The 2016 Grand Prix Bar Team
The unsung heroes of the Grand Prix. The guys who made everything possible. They’re the 2016 bar team and it’s only fair that we would ask them to step in the spotlight. They’re experienced people, they own and manage bars and restaurants. And yet, at a drop of the hat, they came to Cuba to support the competitors under the direction of Dave Crompton (we’ll hear from him in a few weeks) and in collaboration with a dozen members of the Asociacion de Cantineros de Cuba.
This year’s bar team members were Dirk Hany, from Widder Bar in Zurich, Alex Sourmpatis, Greece’s competitor in 2014, Gegam Kazarian, Spain’s competitor in 2012, Josh Fontaine, co-owner of Calendaria and 4 other Paris hotspots, Ramon ‘El Tigre’ Ramos, a veteran from the 2012 edition and Pavel Hernandez, a Cuban bartender, member of the ACC. Why on earth would you barback?
“It’s the figure that makes everything work”, says Gegam. Tigre concurs: “You can’t be a good bartender if you haven’t been a good barback. They are the ones who make bartenders look good”. Gegam is quick to add that for established industry players, doing this is a welcome reminder that one needs to be humble. But it’s also a family thing for Alex: “I asked to be here, it’s my family and it’s important to do this work because it takes the anxiety off the competitors”. Dirk, who was the Swiss Havana Club ambassador for a number of years and a member of the 2014 bar team, also thinks he is working with family but adds a last element: “I came back because it’s fun”.
What were you doing exactly, gents?
“We wake up at 8 am. Have breakfast together, a briefing and then we spend the day doing our stuff, we help the competitors, we clean up, we make the drinks at the parties and then, maybe, we get a few hours sleep”, says Dirk. Alex cuts to the point: “we do the dirty job, full throttle, 16 to 18 hours a day”. Some of the specifics are mind-blowing. “Today (the day of the final), we juiced 1784 limes”, exclaims a shell-shocked Gegam. And the guys have to talk: “we had to find and talk with 5 managers at the Nacional Hotel to get hold of espresso beans”, adds Alex. “There’s a lot of running around, talking to people – and no cell phones”, concurs Josh. Working in Cuba is a challenge, right?
The reply is obviously yes. But Tigre is quick to point out a great truth: “if you are good to Cubans, you can get anything. You need to treat them well and not order them around”. Josh confirms: “You need to come with an open mind. Obviously, you don’t have the same amenities we’re used to in Europe but people are more than willing to help”. According to Gegam, the climate plays its part. “It’s tough to get balanced cocktails out at the correct temperature”. OK, guys, all this is quite obvious. Give me a story. Tigre volunteers: “We needed 3800 limes. We had to drive for an hour outside of Havana to go to the producing farm. They had no boxes, nothing, so we had to carry them one by one to the car. The car was full of limes, some of us had to sit on them, and at the hotel we had to clean them in the bathtub”.
What about the jury in two years?
Scotty Schuder and Thanos Prunarus were members of the barteam in 2014 and judged the competition this time around. So do some of the 2016 barteam harbour similar ambitions? None openly said so. But the best answer to this indiscreet question came from Gegam: “Judging is a heavy responsibility. I came here to wash the dishes and I’m happier that way”. Would you be happy washing dishes at the next Grand Prix? Honestly, if opportunity comes knocking, as the barteams of past years would tell you, don’t let it pass by.