Help Bacardi Search for the Best Bartenders, Chefs at Sea

December 4, 2007

You be the judge! Starting next week, Cruise Critic members will have the opportunity to choose their favorite Cocktail and Culinary recipe from the list of 10 semifinalists. The bartender and chef who get the majority of your votes will be presented with Cruise Critic's Cruisers' Choice Awards at Bacardi's official awards ceremony in April 2008!

Stay tuned to Cruise Critic for more details on how to rock the vote.

If you've cruised with Carnival this year, you may have tried paprika and Disaronno braised lamb shanks with chocolate cinnamon sauce or sipped a Kiwi Sapphire cocktail (fresh kiwi, Bombay Sapphire gin and Sour Apple Schnapps). That's because those recipes won Carnival staffers the coveted titles of Bacardi Bartender of the Year and Bacardi Chef of the Year in the beverage company's Second Annual Bacardi Cruise Competition in 2006.

Now, Bacardi is on the hunt once again for top-notch bartenders and chefs at sea in the Third Annual Bacardi Cruise Competition. The contest is open to cruise and ferry line bartenders and chefs worldwide at least 21 years of age. The categories fall under two segments: Cocktails (Martini, Frozen, Rocks/Highball, Specialty and Signature Cocktail -- more on that later!) and Culinary (Meat/Poultry, Fish/Seafood, Soup, Vegetarian and Dessert). Here's how it works:

Bartenders and chefs were required to submit their own entries. The call for entries began in June with a deadline of September 30, 2007. Among other stipulations, the rules state that all recipes submitted had to be original, include a digital color photo, and use one or more of the following Bacardi products: Bacardi rums and flavored rums, Bombay Sapphire gin, Grey Goose vodka and flavored vodkas, Dewar's blended scotch whiskies, and Martini & Rossi vermouth and sparkling wines -- as well as liqueur products B & B, Drambuie and Disaronno.

Once the entry deadline passed, a team of preliminary judges began winnowing down the possible winners. Taste testers from beverage consulting service ShowTenders (which revamped Royal Caribbean's drinks program a few years ago) and renowned culinary school Johnson and Wales University (where Emeril Lagasse cut his teeth) have spent the last two months recreating the submitted recipes in their test kitchens in an effort to narrow down the contenders from 807 to 10.

Next month, a panel of VIP judges will assess the "submissions" of the 10 semifinalists -- one in each of the 10 categories -- at an exclusive event in Florida. Once the results from this judgment are tallied, the creators of the highest-rated cocktail recipe and highest-rated culinary recipe will be awarded the honor of Bacardi Bartender of the Year and Bacardi Chef of the Year respectively at a private event in April 2008 in Florida. Exact dates are yet to be announced.

Already we're hearing some interesting insights from preliminary judges who tell us that:

This year's hot ingredient is cool... as a cucumber! The new-for-2007 Signature Cocktail category requires the use of cucumber in the drink itself (not just as a garnish) -- so it is only natural that the crisp vegetable is a popular ingredient this year. On the whole, martini recipes are among the most popular submissions this year, followed by Frozen and Rocks/Highball libations.

Libations are in the lead. About 66 percent of all entries this year were for Cocktails, with the rest falling under Culinary. There was an overall increase in entries of 10.4 percent; though culinary was down 14 percent from 2006, cocktails were up 29 percent.

Everyone gets an A for effort. Spokeswoman Deborah Golden tells us that "unless they sound awful," all entries are reproduced in Johnson and Wales' and Show Tenders' test kitchens. In the case of Johnson and Wales, for example, the dean of culinary education divides workload between his colleagues to implement as a training vehicle for their students. Because the process is so extensive, the initial judging can take anywhere from four to six weeks. Indeed, Golden expects the 10 semifinalists to be announced early this month, more than two months after the entry deadline!

No favoritism, please. The judging process is totally unbiased from the very beginning; each recipe is assigned a number and category -- and that's it. Judges do not know the name of any entrants or which cruise line they work for. Even the 10 semifinalists' background information is kept under wraps until Bacardi announces its Bartender of the Year and Bacardi Chef of the Year.

Who's participating? Seventeen cruise and ferry lines participated this year, compared to 22 last year (though there was a 10 percent increase in total entries), from Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean to Iberojet Cruceros and Silja Line. Among the newcomers to the competition this year are Tallink, a Tallinn-based cruise ferry line, and SeaDream, which sails luxury cruises on yacht-like ships.

The 10 semifinalists will each receive $500 cash scholarship for independent study. The Bacardi Bartender of the Year and Bacardi Chef of the Year will be presented with an additional cash scholarship of $1,000 each for a grand total of $1,500. Cruise lines whose employee(s)' entries make it to the semifinals are required to prominently feature the winning recipe(s) aboard all ships in their fleet for the 2008 sailing season.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor