another was in the Tequila final last week. It went to a margarita shake-off to decide, and once the results were in Simon Difford and Andy Pearson both made margaritas and thought mine was the best – you can’t get better praise for a drink than that!
Describe the inspiration for the drink/s that got you through to the finals.
My first drink was the inspiration drinks have on music and songs. So many people sing about certain drinks or brands and I showcased this with the name of my drink along with the brand reference in it, namely Jose Cuervo in the Steely Dan song Hey Nineteen from 1981.
Do you have any funny/embarrassing anecdotes in the rounds leading up to World Class UK finals?
I have competed at this stage a few times now, so I pretty much knew what to expect, but you always still have that nervous energy before going in front of the judges.
Have you picked up any good tips from the competition? If so, what are they?
Andy Pearson and Simon Difford gave us some great tips for the next stages of the competition, all to do with professionalism, etiquette and just stepping up our game for each stage, so I am looking to do this next week.
What does winning your regional heat of World Class mean to you?
Its always a great honour. It also gains us some great regional press, just reminding people where they can get a good drink.
What would winning the finals of World Class UK mean to you?
This has been the ultimate dream since 2007. I would love to get to that next stage this time to compete against the real big boys. It would be the ultimate honour.
Who would you thank in your World Class acceptance speech and why?
I would thank everyone who I admire in the industry, along with Reserve brands, who have a great portfolio of products, and let’s not forget my mate Erik Lorincz, who has flown the flag in true style this past year!
If you were a cocktail, what would you be and why?
I would say a Martini, as I am strong, dry and straight up!
The drink that got him through
50ml Jose Cuervo Tradicional
10ml Heering cherry brandy liqueur
5ml Carpano Punt E Mes
5ml Agave syrup
1 dash Peychaud’s aromatic bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into an old-fashioned glass with one large ice cube and garnish with a macerated in tequila and cherry brandy.