TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Bartender Johnny Tsai (蔡懷之) of Tainan’s TCRC and chef Yu Lee (李豫) of NINAO Gelato have been crowned World’s Most Experimental Bartenders in an annual competition held by award-winning Scotch whisky brewery Glenfiddich.
Bartenders and chefs from around the world competed to create out-of-the-box drink and food concoctions that highlight the flavors and aromas of Glenfiddich whisky. After a series of regional heats, nine finalists battled it out for the title in the small Scottish town of Dufftown that hosts the Glenfiddich distillery, and from where the drink is exported all around the world.
Pioneering food and drinksmakers were invited to collaborate in teams of two to accentuate the Scotch whisky in before-unseen culinary combinations. Tsai and Lee fought off nine finalists from Britain, France, India, Bulgaria, Dubai, and other countries, to take home the crown.
The winning concoction was the team's “Xiaolong Fiddich”, which combined dry-ice-frozen steamed soup dumplings (小籠包) with whisky-infused raisins, maple-flavored bacon, and cashew nuts. The pair utilized Lee’s expertise in frozen desserts to their advantage, defeating two other competing Taiwanese teams in regional heats.
The final event took place over two days, with competitors engaging in a number of whisky-based challenges before submitting their original creations, and receiving feedback from judges including Glenfiddich malt master Brian Kinsman, Glenfiddich global brand ambassador Struan Grant Ralph, and previous winners of the competition.
Media reports say Taiwanese champion Yu Lee of NINAO Gelato is also an art collector, and describes his daily life as a kind of performance art. He and Tsai wanted to use the everyday steamer to create the innovative new concept of the edible dumpling cocktail.
GQ reports that the world champions used Glenfiddich 12 Year Old Single Malt in their creation and describes the intricate process behind the Xiaolong Fiddich. Winter melon sugar was combined with the whisky-soaked raisins and bacon, and blended into a smooth filling, which was then wrapped in the dry-frozen dumpling skin. It was served with an extravagant whisky cocktail dressing instilled with a number of Taiwanese influences.
The winning creation "Xiaolong Fiddich" as it was presented (Image by Glenfiddich)
Taiwan held several preliminary rounds under the name "Glenfiddich WHY NOT? Global Experimental Bartending Competition", from which experts selected the best duo to compete abroad. Esteemed competitors who lost out in the preliminaries included representatives of Taipei bars PUN (宋天恩 - Song Tian-en) and Kashoku (陳哲逸 - Chen Che-yi).
Tsai and Lee will take their concept to the Tokyo Bar Show and Bar Convent Brooklyn in New York. Tsai is set to return as a judge for the 2019 competition.