BRUNO VANZAN: KING OF ITALIAN COCKTAILS
Roman by birth, Milanese by adoption, acclaimed cocktail master Bruno Vanzan won the 2008 Mondiale Flair – the World Flair - award for acrobatic bartending in Turin while bringing home the International Bartender Association’s (IBA) 2016 “Best Cocktail” award from Japan.
Slicked back hair, fashionably clad, a wide smile and arms that juggle bottles, glasses, and shakers like an acrobat — 33-year old Bruno Vanzan is known as one of, if not the best, Italian bartenders today. He boasts of over 150 international competitions, over 40 victories under his belt, books, and a TV show. His young but dazzling career, which started when he was 18-years old, unfolded surprisingly. “I was the last among my classmates,” says Bruno, recalling his tough training and practice. However, this hard work and dedication are the foundations for the talent now simply known by his last name, Vanzan, one of the sector’s most heralded worldwide. After all, a barman who gives a show is also considered a performing artist, entertaining the public with tricks and “magic” while mixing a drink. So we talked about this “art”, asked him to open the doors to his world and take us behind the counter on a tour amongst glasses, shakers and lots of ice.
What are your memories of the first time you took a glass and shaker in hand?
It is a memory that is still firmly planted in my mind. How could I forget? It was 2005 and I was working in a suburban bar in Rome, I did the messy stuff, I cleaned up ... I just cleaned up, but one day about 2 years later they told me to make my first cocktail. I fell in love with this profession immediately.
Why did you choose this path? Was there a pinnacle moment or event that convinced you?
I studied at the Air Force Academy, but my roots are humble. While I studied, I worked at a bar to earn money (I’ve always had a strong character). Then I was struck by a health issue and gained 90 kilograms (198 pounds).
I was teased at school and therefore, bartending was a way for me to get revenge. You see, when I was behind the bar I felt protected from the outside world and felt like a star on stage. It was then that I decided I didn’t want to be a great bartender…i wanted to be the best.
How much did you have to study, train yourself and make mistakes before reaching this level? The greatest difficulties, especially considering the fact that you are a “flair bartender”?
Difficulties are life’s motor of life. Without them, we don’t appreciate the victories. When I took my first “flair” course, my teacher told me that it was not for me.
Instead, I wasn’t discouraged. I went to a park every night to train 6-7 hours in a row so I could go back to school the next day and show what I was made of! Well, from that day on I’ve always done it like this: the others train 10 hours? Then I will train 11!
Mixing acrobatics with cocktail preparation is in itself not easy... why do you think this blend was so successful?
Fine drinks made by capable hands is key, then add spectacular preparation and everything becomes more interesting and enjoyable. Though it doesn’t seem like it, this is an old profession: the “flair” was born in 1800, when Jerry Thomas, the first bartender in history to add this element of entertainment, wooed customers with fancy, skillful hand movements during preparations of cocktails like the Blue. Skills, therefore, that have conquered and continue to conquer public and clientele.
You have taken fine-drink preparation to TV, so broadcasting is not just for haute cuisine…
And thank goodness. And especially for me since I am not a great cook. Jokes aside, I am lucky to have been the first barman in Italy, in 2010, to show Tv-viewers that cocktail preparation can be an experience of good taste.
Travelling, discovering other cultures and improving through experiences is a cornerstone for great chefs. Is it the same for a high-end barman like you?
Certainly. I lived in Africa for two years, in the US for one year and in my role as brand ambassador and competitor I have visited over 60 countries. Understanding comes with observation and finding inspiration in what is being offered. Sometimes simple things, different cultures, traditions, languages, colors, and emotions are just around the corner and can provide inspiration, ideas and one-of-kind cocktails.
Hundreds of trophies, numerous competitions under your belt, world recognition: now that you are wellplaced, how do you see yourself in 10 years?
With a few more wrinkles! Let’s say that my life has always exceeded my expectations, but that is backed by constant preparation and real effort. Nothing comes for free. I hope to be a good manager of my company. I have a lot of trust in the guys that make up my team.
What is the most difficult cocktail you have ever made? And the most satisfying?
Everything is difficult. Replicating a drink for hundreds of people is never easy, but the most satisfying is the Sushi Martini, the cocktail that won the 2016 IBA World Championship in Japan in Tokyo! It feels like my little baby that I have to take care of and preserve.
TV, books, competitions, training; what are Bruno Vanzan’s future projects?
Bruno Vanzan has a thousand ideas, a thousand projects. 2019 will be an important year for my life both as a bartender and as an entrepreneur: I will release my own products in January, the result of 3-years of work behind the scenes. I hope that when people open “the bottle” they can live a satisfying taste experience and perceive the love and passion, created as my little dream.