13 Mar 2018
The Protégé: South Africa’s first mentored cocktail competition

There’s a new cocktail competition on the scene: The Protégé! Food24’s very own resident cocktail and spirits writer, Leah van Deventer, is competing – and you’re all invited to cheer her on.

If you’re a serious cocktail enthusiast (like me), you’ll know that there’s no shortage of awesome cocktail competitions out there. They’re usually organised by large liquor brands, and the various heats are designed to showcase the product (or product range) and test both the competitor’s brand knowledge and bar skills. For example, you have the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge, World Class and The Forager, sponsored by Angostura, Diageo and The Botanist, respectively.

While these platforms provide amazing opportunities for established bartenders to compete internationally – and perhaps win some prize money or a coveted brand ambassador position – newbies don’t usually make it past the first round, if they qualify to compete at all.

Enter the Protégé, South Africa’s first cocktail competition organised completely by bartenders, specifically for up-and-coming talent. Here, young drink slingers are invited to pair up with heavyweights, and – under their mentorship – compete with other rookies.

Each week, a master holds a masterclass for the protégés, after which the protégés compete against each other on what they’ve learnt. Ultimately, one protégé wins the competition, but everyone walks away with new skills and new friends – both other young bartenders and established professionals they can turn to for on-going guidance and support.

The Protégé is brainchild of Jody Francis. A respected bartender with almost a decade under his belt, Jody worked behind the stick at Harry’s Bar and Lucky Shakerin Durban before making the move to South Africa’s cocktail capital, Cape Town. He further sharpened his skills at The One & Only and Orphanage Cocktail Emporiumbefore joining liquor distributor Truman & Orange.

‘The inspiration for the Protégé was when Owen O’Reilly [owner of mobile bar company, Sip Exclusive] made a Facebook comment about how the Cape Town bar industry was starting to slack compared to Joburg, with Joburg bartenders winning most of the national competitions. It reminded me why I came to Cape Town, and how the industry used to thrive here. Now, slowly but surely, Joburg was pushing ahead.

‘There are a lot of guys like me who have had opportunities to work with some of the legends in the industry, but not everyone has had that chance. So we sat down to create a platform that incorporates both established bartenders and the next generation. Essentially, we wanted to open a door that enabled the next generation to utilise our knowledge to grow their own careers.’

The Protégé competition kicked off on November 2017, with Orphanage’s Melrick Harrison taking the crown.

Season two starts on 13 March 2018, running until 8 May 2018. While season one focused on techniques like flairing and carbonation, season two is all about mastering the classics.

Every week, a master will present a masterclass on an allocated classic cocktail, like Old Fashioneds and Negronis, touching on history, methods, recipe, techniques and alcohol base. Relevant brands from various liquor houses have sponsored product for the event, so the masterclasses will also include some brand appreciation.

Following the masterclass, the protégés (and some wildcards) will compete in a speed test. The weekly winner will then go up against a drinks media personality (including me!) in a shake down to see who can make the best classic cocktail of the night, based on who sells the most. The winners from each leg will compete in the finals, testing all the classics.

The protégés are:

Jonas Mambere from The Silo Hotel
Archie Mapuqaua from The One & Only
Donald Magwaza from HQ
Nicholas Antoniades from Harringtons Cocktail Lounge

The line-up is:

13 March
MASTER: Cassandra Eichhoff from European Bartender School
MEDIA PERSONALITY: Dean Horwitz from InstaEats
BRAND: Beefeater Gin

20 March
MASTER: Owen O’Reilly from Sip Exclusive
MEDIA PERSONALITY: Leah van Deventer from Food24
BRAND: Bloedlemoen Gin

3 April
MASTER: Caitlin Hill from Rémy Cointreau
MEDIA PERSONALITY: Anel Grobler from Spit or Swallow
Bruichladdich Whisky

10 April
MASTER: Kresan Naidu from Pernod Ricard
MEDIA PERSONALITY: Dylan Moore from Mr Cape Town
Havana Club Rum

17 April 
MASTER: Bradley Jacobs from Diageo
MEDIA PERSONALITY: Bernard Gutman from Bernard on Booze
Old Fashioned
Bulleit Bourbon

24 April
MASTER: Chantelle Horn from Lion’s Head Beverages 
MEDIA PERSONALITY: Sue-Ann from Get Cooked
Bloody Mary
Malemok Vodka

1 May 
MASTER: AJ Snetler from Truman & Orange
MEDIA PERSONALITY: Marvin Leugering from Food Blog Cape Town and Patrick Leclezio, freelancer
Tito’s Vodka

MASTER: Jody Francis from Truman & Orange
All classics
All brands

Food24’s representive, Leah van Deventer

The events are open to the public, so feel free to drop by. Or, if you’d like to apply to be a protégé for season three, ask to join the Facebook group.

Masterclasses are from 5.30–6pm at District (except 20 March, which will be at Aces ‘n Spades)
Speed rounds are from 6–7pm at SurfaRosa (except 20 March, which will be at Aces ‘n Spades)
Shake down (sales) rounds are from 7–9pm at SurfaRosa (except 20 March, which will be at Aces ‘n Spades)s)

There’s a pint-and-pizza special at SurfaRosa on Tuesdays for R50, and the competition cocktails are R40 a pop. 

This post first appeared on Food24.com on 13 March 2018.

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