A homage to his Singaporean roots mixed with South American flavour proved to be the winning recipe for barman Vijay Mudaliar.
His rum-based cocktail, inspired by the Japanese Occupation of Singapore in the 1940s, beat eight other competitors at the Diplomatico World Tournament Singapore Final on Monday night.
In its second year, the international bartending competition was founded by Venezuelan rum producer Diplomatico and features some of the best barmen in the world creating innovative cocktails using Diplomatico rum.
Mr Mudaliar's winning cocktail, named Jewel Of The East, was crafted using rum, a sweet potato compote cooked with rum liqueur, pandan leaves, cinnamon and cardamom.
A "ration card" was issued with the cocktail, referencing similar ones issued by the Japanese to control supplies of rice and other essential items during World War II.
It also came with a brown paper bag filled with sweet potato chips and banana money, dollar notes printed with banana trees that was the currency used in Malaya during the war.
Mr Mudaliar, 25, a bartender with Operation Dagger in Ann Siang Hill, says of the inspiration behind his drink: "Some of the people I look up to include Lim Bo Seng, a war hero, and a crucial point of time (for him) was the Japanese Occupation."
Lim Bo Seng was a Chinese resistance fighter known for his anti-Japanese activities during World War II, which was why Mr Mudaliar picked the Japanese Occupation as inspiration for his cocktail.
His grandmother took care of his family during the war and "saved the family during the Occupation as she used to cook Indian food for the Japanese".
Singapore's positioning as a strategic port location was also why he dubbed his cocktail Jewel Of The East.
He adds that he was looking for "a cocktail that represented me" and his Singaporean roots, which he grew more appreciative of after spending time overseas for work and travel.
He has had a previous work stint at The Blind Pig in London's Soho, one of the most popular bars in the city.
Bartenders Boo Jing Heng of Jigger & Pony in Amoy Street and Tom Hogan of Anti:dote at Fairmont Singapore took second and third places in the competition held at 28 HongKong Street respectively.
Thirty participants signed up for the Singapore competition of the Diplomatico World Tournament, which started last November.
After two qualifying rounds, 10 bartenders were picked for the finals.
One of the finalists, Byron Tan of The Horse's Mouth, pulled out at the last minute due to work commitments, which left nine finalists competing on Monday night.
Each were given 10 minutes to create four of the same cocktail, and they were allowed to use their own home-made bitters, syrups, and liqueurs.
Mr David Cordoba of spirits distributor Proof & Company, one of the five judges at Monday's competition, says he was impressed by the quality and skills of the finalists, which were "comparable to some of the top countries in the world for bartending".
The former global ambassador for Bacardi rum says the competitors were judged based on several factors, such as their technique and presentation, ability to balance and bring out the flavours of the ingredients, and their bartending flair.
He says he was won over by Mr Mudaliar's drink because of the way he linked Singaporean history with ingredients from Central and South America.
He says: "He understood the flavour profile of the rum, what he wanted to use and how he wanted to present it. It was like a ritual, and an experience to have that drink. Simple to execute anywhere, but complex in its rich combination of flavours."
Mr Mudaliar will represent Singapore at the World Final in Venezuela in April, where he will be pitted against more than 20 bartenders from countries such as Australia, Italy, France, Canada and China.
This article was first published on January 7, 2015.
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