Tales of the Cocktail, one of the world’s largest cocktail fests held in New Orleans, helps the industry train world-class bartenders. This year, it has pulled out 60 apprentices from seven countries to perfect their craft
“From Copenhagen to Connecticut and beyond, we got a record number of entries this year,” says a delighted Ann Tuennerman from faraway New Orleans, U.S. Five years ago, Ann, together with her husband Paul G. Tuennerman, gave wings to an apprenticeship programme in collaboration with the liqueur brand Cointreau to polish skills of new bartenders. Over the years, it has swelled into ‘THE’ stage for bartenders in their country and internationally too. A proud Ann adds, “This year, our leadership team has selected 60 apprentices, the largest ever, from eight countries and 23 U.S. States.”
The programme’s roots lie in a rather interesting initiative the duo thought of 10 years ago — an annual cocktail festival in their home city New Orleans. They named it Tales of the Cocktail, which, step by step, caught the gaze of the world cocktail industry thereby drawing to it more and more important names — from brands to hot shot bartenders. This year’s festival — a five-day extravaganza of cocktails plus the cuisine and culture of New Orleans — has just had its curtains down. One important feature certainly was the selection of the apprentices, the reason why, as Paul states, “We wake-up each morning because it personifies why we do what we do.”
Originality is the key to be a finalist here. “The apprentices are selected on the basis of their recipe submissions, and also teamwork and experience level within the industry,” says Ann in an email interview. “The idea is designed to ensure a balance between the best of bartenders and promising newcomers in the industry. Together, they become a part of the ever growing world-wide apprentice family produced by the Tales of the Cocktail.” The selection process begins every January and the finalists are named by June. They take part in the festival held July-end before starting their year-long apprentice programme that comes with a 30000 dollar scholarship.
Ann says the first several rounds of selection are conducted blind without the names, employment information and any recommendations of the applicants. “The cocktail apprentice leadership team uses a multi-stage review process based on a point system. Those who move on to the second round are awarded more points based on event experience. For the third step of the review the leaders remove their blinders and give weight to other factors in order to create a staff balanced between regions and levels of experience.” Since this year, it has added a medical benefit fund for the apprentices too so that they can concentrate better on perfecting their craft instead of looking for a better paying job just for the sake of meeting their costly health expenses. Depending on their interest, the apprentices can use the scholarship on special research projects on mixology. “The idea is, the skills and knowledge gained can be utilised in their home bars and work posts later.”
Paul adds that this year, Alfred Cointreau, the sixth generation of the Cointreau family, will be in New Orleans to welcome the new pack of the Cocktail Apprentice Program (CAP). The tie up with Cointreau, the 163-year-old legendary French spirit, happened because “it has been a staple for bartenders” and is one of the few brands called by name in historic bartender manuals such as Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks and the Savoy Cocktail Book.
This interesting couple also runs the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society (NOCCPS), a non-profit organisation “committed to preserving the unique culture of cocktails and cuisine in New Orleans and beyond.” These days, they are helping promote the local Hubig’s pie. “It is not just a snack but a culinary tradition of New Orleans. That is why we serve it in our festival too. This past week, a fire caused extensive damage to its factory. So we are pitching in with a promotional event,” says Ann. The funds collected from it will go towards restoring the factory, she says. Interesting how individual efforts can cause a stir if not a storm!