In 2012, New Orleans native Ricky Gomez won the U.S. finals of Diageo World Class, one of the world's most exclusive cocktail competitions. At the time he was living in Portland, Oregon, and he's since traveled the world as the first U.S. ambassador for World Class. Next week, the Cure veteran will move home. Gomez spoke with Gambit about cocktail trends and his plans.
As a judge at this year's Diageo World Class regionals and a coach at the U.S. finals, what were you looking for?
Gomez: Bartending is more than one skill set, so at the regional level they were tested in three events: a speed challenge, serving classics with a twist and a theater challenge, where they presented bottle service. That one allowed a lot of creativity. The judges want to see something new, so taking risks is key to winning the competition. And it helps to treat the judges like guests, because how you stand out in the contest are the same things that people remember at your bar.
At the U.S. finals in New York, bartenders had a "dealer's choice" challenge, where they drew a base spirit, drink style and [flavor] descriptor from a deck of cards, then came up with a drink on the spot. So many guests don't know what they like, but American bartenders excel at helping them figure it out.
You have to express yourself and entertain at the international level, because at that point, everyone makes good drinks. Personality is huge. You're competing with eccentric Europeans who put on a great show.
During your travels, what have you spotted in cocktail trends?
G: The regional American stereotypes — New York knows brown, stirred cocktails; the West Coast is all about market-fresh and citrus drinks — are gone now. It's great to see so much individuality. A few big trends I like are advanced techniques for infusing, like sous-vide, as well as cocktails on tap and carbonated cocktails. A fun thing is that people are revisiting cocktails like the Long Island iced tea and the Alabama slammer, and putting their culinary twist on them and making them great highbrow drinks. I'm also starting to see more bars designed by bartenders, with better layouts. Bartenders aren't historically involved in equipment setup, so it's refreshing to see them have that kind of influence.
What's next for you?
G: I miss being behind the bar and serving people, so starting July 11, I'll be working Friday nights at Cure. And during Tales of the Cocktail (talesofthecocktail.com), I'll be working in two tasting rooms: the Appleton Rum room (10 a.m.–3 p.m. Wednesday, July 16) and VEEV Spirits room (10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Friday, July 18, and 3:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m. Saturday, July 19).
Long-term, it's a passion of mine to create my own space and concept. I look forward to doing that in New Orleans.