Words by: Ingmar Voerman/Ben Lobos
With the World Class global finals about to kick off in Berlin (October 5-8), we figured it might be worthwhile to check how Dutch finalist Ben Lobos is doing.
Ben, for the few that not have any clue: Tell us who you are, where you're from, and where you work.
Ben: "I am Ben Lobos, a bartender originally born in Scotland, with a Chilean Father, hence the unusually un-Scottish last name, and proudly working at Dr. Rotterdam."
Laugh it off
What have you been up to since winning World Class?
"Its been a busy summer. I laughed it off after I won the Dutch Finals when I had a multitude of people coming up to me, whispering in my ear as they congratulated me: 'you won't have a summer this year, but that’s ok, there’s always next year'. But they were right. It's been a pretty constant workflow, from working during the day on the competition and ending my day working behind the bar at Dr."
"But I must say, the challenges this year, compared to those of previous years, have been pretty interactive. I incorporated these challenges with things I had wanted to do, and ideas that had been on my mind for a while, for example, foraging.
Obviously I had foraged before, but this time around was in huge bulk, and for an ingredient that surprised me when I first encountered it, so much that I wanted to find a way of using it during the finals."
The road to Berlin
What are the challenges you have to be ready for in Berlin?
"I believe there’s quite a few, many of which I have been trying to prepare for already, such as the horror story that is caused by exploding fermentations, syrups and other home made ingredients. This is pretty simple, by adding a splash of high proof Alcohol, fermentation ceases to progress.
The breakage of glassware is another challenge. I will just bring a few sets more than needed, which is also nice as I will be able to give out a few gifts!
I am clearly avoiding the obvious challenge here, and that is of the rest of the competition, the level is extremely high, and of course I have viewed videos of a few of the bartenders competing, but at the end of the day, I can only do what I can do here.
My team, especially Alberto and Helder have been great at supporting me mentally. Its very easy to doubt yourself, but I am sure everyone is feeling the same as I do, so its just about having fun and seeing what happens from there, right?".
Exactly how do you prepare for the toughest and most challenging cocktail competition in the world?
"You question everything, doubt everything, and test everything! I mean, I think a few of my drinks have been on the drawing board more times than the architects drawings for the Empire State Building!
The biggest thing I have been preparing for-which might be pretty important- is keeping myself focused. Tweaking ingredients time and time again to find the desired balance. At the end of the day, If I am confident and proud of the my drinks, it should go smooth from there."
During the Dutch finals your appearance was remarkably cool. How do you stay ‘zen’ and not have your nerves get the better of you?
"Ah, this is one of those iceberg stories. I’m glad I came across as zen, but under the surface, I was as nervous as the rest. My tricks to stay calm were visible to most, I kept myself focused in the back of house by listening to music without lyrics.
This allows me to relax and clear my mind. Even on stage, I was listening to music as I set up the bar and went through my notes and steps one last time before the presentation: one deep breath and I was good.
At the end of the day, all the work has been done before that stage, then, when you’re faced by the crowd and judges, its just like having a room full of bartenders to train, or guests to serve.
The other thing that helped was, my ‘story’ was literally just about personal experiences so I could freely talk. Afterwards I remembered a few points I could have improved, but thankfully in the end it didn’t matter."
Do you have any tricks up your sleeve to blow the judges away in Berlin?
"A few perhaps, obviously I won’t mention them just yet, you’ll have to come check it out, or tune in online to see them. The fun thing has been that this years challenges have also been more solid on simplicity of serve and replicability…
This does come with its challenges of course, but I find working with constraints a good way to find a clear path in designing a drink. Simple drinks however are not simple to construct, which may be a common misconception when it comes to seeing the final product. But believe me, there have been a fair few previous versions that have been striped down multiple times to get to the end serve. "
Bring home the bacon
To end with, are you bringing home that shiny trophy?
"Ah, I've heard that beautiful question so many times over the past few months, and I have always answered it the same: ‘ I am aiming to do well, and winning would be incredible! But I joined this competition for the experience and look where its got me now!'"
"I will keep going with the same ethos and see what happens, after all, every dog has his day’. For me, it’s the only way to go into this. It is such a prestigious title, and an incredible experience to be a part of. If I look too much at the top of the mountain, its very easy to miss a few steps to get there and never reach it. Its all about keeping grounded and having some fun with it and enjoying the ride."
Ben concludes: "It's already an incredible achievement, and to be able to put my name beside so many great bartenders from the past 10 years of World Class is a true honour. "
'The best of luck Ben, We're pretty sure you'll rock this competition as you rocked the Dutch finals! Cheers' - Team Difford's NL
Ben’s guest bartending at World Class Room on September 28th
Would you like to see Ben make his World Class cocktails, just before heading to Berlin and entering the finals?
On coming Friday September 28th Ben will showcase some of his magic at World Class Room in Amsterdam. From 19.00 till 21.00 there will be an invite only event where Ben will showcase his -top secret-drinks for the Johnnie Walker and Ketel One challenges. From 21.00 on Ben will prepare drinks for everyone who wants to drop by.