« back to Trends & Inspiration

THE INCREDIBLE STORY OF COLOMBIA’S WORLD CLASS WINNER

Winner of World Class Colombia 2018, Juan David Zapata, shares his fascinating story of growing up in one of the most dangerous areas in Medellin , Comuna 13, to climbing the ranks to representing his country in the 2018 World Class Bartender of the Year competition. Juan David gives his top tips for achieving goals and career growth against all odds, to push your hospitality career forward and making sure you reach the top just like him!

Juan David Zapata, a professor of the Learning for Life platform, is the CEO and Founder of Juniper Tonic Water and also has plans to open two bars in his hometown. Juan David is 27 years old.

Growing up in Comuna 13 in Medellin was not easy and he remembers that when he was a teenager, the war between the government and groups of criminals caused real tragedies in his neighborhood regularly. He even points out that in his house there are still traces of bullets on the roofs.

At age 18, Juan David heard (from a friend who worked in a bar) about the Learning for Life platform, where young people with low incomes had the possibility of education in order to have their first job in the bar industry.

He was selected among the 40 participants in Colombia who entered the platform and he began his career, looking for a way to get money to pay his expenses and quickly enter the work force. Soon he realized that the cocktail industry was very interesting than what he hoped for so he decided to become the best bartender he could be.

BEATING THE ODDS

Juan David Zapata talks about beating the odds. For him, it was not only about working tirelessly for this new career, but also about "not having been the recipient of one of those lost bullets in an confrontation in the neighborhood”, to withstand the stigma regarding his origin, to leave his comfort zone and bet on a job option that not everyone saw as serious or safe at that time.

But, he emphasizes, that once all this is achieved it is a matter of taking another step and doing something with it. "There comes a time when it is no longer about luck, but about overcoming things and seeing what you can do. It depends entirely on yourself. You can change the course of things with discipline, you can do something with your desire and your work that really makes a difference.

I am proud to show my parents and my friends that I did not need to have a lot of money to study a career with incredible possibilities, to be a person of integrity and to bring value to society with what I do for a living".

For the Paisa[1] winner of World Class Colombia 2018, the world of cocktails is amazing for the variety of things you can achieve in this career: "As a bartender you keep in the highest peaks of happiness of people, you are present in all their emotions. When I started, I was dazzled by the fact that doing this job I could relate to all kinds of people, diverse people from all walks of life and status and teach them and entertain them. Also, when you are a bartender, you use a universal language, you can travel anywhere and you will be able to work there and communicate with your colleagues, it is another type of language that goes beyond everything.

GETTING CLASSY ON THE WORLD STAGE

For Juan David, it took a lot of effort to become the winner of World Class Colombia and even more to get into the list of world best bartenders in Berlin´s finals: "It was a great experience. I had never traveled to Europe. For 6 months I prepared with several teachers, including my family (my

dad helped me to make all the glassware I brought to the competition). Alejandro Cuellar helped me to learn about gastronomy applied to the bar scene; I had a tutor; I had an English teacher (I learned this language in 30 days for the competition); one psychology teacher; one that helped me to speak in front of a crowd. For half a year, every day I gave everything; I installed a bar in the living room of my home and practiced day after day. I did not have time for anything else. But, when we arrived to Berlin, all of that was reflected in my serenity and good proposals, demonstrating confidence and security to the judges.

STANDING OUT FROM THE CROWD

Juan David Zapata is now a professor at Learning for Life, a platform he enrolled in 8 years ago. He emphasizes to his students all the time that if they wish to stand out in this demanding industry they have to become true “sponges”:

1 - Don’t wait for knowledge to come to you: "It will arrive, but little by little; a little in the bar, a little in training (which is vital) but it is essential that you do your research from books, peers or the internet. Not everyone has the capacity to teach you, and you may even cross paths with people who protect their knowledge. If you want to advance, you must actively search to find and achieve your goal(s).”

2 - Get out of your comfort zone: "Once you have managed to enter a job that you consider incredible, dedicate yourself to learn, but do not stop. It is easy to lose your goal, become a machine and repeat processes. For fulfillment in your work, accomplishing your timetable and knowing the recipes is not enough.”

3 - Think like the owner of the bar: "From how to receive people, how the bar is managed, the venue, the hue of the lights, the music, what time the customers arrive, what time they leave, what your customers like to drink. When you start to consider all those topics, you start thinking as if you owned the venue and you learn a lot.”

4 - Ask questions! "Do not be afraid; ask the Head Chef, the Sous Chef, the Head Bartender, waiters - ask people from other disciplines. If you learn how glassware is made, you can design your own glasses, if you learn to distill, you can distill your own liquors, if you learn from the kitchen, then you can apply techniques from the kitchen to the bar."

5 - A passion can also be learned: "It is impossible for you to automatically know the art of mixology. Many people fall into the bar scene for many reasons, maybe to pay for college or just to pay extra expenses, but it is important to understand that your role in creating drinks is so exciting and so important as a chef or any other professional. The world of drinking takes you to a journey, to look for images, flavors and exciting textures in each of your creations.”

6 - Become an entrepreneur: "I admire all those who follow their dreams. The bartenders who have been able to take a step forward, who have understood how the system works and have their own bars, products or have simply arrived at the place they dreamed of."

ONE OF JUAN DAVID’S WORLD CLASS SERVES

Black Lucky

RECIPE

45 ml Tanqueray No TEN

22 ml Passion fruit in herbs

10 ml Lemon juice

15 ml Banana liqueur

10 ml Coconut fatwash

4 Drops of squid ink

Garnish: feathers

METHOD

Add the Tanqueray No TEN, the passion fruit and herb infusion, the coconut fatwash, the banana liqueur and the 4 drops of squid ink into a mixing glass.

Strongly shake.

Pour into a glass with ice.

Garnish with a feather.

(Alcohol content: 18g per serve)


[1] Someone from Medellin, Colombia.

Recommended for you:

  • LESS IS MORE – THE

    LESS IS MORE – THE ART OF SIMPLICTY IN BARS

    Less is more; a philosophy increasingly gaining traction across the global bar industry, the days of ornate, overelaborate drinks and ostentatious service are being phased out for quality drinks.

  • THE STORY BEHIND THE

    THE STORY BEHIND THE MOJITO

    A drink that has navigated the peaks and troughs of fads and trends for decades, championing flavour and fresh ingredients and introducing countless drinkers to the world of cocktails.

  • THE BE(GIN)NING OF G

    THE BE(GIN)NING OF GORDON'S

    Gordon’s is the world’s number one best-selling gin but how did a Londoner with Scottish roots and impeccably high standards kick off a global gin revolution?

  • FOLLOWING THE STORY

    FOLLOWING THE STORY OF DON JULIO

    Master Distiller Don Julio González was the original pioneer of the tequila industry, revolutionising production and setting the standard for decades to come.

Want to get access to exclusive content including industry news, cocktail tools and training? Sign up to Diageo Bar Academy today for unlimited access to it all.