The pressure was on for 10 bartenders competing at the Cornucopia Cocktail Competition, and it showed as Eloyn Lobato from the Mexican Corner, the first bartender in the competition, poured ingredients with a visibly shaky hand.
He wasn't the only competitor who struggled under the pressure of working in a room full of watchful eyes. Most of the event participants delivered nervous narratives and poured using unstable hands at the Whistler Conference Centre on Thursday, Nov. 14 during the annual Cornucopia bartender competition. An audience of about 40 people watched the event in the entrance to the centre as four judges watched every pour, every infusion and each drink sample while every move was captured by an overhead camera then projected onto large screen televisions.
The guy to beat was Scot Curry of Alta Bistro, the winner of the competition last year and the bartender who took home the big prize at the Bloody Caesar Battle during the Oyster Festival at the Bearfoot Bistro in July. But he held on to his title for the second year in a row.
This competition left more room for creativity compared to the Caesar event this summer. The only mandatory ingredient this time was Flor de Caña rum. Curry's drink brought together chipotle, vanilla, cracked pepper, cinnamon, sarsaparilla, fresh lemon, egg white, a dash of ginger beer and, of course, rum from Flor de Caña with a garnish of burnt cinnamon. He called the final product Five Alarm Fizz.
"I felt pretty comfortable, you're always a bit nervous before those things for sure," says Curry reflecting back a few days after the competition.
"I kinda got into the zone. I try to just get into the zone. I made the crowd laugh a couple of times and that makes you a little more comfortable. It makes it uncomfortable if people are quiet and just staring at you."
To help deal with the nerves at bartending events, Curry says he avoids caffeine ahead of the contest. He says there's no way to stop that nervous energy once it sets in during a competition in front of a crowd.
"The more conscious you are of trying to make yourself stop shaking, the worse it gets," says Curry.
He says he makes drinks that pop for the judge's palate when he competes.
"That's what I always try to go for, stuff that's going to be bright and stand," says Curry. "Doing the competitions is different. It's a different skill set."
The Alta Bistro bartender took home a cheque for $2,000. Curry said the money will cover his season's pass to Whistler Blackcomb and get him a few après drinks after his first few days on the mountains.
The second place finisher in the event was Keenan Hood from Keefer Bar in Vancouver with his drink called Last Crack and Tia Stonier of The Mix by Ric's placed third with a cocktail she declared was an ode to female bartenders.