Pop into Auckland's Bedford Soda and Liquor any night of the week and you might just be lucky enough to be served by New Zealand's reigning Diageo World Class Champion. You can spot him by his signature bow tie and focused intensity as he prepares cocktails in a bowl of dry ice.
Jason Clark reigned supreme for the second time in this year's Diageo Reserve World Class competiton, after having completed set challenges against 40 other bartenders since February, with all aspects of the vocation tested - from creativity to business acumen.
Jason found himself in familiar company in the final on Monday, with Cam Timmins of Ostro and James Millar of Fukuko competiting from Auckland, and Shannon Sanderson of Lalaland in Wanaka and apprentice Ray Letoa of Roxy Cinema Miramar, Wellington.
The caliber of the competitors was incredibly high, but Jason's precision, skill and charm impressed the judges throughout the day. His final cocktail, 'Non Parlo Italiano' used Tanqueray 10 gin as a base and evoked romantic pastoral Italy, presented on European marble and embellished with a vibrant viola flower. A six month stint in Italy inspired the concept, and Jason spoke passionately of the the gregarious people, unique landscapes and beautiful colour palette, which he summed up in a mouthful that journeyed from spice to sweetness to salt.
Next stop is the gruelling world final, held in late July in the UK. Lasting five days, Jason will face the world's best cocktail makers in a bid to win World's Best. After coming fourth last year, Jason says he's looking forward to attending to "unfinished business" across the seas.