Nelson Bernardes

The lowdown on Nelson

After working in nightclubs in Lisbon, Nelson ran a bar with his friend Alvaro Anjos in Portugal for  seven years. He came to London in October 2008 to work at the Kingsway Hall “and everything changed with the level of skills and knowledge I encountered here. The London cocktail scene opened my mind and vision towards to a long future of development behind the bar.” After a year he moved to The Waldorf Hilton where he still works today at the recently opened Good Godfrey’s Bar.

He won the Hilton Absolut Cocktail Competition London Heat 2010, took third place in the Akvinta Grand Prix London Heat 2010, was a finalist in the Bacardi Legacy Competition London Heat 2010 and won the Hilton Havana Club Cocktail Competition London Heat 2011. Nelson was a semi-finalist in the World Class White Spirits London Heat 2011 and received the most votes in the White Spirits Wild Card category for his cocktail the Refined Madam.

What led you to become a bartender?

Being a bartender wasn’t my childhood dream – I studied at a naval school because I love to travel, I’ve been part of an elite troop “Comandos” in Portugal because I consider myself fearless,  made some movie castings because I love adventure,  practised gymnastics for more than ten years because I’ve always appreciated a good appearance and an elegant style, and when I accepted my first job as a bartender, I took it because I always like to take on board new challenges. It was also a good way to help my mother at home. Later it became my passion and finally my way of life. Bartending combines everything I like; it’s taken me travelling to a few different countries, I face new challenges, every day is a new adventure and working in a prestigious bar with a great environment means I end every shift feeling like I’ve accomplished something.

What’s the best thing about your job?

It’s not boring at all! It’s the kind of job where I learn and experience something new every day. Like the extreme sportsman, a bartender doesn’t have any limits, he can always progress and improve. I am always willing to learn more, and the more I know, the more I want to know. For others this could be frustrating as you’re never completely on top of your game, but for me it’s absolutely stimulating to admit that, “The only thing I know, is that I know nothing,” as famously quoted by Socrates.

Who do you admire in the industry and why?

That’s a difficult one. I had the chance to learn personally with Brian Page, Peter Dorelli, Mickael Perron and Wayne Collins on different courses, then I have my own library with books from Dave Wondrich, Dale De Groff, Jared Brown, Gary Regan, etc and I’ve had the chance to attend some of their seminars at bar shows. Once I attended a spirits course with Alex Turner and Jamie Stephenson and was really impressed with their knowledge. But then there is the new generation of bartenders including Erik Lorincz, Alex Kratena, Stefano Cossio, Agostino Perrone, Marian Beke, etc… all of them are role models to me and I have asked them for their advice in the past. It would be impossible to name one person I admired.

If you could mix a drink for anyone alive or dead who would it be and why?

Probably Albert Einstein. It would have been a real challenge to serve him a cocktail as he didn’t appreciate alcoholic beverages much, but as he proved in his theory of relativity everything is relative and there are drinks and there are drinks.

What’s your favourite classic cocktail and why?

A Whisky Sour, I guess it was my “easy way” to start to drink and appreciate whisky. I love it for its great taste and simplicity.

What’s the most unusual request you’ve had at the bar?

Something a bit extravagant, Remy Martin Louis XIII on ice with diet coke! Making this kind of mix is a sin, but in mixology the sky is the limit!

What’s your proudest moment as a bartender?

When I got invited by Barmen Barlavento Arade, a Portuguese bartending association, to share my knowledge and experiences at a bartending seminar for other bartenders, bar managers and hospitality students. That made me feel very proud and extremely happy to see so many people willing to develop their skills, update new trends and improve their knowledge in my home country.

Describe the inspiration for the drink/s that got you through to the finals.

The Refined Madam was created with the name Madam Geneva in mind – that was the name given to categorise the badly distilled gin in eighteenth century London. I decided to challenge myself to create a refined madam, and for that I used a premium product, Tanqueray No. Ten. There was no need to complicate the drink or mask the spirit with many flavours like they had to do in the olden days. Instead I was looking for a light flavouring so the Tanqueray No. Ten could shine through and be the star of my concoction. The name Refined Madam led me to choose a rose liqueur, a bit feminine I know, but that was my strategy, having many ladies coming to my bar to drink sophisticated cocktails I thought that it was about time to pay them a homage. They know what they want – they want premium products and good quality drinks. The Refined Madam is served on a small silver tray decorated with rose petals and is vaporised at the table with a martini style of mix 3 parts Tanqueray No. Ten to 1 part rose water to fragrance the surrounding area.

Do you have any funny/embarrassing anecdotes in the rounds leading up to World Class UK finals?

I had instructed my team members about my creation the Refined Madam, I asked them to taste it, explained my inspiration and told them to feel free to give my World Class business card (with my details on) if they felt that the guest had enjoyed the drink. One busy Friday night while I was behind the bar my mobile started to vibrate in my pocket. I answered it because I thought it might be my boss and to my surprise, it was a guest seated in the lobby. He wanted to congratulate  me on the Refined Madam and asked when it would possible to meet him because he wanted to talk to me. Priceless!

Have you picked up any good tips from the competition?

I’ve enjoyed all the forums and seeing all the other bartender’s drinks – that’s been really interesting. I’ve also had to challenge myself in many ways: finding out about new trends, trying to pair new flavours, looking for different ways of presentation and theatre, things I realise I was not spending enough time on before.

What does winning one of the Wild Cards in World Class mean to you?

To have the most popular recipe on the White Spirits category is having a sense of recognition from my guests and friends who wanted to give me a second chance to be present at the World Class UK Final, I really appreciate their support and will do my best to meet their expectations.

What would winning the finals of World Class UK mean to you?

It would be a great privilege  – a dream come true. I’d be proud to represent a country that accepted me so well, giving me plenty of new opportunities and a sense of responsibility. It would be a recognition for my hard work.

Who would you thank in your World Class acceptance speech and why?

I’d thank Diageo for promoting this kind of initiative, my workplace for their patience and support during the competition, my family, particularly my mother and sister – they are aware of what I am doing here and they are very proud of me. I’d also give a special thank you to Daniel Carvalho my Senior Bartender and my girlfriend Daniela, both of them have been supporting and encouraging me from the beginning, and everyone who voted on the Refined Madam, they are the ones whose chose me to be here today.

If you were a cocktail, what would you be and why?

An Old Fashioned, it’s a classic with a strong personality that requires a lot of patience and good skills to be made.

The drink that got him through

The Refined Madam

Madam Geneva was the name used to describe the rough, harsh spirit created in London in the 18th century. The Refined Madam is a  cocktail made with a very refined product, the premium Tanqueray No. Ten. The name Refined Madam can also be used to categorise the ladies that frequent posh and elegant hotel bars these days and ask for premium and quality drinks.

40ml Tanqueray No. TEN gin
20ml Lanique rose petal liqueur
15ml freshly squeezed lime juice
10ml cardamom syrup
2 dashes lavender bitters

Method:

Shake all ingredients with ice and fine strain into chilled coupette glass and garnish with a rose petal.

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