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    Cuba in their words

    | By François Monti

    Because the competition at the Grand Prix is like no others, here is a compendium of what our distinguished guests have to say about their Cuban experience...

    When we celebrated the first Havana Club Grand Prix in 1996, ours was one of the first cocktail competitions. Today, though, bartenders are asked to enter into myriads of them. But the new kids on the block can not offer what we will be offering for the 10th time next June: Cuba, Havana, and the magic art of the cantineros. They make the Grand Prix very special and we know it because all the people we’ve interviewed since we launched this space have told us so. Here is a compendium of what our distinguished guests had to say about their Cuban experience…

     

    On Havana & Cuba

    “Cuba conjures up many images, from the faded grandeur of the architecture to the classic 50s cars that fill the streets. Many places don’t live up to the image you have built in your head, but Havana surpasses it – an exciting and vibrant city full of history and culture. What an incredible place to hold a cocktail competition!” - Jay Hepburn

     

    “I had huge expectations about Cuba- both personally and professionally. I was even slightly hesitant, but the place blew me away. I had such an incredible time.” – Ryan Chetiyawardana

     

    “For anyone serious about their craft and the history of drinks, Cuba has played such an important part, as the birthplace of many wonderful classic cocktails and several iconic bars. Cuba really is one of the most unique places I’ve ever been.” – Naren Young

     

    “You walk around the streets of Cuba; it’s so bloody hot. You don’t want a beer. You want an ice-cold daiquiri. It’s super soft and light, it’s like drinking a snowflake. It’s exactly what you want.” – Andrew Nicholls

     

    On the Cantineros

    “The main thing is how kind the Cuban people are. I worked closely with the cantineros and they are great. Really helpful and professional. Things aren’t easy in Cuba and these people only show pride in their country and happiness to be there! I loved the hospitality.” – Steffin Oghene

     

    “I think the Cuban people have an incredible personality- warm and optimistic. This, the cantineros personified. Bartending in an amazing, skilled and professional manner.” – Ryan Chetiyawardana

     

    “Big respect to the Cantineros. Floridita, for example, is always packed and they serve daiquiris, daiquiris, daiquiris. But you can still feel their respect for every blender they fill. They take your order with a true smile and serve a perfect, delicious drink.” – Klaus St Reiner

     

    You can’t expect bartenders from any other country to make as many of the same cocktail and still smile when they serve it.” – Andrew Nicholls

     

    On the bars

    “The bars themselves were wonderful. El Floridita was so simple and elegant. Even with hoards of tourists flowing through- you were in your own world- the wonderful atmosphere, perfect lighting, cool breeze, music, hosting, banana chips and blended daiquiris. I had withdrawal symptoms.” – Ryan Chetiyawardana

     

    “In the rest of the world, bartenders are annoyed when they have to make Mojito number 50. These guys, at Bodeguita del Medio for example, they can make between 600 and 900 a day. There’s a certain charm behind drinking in Cuba. The guys there, they get it, they understand that people come to have that drink and they’re grateful” – Andrew Nicholls

     

    “At the moment, Cuba is in a very exciting stage. People are now able to open their own businesses so there are a lot of bars and a lot of restaurants opening everywhere. There’s a real buzz with people starting to create and do their own things. It’s a good time to be there.” – Meimi Sanchez

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