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Going Beyond the Rail with Up-and-Coming Bar & Bev Talents: RC Show 2021 Competition Winner Profiles

This year’s competitions looked different than years past, however, the new virtual format allowed Restaurants Canada to investigate new avenues, configurations, and to push the boundaries of competition. 

Beyond the Rail Competition

While previous contestants of the Beyond the Rail competition were asked to develop two signature cocktails using local ingredients, this year competitors were tasked with showcasing not only their creativity but also their marketing savvy and business expertise. Selected finalists created a short marketing video promoting a cocktail kit concept and a presentation to virtually pitch a “sellable” cocktail kit concept in front of a panel of esteemed judges. 

Finalists had to prepare a cocktail recipe with mixing directions, a mock-up of the packaged product as a whole, a costing sheet and suggested retail price including the cost of packaging (down to stickers, shrink bands etc.), a description of the marketing strategy/plan (max 100 words), and a one-minute marketing video getting the customer excited about what they would receive once they purchased this product. First Place took home $2000, Second Place $1000, and Third Place $500.

Restaurants Canada sends out a thank you to judges: Rebecca Felgate, Digital Content Creator, Miss Rebecca J, Kate Boushel, Director of Beverage & Education, Barroco Group, Jesse Sahlin, Corporate Beverage Director, JOEY Restaurant Group, and Mike McLean, Lead Trainer, Mixxit Canada by Beam Suntory

A huge congratulations to all finalists for their incredible work and of course a special congrats to our top three winners: Josh Mellet (fist place), and Madison Homewood and Marta Ess who tied for second place. We sat down with our top three to see what it takes to place in this esteemed competition.

John Mellet

Josh Mellet is a hospitality professional with more than 10 years of experience dedicated to his passion behind the bar. His time abroad led him back to his hometown in Toronto, where he continues to learn new techniques and discover new ingredients.

Madison Homewood

Madison Homewood is an experienced bartender in Toronto. Most recently you could find her shaking things up behind the bar at Le Phénix and previously at Supernova Ballroom. Madison is excited to be competing again and honing a new skill that is so relevant to the industry’s current climate. 

Marta Ess

Marta Ess has nearly two decades of experience working in the hospitality industry. She has participated and placed in multiple national and international cocktail competitions (Black Cow Vodka Gold Top Cup Canada winner, Speed Rack Top 4, Most Imaginative Bartender 2020 Top 12, among many others), traveling across North America and the UK, representing Canada on a global stage more than once. Until recently, you could find her playing bar mom at Parkdale’s beloved local spot Chantecler/le Phénix. Although she’s moved on from Toronto, she will always consider the 12 years spent honing her craft in the city as invaluable to who she is as a bartender and hospitality professional.

MENU: Can you describe your cocktail kit for us?

Josh: In my cocktail kit, I want to offer a drink that has an incredible shelf life and is versatile in its execution. My Cacao Famous provides that by offering not just a martini-style drink for the spirit-forward cocktail enthusiast, but a highball offering that is more approachable to novice drinkers. Lastly, the coffee oil is an excellent ingredient that can overlap with food lovers looking to add those familiar flavours to desserts. Overall, the value speaks for itself and I hope you will consider my kit for your next evening in. 

Madison: Drinks on Friday is a cocktail subscription kit that includes styles of cocktails (for every Friday of the month) and at least two servings of each drink. We feature one spirit each month and are excited to offer different flavour profiles and styles of cocktails to show you the nuances and versatility of the feature spirit – in this case, Sipsmith Gin

Marta: Simple kits made using recyclable, reusable, or upcycled materials, that omit the need to ship fresh/perishable ingredients (by using oils or flavour crystals to impart flavour instead), and require minimal tools or skills to complete. They omit the printing of recipe cards to keep down on material waste, as well. Instead, each kit comes with a QR code that leads to a unique landing page dedicated to the cocktail, and offering elements beyond the recipe (such as curated playlists and tasting/history notes about the featured spirit brand).

MENU: What does it mean to you to be a winner in this competition?

Josh: Winning this competition shows me that anything is possible with the right dedication and approach towards your goals in life. It also helps expand my networking throughout the country and allows me to represent my philosophy on hospitality in my city. 

Madison: Placing in the top three for this competition just really gave me the confidence to propel this into a real business and I am incredibly happy to say that I have brought ‘Drinks On Friday’ to fruition since the competition.

Marta: It forced me to work in a way I hadn’t had to before, in that the submission requirements were very unique. It means that I have the capacity to pivot and produce something of value while working outside of my comfort zone under a tight deadline.

MENU: Why are competitions like this beneficial to up-and-coming talent?

Josh: Competitions like this are beneficial to up-and-coming talent because it gives them an opportunity to face off against incredible bartenders in order to help them develop their own techniques, knowledge, and creativity. This also opens up opportunities to collaborate with other industry professionals who will get a chance to see your abilities through competing. It’s a great networking tool and it allows bartenders to help develop their reputations.

Madison: These types of competitions are so important for up-and-coming talent, between networking, getting an understanding of the format of competitions, and being able to watch other bartenders shine. It really shows you the creativity that goes into comps and how you can grow and improve. Not to mention I actually took 1st place at the RC show in 2019 and was offered a job by one of the judges. That’s actually the reason why I am in Toronto now!

Marta: Any competition that teaches a bartender new skills or helps to improve one’s skills in some way is always beneficial.

Catch the full Beyond the Competition from RC Show 2021 ONLINE LIVE with the RC Show ON DEMAND replay! Head over to rcshow.com to register and access the full library of content from the Show, or if you want to relive the magic, use your Show login credentials at onlinelive.rcshow.com.

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