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MONTREAL — At an exciting three-day event drawing the finest bartending talent from across the nation, Toronto’s Massimo Zitti of the famous Queen West Mother cocktail bar, was anointed Diageo World Class Canada Bartender of the Year 2022. Zitti did so after demonstrating exceptional skill during a series of grueling challenges that pushed the cocktail-creating industry’s boundaries.
(It should be noted that, since the Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year competition was launched back in 2009, more than 400,000 bartenders have been inspired and educated in the fine art of cocktail culture and the craft of mixology.)
The competition, hosted at The Ritz-Carlton in Montreal, brought together Canada’s top bartending talent, including Dylan Brentwood (N.S.), Kate Chernoff (B.C.), Sam Clark (B.C.), David Draper (Alta.), Matt Hassen (B.C.), Keegan McGregor (N.S.), Jason McNeely (Ont.), Jess Mili (Ont.), Teneille Whyte (Alta.) and Zitti (Ont.) And, although all the competitors showed admirals skills particularly under exacting conditions, it was Zitti who presented a style of hospitality that set him apart, giving him the thrilling opportunity to represent Canada at the World Class Global competition in Sydney, Australia this coming September.
The competitors were judged by a panel of past winners, including James Grant (2021 winner and who now hands the reigns over to Zitti) Kaitlyn Stewart (2017 winner), and Global runner up, Jeff Savage from 2019. The judging panel also included guest judges, including the famous mixology master Ago Perrone, beverage director at the Connaught Hotel in London, England (considered a legend in the industry), Dennis Tamse, Ketel One’s global distillery ambassador; Lynnette Marrero, award-winning New York bartender and founder of Speed Rack; and the surprise special guest judge, none other than award-winning actor, author and Tanqueray No. TEN partner, Stanley Tucci, who told the Sun in an earlier interview, that he was excited for this event, and was looking for something truly unique in the winning cocktail, with levels of complexity and bright taste.
In an earlier interview Grant, who hails from Edmonton, talked about how winning in 2021 was “life-changing. Overnight, my world changed for good, in a wonderful way. I’ve travelled, I’ve shared my passion. It is an experience like none other.”
Grant says representing Canada on a global stage “is an incredible honour, and showing the world just how special Canada is.”
Master mixologist Perrone spoke about his excitement as a judge “as we usher in a new generation of talent for this industry,” adding that the World Class Bartender of the Year event is the perfect vehicle to show the world exactly what the art of the cocktail is all about. “There is a love for our profession. Bartenders are, in essence, ambassadors for the cocktail industry. It’s not just a question of mixing an alcoholic product with a mixer, it’s creating a guest experience the person will remember always.”
Como, Italy-born Perrone demonstrated this by assembling one of his world-famous martinis – a favourite of James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, who has been persuaded to have his martini “stirred, and not shaken,” said Perrone, as he used a combination of excellent gin, a blend of several Italian vermouths, one of a selection of personally blended essential oils, in which he rims the glass – and a jaw-dropping technique of poring the drink from high above his head, all the while spritzing the liquid with fresh citrus juice. The idea for this procedure, explained Perrone, is to aerate the liquid for a gentler mouthfeel.
Criteria for the competition was strict, and based on the five traits of a world-class bartender, including understanding the social dynamics of a bar, technical ability, showmanship, cocktail presentation, finesse and theatre, flavour analysis, encyclopedic recipe knowledge, along with a deep understanding of the drinks, the events and the characters that have shaped the bar industry throughout history to the present day and advocacy. The competitors have to create a series of cocktails using various surprise ingredients under strict timelines.
Collectively, judges were looking for a wow factor that set the cocktail apart from the others – which is what Zitti’s winning cocktail certainly did!
In a recent interview, Zitti admits he’s still in a happy fog over his win, saying he’s still pinching himself, even though the last round was beyond intense: “When I went through the last round and walked on the stage with my (finished drinks) I realized my career going through a very crucial stage…this was 23 years of work for me, culminating on the stage at that moment.
“Yet, the experience gave me a lot of energy.” Zitti attributes his Jujutsu training with giving him that “focus and concentration that I needed,” giving thanks to Diageo for keeping the industry going, and for offering bartenders opportunities to continue with their craft.
“These last few years have been incredibly challenging (for) this industry. I’m grateful that Diageo gives bartenders the opportunity to showcase their skill and elevate the craft of bartending. It’s an honour to join the outstanding group of World Class bartenders in Canada.” Zitti’s also looking forward to travelling to Australia – “I was born in Italy, and have lived in Britain, Paris, Spain and now Toronto. Australia sounds incredibly exciting.”
Take-aways from the competition? “Meeting my mixology idol, Ago Perrone! The man is a legend. It was thrilling beyond words.”