Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tucson Steak

Rob chats with Federico Bolanos.

In America, we say "too-sohn." In El Salvador, they say: "tuck son."

And so we found ourselves back at La Gran Via for steaks at Tucson Bar and Restaurant. Originally, we had been looking for a place to eat at MultiCentro but those restaurants were too damn noisy (and I really wanted to try the Thai place there).

When I'm going out to eat with friends, I like to talk with them - not yell over loud music.

Francisco and his novia.

The competition is over and now it's time to spend a little decompression time with the new champion: Alejandro Mendez and the owner of Viva Espresso, Federico Bolanos. Time to forget the past competition and start focusing on the World Barista Championship. Pick our collective brains, discuss coffee and continue friendships.

Meanwhile, I'm having a ribeye...

Alejandro, Rodrigo and Camilo.

Steak Condiments: salsa, chimichurri and ketchup.

My ribeye.

Campeonato Salvadoreno de Baristas, Los Finales

Guatemalan Barista Champion Jose de la Pena prepares a cappuccino for Judges Calibration.

To be honest, I probably could have judged the finals, but I certainly wasn't feeling 100% (more like 78%), and I had already named my alternate and Rob was going to Head Judge the finals. Originally we tossed a coin to determine the head judge slot but I really don't know why. I was going to let him do it regardless, mainly because I knew I would be head judging Nicaragua next week and it was important to him to head the finals. Add to that the fact that I was well on my way to being ill yesterday evening and I didn't want to judge the competitors unless I could give them my full 100%.

It's a good thing because all the judges were on top of their game and ready to do a great job.

Finals Head Judge Rob Tuttle reviews the calibration cappuccino.

Selecting the judges for the finals is a fun and curious exercise. I'm looking for the most consistent and most calibrated of our judging field. People who can evaluate quickly, consistently, fairly and to the rules. It's not an easy task - especially if it's your first time out, and we had some great people in the ranks.

The challenging part was the diversity of the competitors. Clearly, the most progressive performances were given by the Viva Espresso team. They were sharp and pushing the envelope. They've been involved in the El Salvador competitions for years and have paid very close attention to the trends in the progressive competitions around the world, like the USBC and the WBC. They signaled early on that they were going to push it to the limit and they didn't disappoint.

The Girls.

One of the most difficult things about judging is that you really don't want to field a team of judges that aren't qualified to assess the competitors they are evaluating. As a competitor in the United States, I've had that problem and I didn't want that to be the case here in El Salvador. For the finals, our judges had to be sharp and had to be on top of things. Going into the finals, I felt comfortable with our mix of experienced International Judges and national judges.

For lack of a better term, the more "advanced" competitors know the rules and they know the flow of the station with regards to their judges. They know what rules to exploit and which to burn. Some, like former WBC Sensory Judge Rodrigo Giammatei, will "play" with the judges to see if they are sharp enough to catch his nuances. It can be tricky work.

Jonathan Rodriguez does his thing.

But even experience as a WBC Judge doesn't guarantee you a win. Practice helps and the rumor was that Team Viva Espresso had been training for six months, with the last month dedicated solely to preparing for the championship.

Whether you're in the United States or at the World Barista Championship, the questions are always the same: why did those people win? Who do they know? Is the competition corrupted? And no doubt, those same questions would be posed here in El Salvador. It's the nature of the game.

Nice setup!

But when you're a judge, it's almost obvious. Those with the time and resources to practice and practice with focus and knowledge stand out. They don't necessarily win, but they stand out and increase their chances of winning tremendously.

In the end, the champion Alejandro Mendez was polished. Smooth, clean, confident and with a good disposition, as well as a very supportive company and team, I think he makes for a great champion to represent El Salvador at the World Barista Championship this June in Bogota.

The judges score espresso.

A large crowd supporting Viva Espresso.

Flor de Maria Gochez grinds coffee.

Creating Flor de Maria's signature drink.

Daniel Mendez aerating his espresso through a Venturi.

Tuttle watches.

Alejandro Mendez pouring cappuccinos tableside.

I think Rob is going stir-crazy.

Claudia wiped out.

The Sensory Judges calibrate.

Rodrigo Giammatei plays with his tech judges.

Pins for best drink categories. I like these.

Top Three Trophies.

Los resultados.

Alejandro with his trophy.

We stand with the new Barista Champion of El Salvador: Alejandro Mendez.


Typical Salvadorean Steak.

For the past 24 hours, I've been suffering. I barely held on during Day Two of the competition. Between every competitor I hustled to the private room for a "consultation" - it was brutal. Instead of going out and partying with the crew, I stayed in my hotel room, sweating it out. Brutal. Damn that trying to be "healthy" by eating salad. Mistake.

Twenty-four hours later, I'm feeling a bit better and starting to get hungry again. Time to try eating real food and hope that the food poisoning has passed. Ugh.