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On the mojito trail

19 Jun

Mojitos at More Vino.

Trinidad and Tobago recently held its first food awards in the form of the Jamaican import The Table Talk Food Awards. Over 100 restaurants, cafes and bistros were visited and their food and drink sampled.

As part of the awards, beverage sponsor AMCO, distributors of Barcadi rums, held a Barcadi Classic Mojito Challenge. Yours truly was among the judges selected to judge Mojitos in nine bars in North and Central Trinidad. Due to the short timing, we couldn’t hit up more bars unfortunately.

So of the numerous bars in Trinidad, we hit up Shakers on the Avenue, More Vino, Drink Bistro and Lounge, Hyatt Regency, Kava at Kapok Hotel, Toppers Bar, Woodford Cafe, Wild Olive Restaurant and The Rise Bar, the latter three all located in Chaguanas.


The lone female bartender on our three days of tasting mixes up her mojitos individually

The seven judges were judging the concoctions based on

  • Balance
  • Flavour Consistency
  • Freshness of Ingredients
  • Appearance & Look and Feel
  • Garnish
Judges were also told to take into consideration the preparation methods of the bartenders, as well as their ability, attitude, charisma and passion.
For those who don’t know what a mojito is, let me give you a quick run down. Said to have originated in Cuba, the cocktail contains:
  • White Rum
  • Sugar
  • Lime juice (or limes)
  • Crushed mint leaves
  • Soda water
  • Ice

Over the three days we discovered that no two mojitos are equal. While the original recipe calls for mint leaves to be muddled, some bartenders opted to just clap it to release the oils and one actually didn’t even bother to do anything with the leaves!

At one bar, margarita mix was used which gave the drink a bitterish taste and almost everyone had their own twist on the classic. In Drink! they substitute the simple syrup with Sprite. Note: Caribbean people have sweet palates so the sprite actually gives the cocktail a sweeter, tastier finish than the syrup.

At Toppers, we were served a Dragon Berry mojito, made with Dragon Berry Barcardi, at Woodford Cafe, they have a mojito called Saga Boy which is a classic topped with passion fruit juice and at The Rise, we were treated to a Sour Apple mojito made with Sour Apple Barcardi and Bols Sour Apple Liqueur.


The Toppers bartender poses with his mojitos and his bottle of Barcardi Dragon Berry.

Most of the bartenders we interacted with were knowledgeable and passionate about their creations. Rodney, of the winning bar, The Rise, was perhaps more so than the others and really impressed with his professionalism, technique and his garnish, which, instead of the typical lime, was a stalk of sugar cane.


A stalk of Sugar Cane in The Rise’s mojitos was a change from the usual lime and mint leaves garnish.

Chaguanas, where his bar is located, was once the centre of the sugar cane production in Trinidad and Tobago and the garnish was a good ode to that history as well as the history of rum which traditionally was made with sugar cane. Barcardi is made from sugar cane byproducts.


Rodney, bartender of the Barcardi Mojito Challenge bar winner The Rise

Kester Blake wins T&T leg of Diageo Reserve World Class Bartending competition

13 Jun

Kester Blake holds up his trophy

Kester Blake will represent Trinidad and Tobago at the global finals of the Diageo Reserve World Class Bartenders Competition next month.

The Club Zen employee won the finals of the local leg last week, beating out early favourite, Karlina Permell of Trinidad Hilton, and four others to win the opportunity to compete against the world’s best.

Blake will be one of two Caribbean representatives at the finals along with Cayman Islands winner Simon Crompton.

The local leg of the finals were held at La Cantina restaurant last Thursday with the six finalists Blake, Permell, Martin James (Trinidad Hilton Hotel), Richard Atkins (Zanzibar), Trevon Pascal (Zanzibar Restaurant) and Tia Hutchings (Town Restaurant) competing in four challenges.


Some of the fresh ingredients for use by the bartenders


Some of the brands that were used in the competition.

In the first three rounds, everyone competed, first taking on the Responsible Serve Test writing and serving challenge. The latter challenged the bartenders to pour shots of differing quantities with one hand without using a measure. Diageo brand ambassador Paulo Figueiredo was the head judge alongside last year’s Latin America and Caribbean winner Stephon Scott.


Judges Paulo Figueiredo and Stephon Scott measure the amount poured by bartender Martin James during the Responsible Drinking test

The second round tested the bartenders’ speed, as they were required to make six cocktails in eight minutes while fielding questions from the judges. Figueiredo explained that in real life bartenders must be able to work efficiently while interacting with customers at a bar. Some of the competitors fared well making as much as five cocktails, while some buckled under the pressure and only completed three. The judges scored the bartenders on technique, presentation, taste and their ability to complete the task in the required time as the bartenders churned out cocktails such as the Negroni, Bloody Mary, Mojito, Tom Collins, Daiquiri and Cosmopolitan.


Karlina Permell shows off her five cocktails made for her speed test.


Trevon Pascall makes his cocktails during the speed test

Only four advanced to the third round: Blake, Pascal, Permell and Atkins. In this round the bartenders were required to create two cocktails to complement two of three dishes, a Caprese with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, Prosciutto wrapped pears, a Bomba pizza with pepperoni, pepper flakes and pepper sauce and a Panna Cotta dessert.


Panna Cotta dessert, one of three dishes the bartenders had to choose from to pair their cocktails with.


The Bomba pizza, made with pepperoni, pepper flakes and pepper sauce.


Prosciutto wrapped pears.

Blake was a certain contender for the finals after this round as he captivated the judges Figueiredo, Scott and Diageo Reserve Relationship Manager Katherine Gray-Inniss, with his Ciroc vodka based cocktail Lust which he paired with the Panna Cotta, and his Ron Zacapa based Pride which he paired with the Proscuitto. Both drinks were not only flavourful and tasty but perfectly complemented the dishes in colour.


Lust, Kester Blake’s cocktail he paired with the Panna Cotta dessert


Judge Stephon Scott smells Trevon Pascal’s milk based cocktail which was paired with the pizza. It contained Coffee and Ron Zacapa.

Pascal joined a clearly emotional Blake in the final Signature Serve round in which each bartender had to create cocktails for five judges who were drawn from the media pool present. They then had to hold a 10-minute interactive session with the judges following which Blake was announced the winner.


Kester Blake’s winning cocktail Santa Cruz

Blake will travel to Panama with the Caymanian and Latin American representatives for a final training session before heading to Nice, France, where he will spend seven days aboard the luxury cruise, Azamara Journey, for the global finals. The ship will visit destinations such as St Tropez and Ibiza before competitors disembark in Spain.

Kester’s Winning Drinks


  • Ron Zacapa 23-year-old
  • Cinnamon Syrup
  • Cranberry Juice (white)
  • Lime Juice
  • Angostura Bitters
  • Nutmeg


  • Ciroc Vodka
  • Strawberries and grapes
  • Simple syrup
  • Lime Juice
  • St Germain liquer

Santa Cruz

  • Lime
  • Simple syrup
  • Mint leaf
  • Don Julio tequila
  • Club soda
  • Grand Marnier

Oracle launched for Tobago Fashion Coda

20 Apr

In the midst of the Jazz season in Tobago, a fashion event called the Tobago Coda will take place at the Magdalena Grand. The show will take place on Thursday April 25 and will showcase designs from a number of designers in Trinidad and Tobago.

There promises to be an after party at which guests will no doubt sip a special cocktail made for the event called the Oracle.

The cocktail was launched this past week at the House of Angostura, the company responsible for creating the cocktail.

The cocktail was concocted by mixologist Raymond Edwards, and is made with White Oak Rum, Angostura Orange Bitters and lots of citrusy fruit.



1 ½ oz White Oak Rum

¾ oz Bols Grenadine Syrup

½ oz Pink Grapefruit Juice

½ oz Fresh Lime Juice

10-12 Fresh mint leaves

2 dashes Angostura® orange bitters

Recipe: Zacapa Wake Up Call

20 Apr

ImageThis is Karlina Permell’s winning cocktail for the second wave of the local leg of the Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender competition.

Zacapa Wake Up Call

2 oz Ron Zacapa Centenario 23
2 oz fresh Melon
1/2oz lavender infused syrup
1/4 oz Cointreau
1 bar spoon vanilla sugar

Place all ingredients into shaker with ice, shake and pour. Garnish with
Melon balls.

Dinner with Ron Zacapa

11 Apr

The second wave of the Trinidad and Tobago leg of the Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year competition was held on Tuesday. The featured beverage was Ron Zacapa.

Mario Navarro, Global Brand Ambassador for the Guatemalan rum was in Trinidad to conduct training and oversee the competition which was won by Karlina Permell.

On Tuesday night, Navarro hosted a private dinner at Texas de Brazile, where specially invited guests, including yours truly, enjoyed a tasting session of the Ron Zacapa 23 and XO rums as well as a specially prepared menu of dishes made with the rums.


The evening started out with signature cocktails from last year’s local finalist, the delightfully entertaining Stephon Scott.

ImageIn the private dining area, Navarro walked us through a brief history of Ron Zacapa, which he said has started the conversation about rum as a premium beverage.

He said the rum differs from others because it is aged above the clouds, 2300m above the clouds, which allows for a slow ageing process. The Master Blender is  Loreno Vasquez, who Navarro said, ensures the rum is blended to perfection.

He also explained the handwoven Petate Band that adorns every bottle, saying that is harkens back to the Mayan influence and with the purchase of each bottle, money is used to send children in Guatemala to school.


Soon it was down to the best part, the tasting. The Zacapa 23, Navarro explained, uses four casks and is about character. On the nose, there were scents of raisins, spices, chocolate, and as my husband acutely recognised, it smelt like fruit cake. Navarro said it reminded him of rum cakes, which is basically the same thing.


On the palate, the 23 awakened all the senses with the spices, chocolate mingling with a distinct almond taste which Navarro was surprised that we picked up.  The rum was very smooth and, as Navarro explained to me afterwards, is perfect for a younger drinker between 30 and 40 years old, who wants to discover new things and does not like to show off but simply wants to enjoy his drink neat.

The XO, he said, appeals more to women and is targeted to a over 50 consumer. It is more elegant, he said, is suited to a quiet evening at home and goes well with desserts such as chocolate.

On the nose the XO exudes dried apricots, nuts, and citrus. Smooth on the palate, there were flavours of chocolate, dried fruit, and spices.


A complete meal made with Ron Zacapa rums followed the tasting. Appetizers were a choice between Chicken Kebab with a Ron Zacapa drizzle or  Zacapa Lobster Bisque.



The Main Course was a choice between Papillote Tilapia with coconut spiced mushroom or a grilled top sirloin  smothered with caramelized onions infused with Zacapa 23 and served with garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans.


Dessert was either a Zacapa Papaya Cream made with ripened paw paws, cinnamon, vanilla ice cream and Zacapa XO or Chocolate Mousse Cake with Zacapa XO.


Rum dispute heating up

9 Apr

Caribbean governments are being asked to hold their hands on their threat to take the US to the WTO over subsidies its territories are using to grant global rum manufacturers tax breaks.

Only time will tell if the Caribbean governments will listen but right now things are heating up. Check out these stories below.

From Global Posts: Don’t go to WTO

From the Trinidad Express: Losing faith in Uncle Sam

From the Washington Diplomat: Misguided Attack