Irusu’s Nguyen Huu Phu has been judged Vietnam’s best bartender at the recent Campari Bartender Competition Vietnam 2019 Finals at a packed Summer Experiment in Saigon hosted by Campo Group.
Phil, as he is also known, took out the hotly-contested title over one of the strongest groups of finalists assembled in any bartending competition held this year throughout Vietnam, which included Bui Nhu Y from Rabbit Hole (1st runner-up), Nguyen Vu Hai from Drinking & Healing (2nd runner-up), Nguyen Tan Loc (Renkon) and Nguyen Duc Vuong (The Cocktail Merchants).
Phil won with his Al Mondo cocktail made from 30ml Campari, 30ml Rosso Vermouth, 30ml pineapple juice with 30ml of coffee and garnished with a pineapple core.
His cocktail was a modern take on the classic Milano Torino (the drink that gave rise to the Negroni and Americano) created in the 1860s and something that Phil says was “inspired by Davide Campari’s journey as a bartender that helped make Campari an international brand.”
Phil’s twist differed from the classic with the addition of coffee and pineapple, something he believed represented a combination of Campari heritage, hospitality and friendliness.
“I’m extremely honoured to be the winner this year,” an elated Phil told The Bureau straight after his win. “Last year I witnessed Du (2018 winner from Drinking & Healing) win this competition and then go to Milan to represent Vietnam, and now I’m going to do that, which is so exciting.”
In addition to winning a cash prize of VND10 million (approx.US$430), Phil will be packing his apron and shaker and setting off to Milan on January 19 to represent Vietnam at the Campari Bartender Competition World Finals.
“I’ll compete in the Campari Bartender Competition Asia Round, then I’ll drink Italian coffee in the morning, eat ice-cream in the afternoon, pasta for dinner and finish my day with a Negroni,” said Phil when asked what he was looking forward to doing once he got to Italy.
Somewhat of a journeyman already in just his four years of bartending, Phil has tested out his skills against Vietnam’s best in as many as five bartending competitions (three local, two international) this year.
His win is reward for his work ethic, professionalism and trademark determination during competitions, something for which he’s become renowned.
He appears to revel in the challenge.
Along with the other four finalists, he had to battle his way through two preliminary rounds against bartenders nation-wide to reach the final where the seasoned panel of judges made up of industry luminaries Richie Fawcett (The Studio Saigon), Kata Simon (Below), Allen Jensen (Campari Group Vietnam) and Sarah Wong (Campari Group Singapore) was waiting.
“I was stressed and nervous but at the same time excited,” explained Phil when asked how he felt going into the final with such a tough judging panel waiting. “But I kept it simple. Simple is best.”
Words by Matt Cowan. Follow him on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon
Photos by Mike Palumbo. Follow him on Instagram at @mikepalumbo_