Everything about Erik Lorincz says World Class. It’s in his easy good looks as much as the way he crafts a corking drink. Here’s a man whose hunger, passion and sheer determination to follow his dream to become not just a barman, but the best in the business saw him beat off 9,000 hopefuls and take the top prize in the biggest and most prestigious bartending competition around.
See him in action at the iconic American Bar at The Savoy and he makes it look so easy – like some kind of movie star given a role to play. But behind the quiet self assurrance is a young man who has worked his tushy off, starting out serving beer in his hometown of Nitra, western Slovakia, then taking in everything from being a bus-boy in a busy London nightclub to mastering Japanese cocktail craftsmanship. He’s smart, super-talented and 110% committed to his craft, in fact he’s the cut-out-and-keep embodiment of what it takes to be World Class.
Did you go out to Greece thinking you’d win?
Not at all, in fact I almost didn’t make it. Two days before the final I banged my head on the low ceiling of my friend’s wine cellar and broke my front teeth. It was almost bearable at first but the day after the accident, the nerves in my teeth started dying and I was in so much pain. I went to hospital and they kept me in overnight, calming me down with morphine. I called Diageo to tell them what had happened and let them know I wouldn’t be able to make it but magically, the next day the painkillers kicked in. I couldn’t feel anything, literally nothing, so I decided to pack and go to Greece and do the best I could. To be honest, my accident probably helped me win because I was on antibiotics and couldn’t drink or party for the duration of the competition.
Were there any moments during the Global Final when you could feel you’d done well?
The first time I knew I was doing well was during the Speed and Taste challenge where we all had to make a round of six drinks in 10 minutes. I had the second best time in that round and that really gave me the boost I needed – it was such a hard task. The next defining moment for me was the Cocktails and Canapes round where we had to show off the knowledge we acquired from our talk with Professor Alfredo Sorias. When I finished my presentation, he gave me a smile – it was one of those smiles that told me I’d done something good. From then on, I knew I was in with a good chance.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how nervous were you before each round?
Zero. Really, I wasn’t nervous at all. It’s funny, I’ve seen so many fantastic barmen I know completely lose it the minute they’re being judged in a competition, so over the years I’ve trained myself to remain in control. The way I see it, I’m being judged every day by my customers, so I look at the judges as my customers. Very special ones of course, but customers nonetheless.
What single trait do you think most benefited you in the Global Final?
My ability to listen, focus and pay attention to detail – I can’t stress how important these factors are in a competition of this scale.
Other than winning, what was your proudest achievement in the Final?
That I made it through! Seriously. It just goes to show if you push yourself and believe you can do something, anything can happen. I always knew I wanted to be recognised for my bartending skills. I didn’t know how long it would take but I knew I would get there. Even so, I never imagined it would be on such a large scale as this.
How did you feel when your name was announced as the winner?
Honestly? I didn’t feel anything. I was very calm, very composed, I don’t really think it sunk in – maybe the antibiotics had something to do with it! It was only the next day when I got 99 congratulatory messages on Facebook that the seriousness of it all started to hit me. That’s when it felt like something special had happened.
What has the year meant to you?
It’s been much more, much bigger than I expected. It’s not just about the recognition of being a bartender of the year but it’s something for me to show to people back home: I came to London not knowing how to speak the language and now I’ve been recognised as the best bartender in the world. That really means a lot.
Every single minute of it. It’s been a wonderful year of adventure, discovery and learning with some amazing trips thrown in. I’ve learnt so much.
How do you feel now that your year is almost up?
It’s not up yet, I’ve still got 38 days to go!
Any tips for the World Class UK Finalists?
Yes, be yourself, believe you can do it and make the most of this amazing competition – it truly is a life changing opportunity.
How does it feel to be judging the World Class UK Finals? Do you think you’ll be more or less lenient?
I’m looking forward to it and I’ll be totally objective. It will be very interesting to see the amazing new things that have been going on in the UK bar scene – I’m really glad I’m not entering this year because I’m sure it will be a much harder competition. Last year was a great year for me but for the 2011 winner, it’s going to be even better as the competition is even more recognised. Next year the winner will probably get to go to the moon!