Michael Gordon goes back to school to mix it up with Dubai’s leading bar tenders in African + Eastern’s training school PATH.
As the training arm of African + Eastern (A+E), one of two official distributors of alcohol in the UAE, the Professional Alcohol Training for Hospitality (PATH) School was established in 2011, responding to the specific needs voiced by trade.
The goal of PATH is to provide internationally accredited training that centre’s on customer service, speed of service and advanced bar tending skills, and to date it has trained over 25,000 bartenders across the Middle East and India.
As a result of its experienced trainers, today PATH is able to tailor its courses to suit different operations and requirements, and is able to train across all categories: spirits, wine, champagne, beer, sake and cocktails.
As part of its commitment to customers A+E has invested ahead and moved PATH Bar School to its own premises, with a state-of-the-art training facility in Grosvenor Tower in Tecom, Dubai, and Catering News ME was one of the first guests through the door.
The 3,500 sq. ft. of dedicated training space, which has a fully stocked bar, a lecture room and a private tasting room, opened just after Ramadan this year.
From a cocktail standpoint – there is no other facility like it in the world. The school boasts a lecture room with seating and presenting for up to 40 people, a bar training area, with 17 fully-equipped stations, a tasting room with presentation abilities, and a photography and videography studio.
Muddle Me equipped the school with every conceivable piece of bar equipment, including Williams freezers and fridges, a blast freezer, rotary evaporator, polyscience sous vide, paco jet, a slow juicer, citrus juicer, centrifugal juicer, blenders, a dehydrator, a poly science vacuum chamber, a PrO-Xtract centrifuge, a Kold Draft ice machine, and a Maiko glasswasher. Muddle Me also supplied their new glassware ranges, so the school boasts over 200 skus which allows venues to actually create their drinks lists prior to ordering the glassware.
PATH has also worked with Classic Fine Foods and stocks the full range of Tosci syrups, Imperial Mixers and keeps a constant supply of top end ingredients ready for any eventuality.
Additionally, Limeline came on board with their range of soft drinks for adults. Including the Fentimans brand, Big Tom, James White cordials and juices.
Further to that the photo studio allows the team to support F&B professionals in taking professional photos both for marketing and training purposes, and the videography set up allows them to film the making of each cocktail for induction or marketing purposes – right down to the way they want their staff to stand behind the bar.
Richard Cohen, training manager – PATH Marketing, says: “A+E has a clear aim of support for the trade and travel retail businesses, with a serious investment around training. In a market that is dark, where traditional methods of advertising are not present, the greatest advertiser for us the bar tender or the customer service person standing in travel retail.
“It was clear from my remit upon appointment that training was not just about reinforcing brands but also supporting the trade in general education and skill sets. So while there is brand led activities, one big thing we do is the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. This is a global institute that writes and delivers wine and spirit education. We also work with Institute of Brewing and Distilling for beer sommeliers.
“We are one of only three institutions in the world to teach level three for Sake, and through our team of specialists in their own field we teach all levels of wine and spirits programmes. This is not brand led but pure educational programmes.”
The PATH school is quite a sight to behold and unlike anything else in the country or the greater GCC region. What makes it so specialised is the dedicated facilities it can offer. As it was never designed to be a bar, unlike many schools, the designers could therefore accommodate 17 work stations. “We also made the decision to purchase every piece of equipment a bar might have so we can teach right up from the classics to most advanced cocktail trend,” says Richard.
He adds: “Our entire concept is about allowing venues to come in and explore. Nothing says this better than the fact we have 200 skews of glassware. Most bars might have 20 to 30 skews, but we wanted everything we could get, so when the guys come in they can try all the varieties and see which drink fits which glass.”
Today, a great many hotels are engaged with PATH, including most of the top 5-star hotels, and they come to redesign cocktail menus, to create new concepts and to train staff for new venues, so that pre-opening they are ready to go. The group can also deliver a range of trainings to take staff from entry level into competent food and beverage professionals.
“Often a hotel won’t get its liquor license until close to opening so they can’t do proper training, but they can here,” says Richard.
He adds: “Senior F&B directors through to standard bar tenders are all blown away by our investment and facility, and that is because this market is so unique.
“We can train both bar and floor staff, either in our training premises or in venue. We have a team of trainers that are available to support with a huge variety of both theoretical and practical trainings in-venue.
“Our main focus for in-venue training is to support the perfect serve and to assist in your team’s ability to up-sell,” says Richard.
Richard is the head of training at PATH, and with 17 years’ experience in the trade, including four years leading training in the Gulf, he understands both global and local trends. Trained in cocktail making at The Ritz London he then progressed to own boutique cocktail bars in central London. Afterwards he returned to school to train as a winemaker, and is today accredited to teach the full spectrum of WSET, IBD and practical courses.
The PATH team also includes Jason Clark, who is a globally recognised name in cocktails with 15 years’ experience. Competing in the global finals of Diageos’ World Class he was ranked third and sixth on consecutive years. In the past six years he has finished in the top three in no less than 12 global competitions, inning at global levels at the Bols, IBA and Appleton competitions.
Christopher Chambers has 10 years’ experience in the industry and has both extensive retail and on-trade hands on knowledge. Working throughout the world including across Asia he has also managed one of Scotland’s leading specialist whisky retailers.
Brent Henderson has nine years’ experience including three years on-trade experience in Dubai. One of only three Beer Sommeliers in the Middle East he is accredited to teach the full range of Beer Academy courses. With a BA in hotel management and hospitality and local experience he has a complete grasp of hotel operations when it comes to beverage service in this region.
Ratheesh Edavana has two years’ experience in beverages, focusing on high volume venues with a focus on shots and straight serves, while Viktoryia Toma is a sake specialist and Mathew Castle is a wine specialist.
Richard remarks: “What we offer is training that is for everyone, built on long-term ambitions, that is product focused not brand focused.”
He adds: “Part of our role is engaging with the on-trade and supporting them with a huge variety of educational activities and competitions.
“We run the world’s most prestigious spirit and beer competitions – the World Class and World Draught Masters – and this coming year we have no less than eight other major competitions covering every major category.
“We also have masterclasses and on-trade exclusive events such as Wine Week and the Stoli Lemonade Lab that are running throughout the year.”
Every 18 months PATH celebrates the Dubai bar trade, by getting top end fashion photographers and inviting around 20 venues to come into the school and have the team photographed, with a different theme each year. “This is just about having fun as these guys graft crazy hours, so it’s giving something back. It doesn’t always have to be about branding or marketing, it’s just a bit of fun,” says Richard.
The third instalment of the Dubai Bartenders Photoshoot was held at the PATH school last month, and Catering News ME went along to join in the celebration.
“We invite a range of accounts from across the city to have their photo immortalised by one of the region’s top fashion photographers, Bahr Karim.
“This years’ theme was a mix between moody 1930s and a touch of Laurel and Hardy. All the teams that made it down on the day got into the spirit whether it be having liquid poured over their head or precariously balancing on the edge of a counter.
“Our long term aim is over time to be able to get more and more bar teams involved from across the region and come 2020 release a book documenting and celebrating the bartenders who graft so hard and deliver exceptional service,” says Richard.
PATH also hosts many masterclasses, on a huge range of topics across categories, with recent examples being the art and science of ice carving.
Richard says: “We have a range of programmes from the very serious competitions like World Class, the world’s biggest and most serious cocktail competition, which Jimmy Barrat from Zuma won twice for UAE before going on to compete globally. It is months of hard work and preparation and a very tough competition. For a small market we forget how good the bartenders are here.
“Then we do everything in between including the Metusalem rum speed competition, which was a challenge to see how many mojitos could be made against the clock, with 32 in 3.5 mins being the record. We had 115 bar tenders compete in that competition!
“We want to engage the guys. Challenge them with serious competition and education that adds value to the hotel, them personally and ultimately the consumer. But then also an element of enjoyment, and learning for the sake of learning. We want to make bar tending a respectful trade and career again as it was in the past,” concludes Richard.