Devils Isle bartender has winning blend
If you're into cocktails, Matt Francis might be a good guy to get to know.
He's a part-time bartender who faced off against more experienced professionals, and took home the top prize.
“I was shocked when they said I had won,” he said.
The 26-year-old podiatrist works at Devils Isle Cafe three nights a week and created all the cocktails on their menu. He knew the reputations of some of the bartenders he was up against: Barracuda Grill's Ryan Gibbons was named Bermuda's Best Bartender in 2014 and Fairmont Hamilton Princess' Leila Jane Musson was equally as formidable.
“To beat those two was surprising, but nice because I put a lot of work into it,” he said.
Mr Francis' process is simple — gather complementary flavours and experiment.
“It's a lot of trial and error,” he said. “It's pretty much the same thing as cooking. I try out a few recipes and then get creative now and then.”
As the grand winner of the 2015 Stoli Bermuda Cocktail Masters Competition Mr Francis got $500 cash and a year's supply of Stolichnaya vodka. He will also get to liaise with professional mixologists from around the world when he represents the Island at a competition in St Maarten from August 21-23.
It was the first time he'd tested his skills against other bartenders although he'd earned some recognition working at UK coffee houses a few years ago.
That experience turned him on to bartending.
“I did a few barista competitions and was named Barista of the Year in 2010 for Scotland and the Northeast of England,” he said.
“At one place I worked at, the bartender ended up calling in sick and they asked me if I would stand in and do a bartending shift — and that was it.
“Ever since then it's been a passion or obsession — I'm not exactly sure which.”
His favourite part? Seeing the excited look on a customer's face when he brings their drink to the table.
“Taste is key, but that all starts with the presentation,” he said. “That's why I like to do this — to make things taste and look as good as possible and make people happy.”
Because many of his clients at the Bermuda Podiatry Centre have diabetes, Mr Francis is conscious of the sugar content in his drinks.
He opts for fresh fruit juices and natural sweeteners and is adamant about not using boxed or sour mixes.
“It's a little extra work because I have to juice the lemons and limes every day, but you can taste the fresh flavours,” he said.
“We do vanilla-infused house vodka and coffee liqueur using our own coffee beans as well. And actually I get a lot of inspiration from working with the guys out in the kitchen. They will tell me what kinds of flavours work well together and what to avoid.”
When he's not working he spends quite a lot of time reading and researching about drinks.
He owns “a few hundred” cocktail recipe books — some with recipes dating back hundreds of years.
“I try to blend the old and the new. There's actually a big resurgence of people using those classic drinks and adding a few modern touches of their own,” Mr Francis added.
One of his winning concoctions at the 2015 Stoli bartending competition was called Pink Beach. It featured a home-made watermelon syrup — something he'd never tried before. He plans to continue experimenting with new techniques and flavours. His ultimate goal is to put Bermuda on the bartending map.
“Whenever I travel anywhere I go into the local bar and check out the drink menu,” he said. “I also bring back different spirits and liquors from around the world and try to experiment with different flavours and ways of making drinks.
“I'm already experimenting with liquid nitrogen and smoke cocktails.
“I want to offer people something they don't normally find in Bermuda. Going to a bar should be something fun and something you talk about and remember.”
Snorkel Park bartender Kavian “Tequila” Bassett won second prize; Ms Musson took home third.