Mentorship is the bedrock of bartending. Before he famously set the industry standard for an all-fresh casino cocktail program at Bellagio, the “Modern Mixologist,” Tony Abou-Ganim learned the trade from his cousin Helen at Michigan’s Brass Rail. Later, as an actor and bartender in New York, Abou-Ganim was inspired when he met “King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff, a sage often credited with reinventing the profession. And Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada’s executive director of mixology and spirits education Francesco Lafranconi has advised countless bartenders at the Academy of Spirits & Fine Service he founded that, “We’re not drinking, we’re learning.” In fact, there isn’t a bartender in America who—whether he or she knows it—hasn’t in some way benefited from the trio’s collective innovation and passion.
Which is why it’s so amazing that these three will unite December 13 and 14 for the inaugural Masters of Mixology Cocktail Competition during Winter in Venice at the Venetian/Palazzo. Lafranconi and Abou-Ganim will each mentor a team of four bartenders vying for a trip to Italy. DeGroff and yours truly (humbled beyond all comprehension) will judge with first two rounds at 8 p.m. Friday and the final three rounds at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the event that coincides with Culinary Clash. Both competitions are the brainchild of Venetian/Palazzo vice president of food and beverage Sebastien Silvestri, and both are open to the public.
While they’re at it, DeGroff and Abou-Ganim will appear with chef Rick Moonen on December 16 for a Holiday Takeover appetizer and cocktail tasting soiree at Rx Boiler Room ($50, 7-10 p.m., RSVP to 632-9900). And for an extra $50, you get three signed books, one from each of the evening’s hosts. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Helen David Memorial Fund, started by Abou-Ganim in honor of his first mentor, to provide assistance to bartenders affected by breast cancer.