The last few weeks have been eventful for the Australian bar scene, with all eyes on Sydney as they hosted this year’s World Class Global Finals. We were lucky enough to sit down with Nick Tesar, a dear friend from Bar Liberty and Marionette Liqueur, who represented Australia in the finals last week. Read along as Nick gives us his insights on the competition, along with some World Class advice for the next generation of bartenders.
The name Nick Tesar is no stranger to the Australian hospitality scene. With a career spanning over the last ten years, Nick has worked in some of Melbourne’s most prestigious venues including Gin Palace, Lûmé, and Bar Liberty where he currently works as their Bar Manager. An individual with the skills and knowledge some of us can only dream to have, Nick has been a part of the Diageo World Class cocktail competition for the last seven years, making it to the top group multiple times. “I remember entering it when I was at Gin Palace. I mean, I wasn't in the top three last year, but apart from that, I was in the top 20, the three years before that. So, I've been around for a while,” says Nick.
“I was just waiting for everyone to retire,” jokes Nick before adding that the networking and learning opportunities created by the competition are why he enjoys being involved in it.
So, what exactly is the World Class Competition and how does it run? The competition is one that is run by a multinational alcoholic beverage company, Diageo, on a global scale. Bartenders compete in their home country to make it to the national finals, where the winner will then proceed to the global finals. “I think they get about 400 competitors per year in the first round, which is narrowed down to a top 100. I think this year was from a top 100 to top five,” says Nick in relation to the competition structure in Australia. The top five then proceed to a two-day intensive competition, where the national winner will be crowned.
Being this year’s national winner, he then took on the Ketel One Garnished with Good challenge, where bartenders were urged to serve their communities with every cocktail served. Each of the 50 competing nations’ finalists took part in this challenge in the lead-up to the global finals last week. Nick’s entry, Imperfect Partnerships, is an initiative that urges bartenders to connect with local farmers to utilise any excess, seasonal produce that might look imperfect, but still be of good quality.
“I very much care about the focus on primary producers. I think that they are the backbone of what we do, having the produce that is of the best quality allows us to present the best in both food and drinks in our industry. Without that there's not very much for us to do, you're just making essentially, spirits and mixed drinks as opposed to something a bit more creative.” Nick says about the ethos behind Imperfect Partnerships.
“The farmer calls you up, “Hey we got, you know, hail coming through last week. All the fruit has come off the trees, there’s small black dots on it, tastes delicious. Can you use it?” Absolutely. Yes. Let's do it.”
Nick hopes that this partnership will create awareness for the farmers who produce the ingredients we use behind the bar every day and build lasting relationships between farmers and bartenders. “They’re the unsung heroes,” says Nick.
All this preparation and months of nationwide competing led to the global finals, held in Sydney last week. The weeklong affair included a day for introductions, a prep day, followed by two days of competing where the Top 50 were narrowed down to the Top 10. Nick succeeded in making the Top 10 and took out the award for the Johnnie Walker Highball Challenge, where competitors create a Johnnie Walker signature cocktail serve, the Highball, but with a sustainable twist – a process, ingredient, or technique that promotes minimum waste, something that Nick champions with his own liqueur brand, Marionette.
The week-long ‘Bartender Olympics’ culminated last Thursday at Shell House, Sydney where Norwegian competitor, Adrián Mičhalcík, won the title of World Class Bartender of the Year.
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A competition of this scale undoubtedly comes with a whole set of nerves for those involved. And of course, we had to get Nick’s top tips for handling the pressure. “If you focus on things that you can control and make sure that your entry focuses on things that you care about, it makes it very genuine. And I find that the easiest way to settle my own nerves is to just make it something that I feel like I'm an expert on. And therefore, I don't feel like I'm competing. I feel like I'm just trying to do the best that I can,” says Nick before advising that we should think of how we can improve ourselves, and then just enjoy the experience.
“Remember, it's not about the drink. It's about being hospitable, making people have fun and making people happy. If you wanna do well, focus on it, treat it like any other job, not just hospitality. Be curious, always listen to other people's perspectives because there's always a right answer and it's somewhere in between. And there's always more things to learn.”
How does he unwind from juggling World Class and his roles at Bar Liberty and Marionette Liqueur? Lots of rugby, ABC podcasts, good tunes, and hanging out with mates. Nick’s current favourites around town include the Kangaroo Tartare at Bar Liberty, a Martini at Caretaker’s Cottage, Anchovy Toast at Carlton Wine Room, and a bartender favourite, a small pony at Black Pearl.
Australia’s Best Bartender, Global Top 10, and maker of the World’s Best Highball is a tremendous feat for any bartender. Want to follow in Nick’s footsteps? Head on over to https://www.diageobaracademy.com/en_zz/world-class/ to find out more information on World Class, and stay tuned for next year’s competition dates.