Ketel One’s Paulo Figueiredo On How He’s Pushing the Cocktail Culture Globally One Country at a Time.
We are not sure whether Paulo’s visit coincided with Nairobi’s first cocktail week or it was all part of the plan but we love that it did. In his travels, Figueiredo always seeks to explore the local cuisine and culture, to discover new flavors he can incorporate in his cocktail creations and to understand the customer’s palate in that specific country. Here's what we asked him about his job and the cocktail culture when we spoke to him.
How long have you been the Ketel One Global brand ambassador?
I started this role 2 and a half years ago. However, I have been with Diageo for 8 years. Before this I had done pretty much all the jobs in the hospitality industry.
Wow, take us through those 8 years?
My first regions were Central America and the Carribean; handling the whole portfolio and not just Ketel One but also our other spirits like Don Julio, Bulleit, Tanqueray and Johnny Walker. I did that for two years before moving to Latin America where I stayed for three years. I am now based in Amsterdam with Ketel One.
What have been some of your responsibilities over the years?
The first months were setting up the World Class Bartender Competition, which is the biggest competition (57 Countries), in about 14 countries in Latin America. I also educate the bartenders about the brands, participating in seminars in platforms such as Business of Bars and Diageo Bar Academy. I also do my part to educate the consumers too. My mission has always been to push the cocktail culture of whatever region I am in.
Why are competitions like World Class both important to Ketel One and bartenders?
Ketel one was a brand built with bartenders in mind. If I can use Patrick as an example, he was Kenya’s representative at the competition, and he did phenomenal. There are usually multiple challenges that focus on different trends and brands. Ketel One’s challenge was based on “Sustainability in the Community and Patrick was in the top 5 out of the 57 bartenders. He had a beautiful project, going back to his roots, told a good story and executed his cocktail perfectly. Ketel One’s approach is to empower and educate the bartenders who then pass this on to who they serve.
You have a bartending background yourself…
Yes! I started about 18 years ago in Portugal then moved to London where I worked at different bars such as LAB Bar and Salvatores@50. LAB back in 2004/2005 was one of the most famous bars in the industry. I stayed for two years and then started getting offers from many other bars across the world.
What made you so sought after?
There’s no magic formulae. This industry appreciates people who put in solid long hours and consistently do their best. Personally, I studied a lot, competed, visited some distilleries, learnt about food and cocktail ingredients as well as the actual spirits. This may have made me stand out. And this was before Instagram and the social media hype. In my current role I am passionate about sharing what I pick up from my travels and learning from them too.
Do you feel that there are lots of different exciting directions for bartenders to grow their careers?
I believe this is the best time for bartenders all over the world. Everyone of us has different goals. For some it’s to work behind the bar for a longer part of their career and that’s fine. Bars are becoming innovative and evolving daily. Others choose to become consultants or even brand ambassadors.
You’re are quite well traveled and almost reaching 100 countries visited, what African countries have you ticked off your list…
South Africa, Cameroon and Nigeria. I once had a three-day layover in Kenya too. Being back now I cannot wait to take it all in. I will visit some bars and restaurants where I can have a better feel of it.
What makes a cocktail bar a successful one?
Hospitality. And them getting all the basics right.