X-Tremely successful comeback for bar flair comp
UAE bartenders created cocktails with flair at X-Treme Flair 2009
This month was an exciting one for the flair bartending community, with the long-awaited return of Dubai’s X-Treme Flair competition.
The competition — sponsored by SKYY Vodka and fruit purée and syrup producer Monin — saw 30 of the UAE's flair bartenders vying for an AED 10,500 (US $2860) prize at Après in Mall of the Emirates.
Jay Rufino from Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel and Resort nightclub Zenith took home first prize, followed by Robbert Heller from Boudoir at Dubai Marine Beach Resort in second place and Niki Illiev — also from Boudoir — in third.
Sheraton’s Rufino, who has been flairing for over six years, said he was “very glad” to have won the competition — “especially considering I did not get the chance to practise a lot and be prepared for routine set”.
Rufino added that he was always trying new challenges for his routine, which he would then try out at his workplace.
“I get to do my share of flair bartending with my co-workers [at Zenith] when there are special occasions, events in the nightclub or upon guest request,” he explained.
“This helps us a lot to demonstrate our skills individually and as a team.”
Rufino said that he felt that the UAE flair scene today was “more exciting and awesome than ever”.
“We have reached the next level — now other famous flair bartenders from around the world show up to mix and mingle with the best flair bartenders the UAE can offer,” he noted.
“It is also an excellent place to exchange ideas, skills and experience because a large number of ex-pats from all over are living here.”
The last UAE X-Treme Flair event in Dubai took place back in 2006, but the competition was revived this year by former European flair champion and world runner-up Nick Hancock.
Hancock, who joined Emirates Leisure Retail (ELR) as bar development manager last year, said he “could not have asked for it to go any better”.
“Everyone who came to watch was really impressed with the standard,” he said. “Jay did brilliantly — it was a very clean routine, he had the crowd going crazy.
“Lots of people were asking when the next competition would be,” he added.
“X-Treme Flair will take place every year at least, but we’re hoping to do something on an international level this year.
Hancock also revealed that the SKYY Flair Global Challenge would come to Dubai later this year — “probably in August”.
“For this event, there is a different qualifying heat held in each country and the winner for each region will get to go to the Grand Finals in Shanghai,” he explained.
“They’re holding one in Dubai this year, so there will be some big contenders taking part in that.”
Lionel Boutry, regional manager — Middle East for SKYY Vodka’s parent brand Gruppo Campari, said the company’s passion for the art of flair was “born from its commitment to quality, individualism and creating the best cocktails and bar experiences possible”.
“With a sleek, irreverent style of its own and its super-premium quality, SKYY Vodka is the perfect accompaniment to the most talented and unique bartenders and cocktails,” he added.
Boutry labelled the X-Treme Flair competition as “key for the flair community in the UAE”.
“SKYY Vodka is proud to be sponsor of this event, to support and reward the best of the flair bartending community, while making this growing sport more accessible by highlighting the glamour, spectacle and skill of flair,” he said.
“With the rise in popularity of cocktails across the world, SKYY is passionate about raising the standard and quality of cocktail and bar experiences — and the art of flair is an important part of this enjoyment.”
Boutry said this year’s competition was “extremely well organised” and that he had been “very impressed by the level of the contestants and their motivation”.
”The final was great — we saw some unbelievable moves,” he added.
“The contestants trained a lot for this event and it shows the passion they have about their job. I want to thank them for their commitment.”
According to Boutry, the main challenge facing the UAE’s flairing industry is that it needs more support and communication.
“But through key bartender associations, such as MASTAH, the local WFA representative and the commitment of the distributors like MMI, the Flair industry will definitely put Dubai on the map in 2009,” he predicted.
Monin MEI brand manager Tihomir Gergov, who was one of the judges at the event, was similarly delighted by both the turn-out and the flairing standard.
“After the Mastah competition [in March], X-Treme Flair offered even more motivation for the region’s young bartenders. In both competitions we saw a big interest from the public, which is obviously key to developing flair bartending,” he commented.
“We also had some great competitors over the course of the event: some of the top mixologists from the Burj Al Arab took part, even though they are not flair bartenders.
“They demonstrated that a good bartender knows he has to have experience of a complex array of different skills and knowledge — and he should always look to improve them.”
Gergov added that Monin was “always very happy” to support such bar industry events.
“It was an opportunity for us to once again help the UAE bar community to grow and improve,” he explained, adding that the French company would look forward to being involved with next year’s competition as well.
ELR’s Nick Hancock gives his comments on the finalists:
8. In eighth place was Nopay Novianto Benito from Buddha Bar, Dubai Marina. He pulled off a quality routine with some very technical rolls and snatches.
7. In seventh place was Louis Aquias from Hard Rock Café, Dubai. He had a stormer in the first round and while he had a bit of a shaky start to his final round, he got the crowd in the palm of his hand with his three- and four-bottle patterns. Good stuff Louis!
6. In sixth place was home favorite Afzal Kaba from Left Bank, Old Town, Dubai. I work with this guy and he’s been putting the practice in and it really showed on the day. Smooth, flowing and entertaining, Afzal landed every move he did with huge confidence. Great variety in his routine too.
5. In fifth place was Imam Imammudin from Nelson’s at Media Rotana, Dubai Media City. Fair play to this kid — he turned up looking a bit unsure of himself! I think he surprised everyone including himself. He was one of the first guys on in the qualifying round and was awesome. His final round consisted of some of the most complicated two-bottle two-tin stuff I have ever seen. Watch out for this guy in the future!
4. In fourth place was the defending champion Daniel Fery from Buddha Bar, Dubai Marina. Daniel once again showed us he has the quality and ability to compete amongst the best in the region with some very slick and complex three- and four-bottle juggles.
3. Third place went to the ever-improving — and youngest competitor — Niki Iliev from Boudoir Nightclub, Dubai Marine Beach Resort. Smoother than warm butter with very technical grabs and taps, Niki’s flair is stunning to watch and as he’s only ever entered two competitions and has come out in the top three in both, I think this guy could be big news on the global flair scene in the future.
2. Second place went to Robbert Heller, also from Boudoir. How this guy has the time to practise whilst holding down the bar manager’s position at Boudoir, I just don’t know! Rob was unreal, pulling off some very entertaining and massively difficult moves — he had the place in raptures. It was a mind-blowing performance that could have won him the title; only a couple of deductions separated him from first place.
1. And the winner… the only competitor from Abu Dhabi, working at the Sheraton hotel, was the hugely popular Ceilito “Jay” Rufino. A deserved champion, Jay pulled off a final routine that was near flawless and timed perfectly to the music. Jay is really pushing flair in the UAE, having founded the ever-growing Mastah Flair Club and now cleaning up at X-treme Flair. This guy is the man of the moment and I am sure he’ll be back to defend his title. Many congratulations!
Lionel Boutry, regional manager — Middle East for Gruppo Campari, reveals details of the upcoming SKYY Flair Global Challenge:
“The SKYY Flair Global Challenge selects regional winners across the world that will go on to compete in the final in Shanghai in October.
“Throughout the competition, bartenders will be judged on their ability to create world-beating cocktails, perform spectacular bartending routines and demonstrate skill and knowledge in relation to the art of flair.
“SKYY Vodka created the Challenge in partnership with the World Flair Association (WFA) to reward the best of the flair bartending community, while making this growing sport more accessible by highlighting the glamour, spectacle and skill of flair.
“With the rise in popularity of cocktails across the world, SKYY Vodka is passionate about raising the standard and quality of cocktail and bar experiences and the art of flair is an important part of this enjoyment.”
For more information on the SKYY Flair Global Challenge 2009, please visit: www.skyyflair.com