Cayman bartender comes second in global competition

The title of Diageo Reserve Brands’ World Class Bartender of the Year 2009 was decided in London last month, after a year-long global competition brought winning bartenders to London, England for three days of the World Class challenges.

Bartender Khi Leonard

Bartender Khi Leonard celebrates after winning the semi-finals in Cayman, earning him a trip to London to compete in the finals, where he placed second in the world.

More than 6,000 bartenders shook, stirred and poured in the semifinals, held in 24 countries, but only 18 remained.

Aristotelis Papadopoulos of Banquet in Thessaloniki, Greece, won the overall title after impressing the judging panel made up of Dale DeGroff, Salvatore Calabrese, Simon Difford, Peter Dorelli, Gary Regan and Hidetsugu Ueno, some of the most recognised names in the business.

After winning the semi-finals in Cayman, the Westin Casuarina Resort and Spa’s Khi Leonard travelled to London, where he took second place in the overall bartending competition, also stealing the prize for one of the six individual challenges that took place in the competition, that of Best Classic Cocktail.

‘Khi’s success makes him the second best bartender in the world,’ said Barnaby Richardson, marketing manager for Jacques Scott, the company which organised the competition in Cayman. ‘We are very proud of him.’

Mr. Leonard was delighted with the experience that competing in the contest gave him.

‘The whole event, from start to finish, was utterly amazing,’ said Mr. Leonard. ‘The standards of my fellow competitors and the pedigree of the world-class judges made me learn more in four days than I have in the last four years.’

The inaugural global Diageo Reserve World Class competition has been dubbed the ‘Liquid Oscars’. Global Reserve Brands’ General Manager Rudy Paoli said: ‘World Class is a truly international celebration of cocktail culture – the flair, creativity and craft of the bartender and the appreciation of great spirit brands and their heritage.’

Event judge Mr. Regan, who is a spirit and cocktail expert, said: ‘What’s most impressive about Diageo Reserve World Class is how every aspect of the craft of bartending has been examined by the different challenges and the judges – it is the most thorough bartending competition I have ever encountered, pretty incredible.

‘I’ve learned something from every one of the 18 finalists; 21st Century bartenders are so creative.’

Niels Schulze-Gattermann, food and beverage manager at the Westin, expressed his pride for Mr. Leonard’s success, both in the semi-finals here in Cayman and in England.

‘I am proud of the thoughts, ideas and time Khi put into his job in the competition,’ said Mr. Schulze-Gattermann. ‘I am very happy for Khi for the experiences he made with competing in such an important bartender event, and to represent not just him and the Westin resort but more importantly, the Cayman Islands.

‘Out of my own experiences from competitions just like this, it is priceless for such a young gentleman and his career, and I am sure he will share a lot of this with his co-workers back at the Westin.’

World Class Master of Ceremonies, star chef Marco Pierre White, said: ‘The bar is the most important aspect of any hotel or restaurant and it’s time that bartenders receive the same acknowledgement as chefs’.

The competition was developed to ‘educate and inspire bartending talent to create exceptional cocktails, service and experiences,’ read a press release from Global Reserve Brands.

‘The bar is one of the greatest theatres in the world,’ said judge Mr. Calabrese, who is an internationally-renowned bartender at FIFTY London. ‘Being a bartender is about understanding people and knowing how to meet their expectations. This wasn’t about luck, it was about skill – World Class is not just a competition; it is raising the industry bar.’