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And Then There was One Congrats, Trevor Luke!

Thursday, June 06, 2019

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Last Thursday, anxiety ran high among the 11 finalists for the first-ever Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards Bartender of the Year designation, as we were all eager to learn who made the top five. The nerves were soon calmed, at least for some, with the announcement that they were Trevor Luke of Marriott Hotel, Andrew Weir of Russell's T-20, Melissa Fletcher of Hilton Rose Hall Hotel, Donnine Wilson of Half Moon Hotel, and Gossett Brown of The Rockhouse Hotel. Being shortlisted demonstrated how impressed the Food Awards judging panel was, and for that we say kudos to this amazing group. On the evening of the 21st staging, Food Awards conceptualiser Novia McDonald-Whyte invited the five bartenders to grace the stage so that they could be recognised for a job well done! But alas, there could only be one winner and he did so with precision and style! We extend our heartfelt congratulations to none other than Trevor Luke — Bartender of the Year! We sat with Trevor to get his feedback on this very historic accomplishment and his future plans.

Thursday Food (TF): How does it feel to be Bartender of the Year?

Trevor Luke (TL): I always dreamt of this day! Today it is a reality — I have been recognised for my hard work and dedication to the bartending profession and mixology.

TF: What was so special about your cocktails?

TL: I believe my cocktails, which include the glassware, must tell a story. That was the mindset I had during the competition. I needed to share two distinct stories, and that is what I did.

Cocktail #1 — The Observer Bird

I was browsing my Instagram (IG) page and within my IG feed I saw some unusual glassware. I then began to imagine what cocktails I could create. I also thought about food pairing. Later, I decided to purchase a few unique pieces of glassware. Once I received the glasses, I began imagining how they could reflect the ingredients of the cocktail. I knew I wanted to include some form of gastronomy; after all, I would be presenting to the Food Awards judging panel! My cocktail was made up of vodka, apple vodka, apple sours, pineapple juice and homemade pineapple syrup with ginger extract. I used the ginger extract to get a bold ginger profile. The food pairing had to be similar to what was in the glass, so I made a sweet and sour shrimp smoked in apple smoke wood. The shrimp was cooked in a similar base as the cocktail: pineapple syrup, vodka, vinegar and ginger. I then garnished the glass with pineapple leaves and a bamboo straw courtesy of Bambusa — creating the feathers and tail of the bird. The story here reflects nature — the predator and the prey. In this case the predator is the bird and the prey is the shrimp hidden in fog or smoke.

Cocktail #2 — Walk With Passion

The message that I wanted to highlight was whatever you put your mind to, must be done well. Johnnie Walker Black Whisky was my base spirit, and from experience I knew that passion fruit goes well with full-bodied dark spirits. The passion fruit tends to be a bit tangy, so I used a homemade rosemary syrup to balance the cocktail, then added ginger extract and Scotch bonnet infused bitters for added complexity. The glassware was shaped like a challis, so I wanted a burning and smoky effect. This effect would come from the Scotch bonnet bitters and by smoking the glass with applewood. I then garnished the glass with passion fruit, topped with ginger soda and a drop of overproof rum. I then flamed the garnish to release the added aromas and juices contained in the passion fruit.

TF: After you made these presentations how did you feel?

TL: I felt really good! I felt like a scientist in a lab. I knew the judges loved the creations — I could tell by their facial expressions. I catered to my audience, kept the ingredient proportions correct and paid attention to the time limits. I knew that the cocktails would speak for themselves.

TF: So, you made it to top five. How did you feel?

TL: I checked the Observer online every night when I left work. I had received an e-mail earlier in the week informing me that I would be moving to the top five, but it did not seem real until I saw the print for myself. I was overjoyed and excited, yet still a little nervous. I was confident though that at least I should be in the top two.

TF: You have now been announced winner of this very prestigious inaugural designation. How are you feeling?

TL: Thursday night onstage, I was just proud to be standing there. I heard all the bartenders' names being announced including mine, then I heard my name for a second time. I was wondering why my name was called twice, then I heard everyone clapping that was when I realised I had been declared the winner! Wow! I cannot begin to describe the feeling.

TF: What does this win mean to you?

TL: It means that my talent has been recognised. It also means that I have a responsibility to ensure that I stay on top of my game and use my influence so that other bartenders elevate their game as well. It means that I may be given the opportunity to showcase my talents in other settings such as corporate events or private parties. I also can travel within and outside of Jamaica to showcase my cocktails and demonstrate how the use of effective tools can enhance the bar and cocktail experience.

TF: How were you received once you returned to work?

TL: I received a warm welcome back from everyone — from the Finance Department, Front Desk, Administration, Housekeeping, Food & Beverage, and so on. I was even commended by Marriott International. I really felt so good — I felt like a superstar! It really made me feel proud to attain this level of accomplishment for myself and my organisation.

TF: What plans do you have for the future?

TL: My next goal is to compete in the international Marriott bartender competition. I want to take, showcase, and use my Jamaican ingredients wherever I go. I want to show the versatility of Jamaican ingredients. I would also like to visit other countries, for example Japan. The Japanese are rated amongst the best for high service standards. The Japanese also possess a particular style of bartending — they use a lot of herbs and spices. If given the opportunity, this would be a game-changer for me. I would use the skills acquired to influence service levels at the bar here in Jamaica.

TF: Would you like to share anything else with our readers?

TL: I would just like to take the opportunity to thank the Jamaica Observer, The Academy of Bartending, my family, friends and colleagues for supporting me throughout this process. I will continue to enter more competitions as I want to continuously improve myself. I would like to extend an invitation to the readers to visit the View Bar by the Marriott to try the other special cocktails we have, especially on Martini Wednesdays and Margarita Fridays.

NB Jason Carpenter, lead server and supervisor of The View Bar, Centro Restaurant, and Banqueting at the Marriott described how elated the entire team felt on this accomplishment by Luke. Carpenter indicated that at the Marriott, the team works as a family; therefore, a win for Luke is a win for the entire team. Carpenter further indicated that the Marriott encourages employees to be the best they can be in whichever role they are employed.

Readers' Feedback:

Imagine if we embraced life's moments big and small, without reservation. Together, we might fill the world with contagious joy. Please share with meyour wines, spirits and cocktail experiences or comments on the above article at debbiansm@gmail.com, or follow me on IG @debbiansm #barnoneja.

Debbian Spence-Minott

An Alumna of the US Sommelier Association

CEO of the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines

President – Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists (JUBAM) Limited

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