Four months of trials came down to two marathon days behind the bar for Cayman’s World Class Cocktails finalists, as mixologists vied for the opportunity to represent the islands in Mexico City.
Nine of the islands’ best bartenders got bottles clanking behind the Cracked Conch bar on June 22. Only two moved on to the final night at Grand Cayman Marriott’s Anchor & Den: Fede Gisbert Johnson of the Backroom and Amba Lamb of Seven Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
“While it was a long two days for most of our bartenders, it was also a lot of fun. The talent in Cayman continues to thrive as was apparent with our final two pop-up bars in Anchor & Den,” says Jacques Scott brand manager Jo Austin.
“[Finalists] put their all into this final challenge with exciting results for all our guests but in the end only one person can win and represent Cayman in Mexico City at the Global Finals in August.”
Johnson enticed judges with a secret garden-themed menu, including a local mango cocktail with basil and clove-infused Tanqueray 10.
Lamb, however, won over the panel with a carnival-themed set up, where she served a popcorn and butter-inspired Bulleit bourbon and a salted caramel-infused Johnnie Walker Platinum.
A cotton candy machine and sweet popcorn added to the circus flare.
Amba Lamb was born in New Zealand and you could say she started in the service industry at a very young age. “I was working at Burger King when I was 14 years old; does that count?” she laughs.
Although she originally set her sights on joining the New Zealand Air Force, studying electronics and circuit boards at a technical college, it seems that fate had another plan for her. Her first job abroad was as an instructor at a summer camp in the U.S. but future travels revolved around a burgeoning bartending career that had begun at a student pub back home.
She worked in Ireland, Edinburgh and London, interspersing these times away with trips back to her native land. She also spent a year in Victoria, British Columbia, working at the luxury Oak Bay Beach Hotel.
In 2014, Lamb made the move to the Cayman Islands, taking up a position at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. She started in what is now Andiamo Restaurant, and then went to Seven Restaurant where she has been ever since.
When asked what she likes about the world of mixology, she says, “I like surprising people with what you can put in drinks. I’ve attempted getting out of the industry in the past to work in retail, but I’ve always come back. I’ve realized this is the right job for me.”
Lamb, who has 20 years of hospitality experience, described her victory in the Cayman World Class Cocktails finals as similar to winning the Oscars of bartending.
The win represents months of preparation, training and mixology seminars.
“I felt like I had prepared well but the talent was so amazing that it’s really hard to know how it’s going to end up,” she says.
“There is so much talent going into it. You are really competing against yourself.”
Leading up to the finals in Mexico, she will travel to Cartagena, Colombia, in July for a four-day mixology boot camp. In August, she will represent Cayman in the world finals in Mexico City.
“We couldn’t be happier with Amba and are so excited to support her at the global finals. She has creativity, personality and most importantly, makes world-class drinks,” Austin says.
In June, Lamb also won the Restaurant Employee of the Year Award at the Cayman Stingray Tourism Awards.