The Galvin Cup, which will be staged at the Grosvenor House hotel in early June, is aimed at both student and professional bar staff, with a trophy and £1,000 for the winner plus other big prizes up for grabs. Fiona Sims sets the scene
Like many in the industry, Fred Sirieix has struggled to attract good bar staff. But the general manager of Galvin at Windows, on top of London Hilton on Park Lane, has come up with a corker to boost things on that front - the Galvin Cup. This is the second year for the mixology competition, which takes place at the Red Bar at the Grosvenor House hotel, Park Lane (which shares the bar staff problem), on Tuesday 3 June, and it promises to be bigger and better, says Sirieix.
"We wanted to do something for the industry. We felt it was about time bar staff received a bit of recognition for their efforts and were given the chance to shine as chefs do. I remember going on lots of stages when I was a student but I never saw anybody else doing it. If you look at industry figures, around 60% of staff don't have the relevant training," he declares.
So how does it work? Well it's a two-tier competition - the morning session for students, the afternoon session for bar professionals, with prizes for each, plus that coveted cup. "The idea is that students stay to watch the professionals do their stuff in the afternoon - learn from them, use them as role models," explains Sirieix.
His first step was to contact catering colleges to let them know about the Galvin Cup - from Thames Valley University to his old school, Souillac, near Cahors in the South-west of France. This year contestants will come from as far away as Switzerland. "I want to raise the profile of the cup, tell everyone that this is what we're doing, and we're doing it together - we need to shout about," he says.
"I'm concerned by the lack of good staff coming through," admits the restaurant's Michelin-starred co-proprietor, Chris Galvin, and the competition's co-creator. "I love the way the Roux Scholarship always helps people to excel, so if we can do something similar to highlight bar skills, then it would be great to make a difference," he says.
Having Galvin's name on the cup should move things along a bit - plus they have a celebrity judge - ex-footballer Graeme Le Saux. He's a regular at Windows, apparently, and a big fan of Galvin's and head chef André Garrett's food. "We just asked him whether he wanted to be a judge and he said yes," reveals Sirieix.
In fact, the judges include some real heavyweights, including Silvano Giraldin at Le Gavroche, drinks broadcaster and writer Nigel Barden, and L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon general manager Yann Chevris. Not to mention Springboard's Anne Pierce, and this year's chair of the judges, Luca Cordilieri, who heads up the UK Bartenders' Guild, and not forgetting master of ceremonies Robbie Bargh, managing director of the Gorgeous Group. I wouldn't want to drop my shaker in front of that little lot.
Here's what to expect. The morning session, Category 1, is for the students and involves making a classic cocktail, and then making their own creation. Last year they had to make a Martini - this year it's a Champagne Cocktail. "And no, they don't all taste the same - there was a huge difference," says Sirieix. "Also, they're marked on how the contestants present themselves, and how confident they are." The judges then tot up the marks.
Last year's student winner was Maxime Croizer from Le Lycée Ferrandi in Paris, who just happened to be on work experience at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe. "I thought he was amazing. He really impressed us with his creative drink - a Champagne Cocktail made with marmalade. Delicious," recalls Sirieix. He narrowly beat Simone Brewster from Croydon College, who came second.
The afternoon session, Category 2, is for employed bar professionals. It follows the same format: first you have to make a classic Champagne Cocktail with Piper Heidsieck Champagne, and then you can freestyle in the creative cocktail segment, using Rémy Martin VSOP. The cocktail can contain up to five ingredients, including syrups, fruit juices, dashes and drops. Last year's winner was Salvatore Maggio from London's Cumberland hotel, who pipped Renan Lejeune from Zeta Bar in London's Mayfair.
This year, Sirieix and co have introduced a new part to the competition - the Shake-Off. Contestants will split into teams of three, and the winner of each round will compete in a final heat. "Think MasterChef," he grins. As in the popular BBC2 TV show, contestants will get a surprise bag of ingredients, from which they have to create a winning cocktail. If you're wondering about the ingredients, drinks company Maxxium is the sponsor this year. The points accrued from this round will be added to the others to decide the winner.
The silver, engraved cup will be presented in the Red Bar directly after the event. There's £1,000 in prize money for the winner of the professional team and other prizes up for grabs, including a weekend for two at the Hilton Park Lane, a Champagne dinner for two at Galvin at Windows, a trip to Cognac and the Champagne region, plus work experience stints at Galvin and the Red Bar for the students. There's also a special award for the students - the Robbie Bargh Prize. The winner will get the chance to work with the bar industry wunderkind on a new project for a week.
"It's not just about generating your revenue through improved bar sales it's about satisfying your customers. If you offer them something good, people will come - and keep coming," says Sirieix.
For an entry form, to be returned by 30 April, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or download it from www.galvinatwindows.com.