You have just been named NZ Bartender of the Year at the 2015 NZChefs National Salon. That means you’re officially the best bartender in the country! How does it feel?
Winning this title means a lot to me because it will improve my chances of landing a managerial role in New Zealand and help build my reputation in the hospitality industry here. I have 15 years of bartending experience back home in Serbia and on cruise ships, but I’ve only been in New Zealand for six months, and I need to get my name out into the industry here, so winning this competition will be really helpful.
I spent about eight weeks training. I didn’t enter to participate – I entered to win! It was pretty full on, trying to juggle training with my NZMA studies and my job at Ascension, but if I was ever going to enter a competition like this, this was the ideal year to do it, as my family is still back in Serbia, so I was able to focus all my time and energy on it.
We had to compete in three categories: Wine and Beverage Service, Classic Cocktails and Innovative Cocktails. My innovative cocktail, ‘Homage’, was inspired by speakeasies and the end of prohibition in America. It was a mix of dark chocolate, Marsala wine and chip-infused rum. For the classic cocktails I made a Sidecar and a Margarita. It’s the first time I’ve ever entered a bartending competition, but I’m very glad I did!
You have so much industry experience - why are you studying at NZMA?
The economic situation in Serbia isn’t great and my wife and I wanted a better place to raise a family. Yes, I’ve got 15 years of experience behind me - but I haven’t got a piece of paper to back that up. I decided to come to New Zealand and gain an internationally-recognised qualification from NZMA so that I can launch my career here, and bring my family over. I’ve got my sights set on management.
How are you enjoying the course?
It’s fantastic! OK, I already know how to make cocktails, but there is so much more to it than that. I am learning a lot about management and also about how the hospitality industry works in New Zealand.