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Get to Know Jholan Peñafiel, a World Bartender Champion

By Angelo G. Garcia

If you think bartending is easy, then you are sorely mistaken. It takes a lot of skills—from memorization to accuracy—to become a bartender. It takes practice to create that perfect glass of Old Fashioned, Mojito, and Margarita.

For TGIFridays’ 2017 World Bartender Champion Jholan Peñafiel, aside from knowing recipes, a good bartender also has to be quick and engaging. A bartender also needs to know what kind of glass is used for a specific drink, the amount of ice, how to properly open a wine bottle, etc.

“It’s a difficult job because you need to learn a lot of things. As of now, I still need to learn a lot more,” she says.

Jholan started as a hostess for the American restaurant chain in 2014. She then trained as a waitress, then cross-trained as a bartender. She has been bartending for less than two years yet she won the 2017 TGIFridays World Bartender championship held in Dallas, Texas. She bested eight other Fridays bartenders from all over the world and won a total of $11,000 cash prize.

“I was so happy when I won the competition. The hard work was all worth it. Honestly, I feel that the competition was more difficult here and also in the Asia Pacific round. When I got through the Asia Pacific round, we knew I had the chance to win it,” she says.

The competition is a test of knowledge and skills. The Compulsory Round is a test on the competitor’s technical knowledge. Jholan topped this round considering that she had to train extra hard since she is relatively new to bartending.

“In the compulsory round, it’s more of a knowledge check. We have a manual we call the ‘Bible.’ All the recipes, standards, mixes, bar tools, and equipment are there. Everything,” she stresses. “Part of the round was a wine bottle opening pour test (pour accuracy), drink exam, prep test, etc. You have to do everything accurately.”

Her secret to winning is simple: enjoying the moment. “You just have to enjoy every moment of it. Everyone is pressured to win because we all knew how hard it was,” Jholan says.

But one of the most challenging part in bartending is flairtending, which is basically mixing drinks with a bit of “flair.” It’s what you see bartenders do when the juggle bottles of liquor and throw around cocktail shakers.

“During the training I focused on the flair because it was a weakness,” she shares.

Flair is an important part of bartending. Besides mixing drinks the right way, bartenders also need to engage and entertain their customers. Flairtending is one way to entertain guests.

Recently, TGIFridays Philippins introduced Flairtending Nights. Every Friday and Saturday, all Fridays branches in the Philippines will showcase the flairtending skills of its best bartenders. And Jholan, who works at the Greenbelt branch, would also be showcasing her winning skills.

So when ordering your favorite Fridays cocktail on a Friday or Saturday night, expect a showcase of “booze juggling” from talented bartenders. Jholan proves that bartending is no easy job and she has this to say for aspiring bartenders.

“One of my favorite books is The Secret and one of the best quotes from the book is: ‘You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.’ So, in every challenge I face, I take the first step. I just need to remind myself that I can do it, even how hard it is. One step at a time.”

This article was first published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.

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