Colorful cocktails garnished with fruits and flowers traded hands as attendees of the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One (SOBEWFF®) strolled along the Surfcomber Hotel’s poolside. Palm trees swayed in the breeze on a cool Saturday night as house music got people dancing. The vibes were cheerful and tropical at the Miami Beach venue. Yet underneath it all, a competition was simmering.
At the Art of Tiki Showdown presented by BACARDÍ Rums and Patrón Tequila, bartenders competed to make tiki-inspired cocktails and have their drinks chosen as the favorite of the event. They vied for two awards: a judges’ award and a people's choice award.
At this year’s competition, one group was decidedly the people's champion: The Bartender’s Guild at FIU. Their bowl had the most ballots cast in it at the end of the two-hour voting period.
“We are super excited. We are super honored. Thank you FIU and the Chaplin School for these amazing opportunities,” said Cindy Zahnd, hospitality graduate student and president of the Bartender’s Guild at FIU.
The Bartender’s Guild was the only student group at the showdown. Their beverage, named "The Sunblazer" in homage to FIU’s original mascot, was a mix that included Bacardi Lime, Bacardi Ocho, pineapple juice, lemon juice and honey sourced by the FIU Beekeeping Association.
“This drink is amazing. Really good. Very Miami,” said Martha Zamora, an event attendee.
Students went out of their way to give off good energy. They shook and mixed drinks for delighted Festival-goers who were populating their Instagram stories. The students also passed out beads.
“The staff brought it to life. You felt welcome. It made it so much better,” said attendee Fernando Guerro, who happened to be an alumnus of FIU Business.
Helping to guide the team was Cristina Moguel, a coordinator from the Bacardi Center of Excellence at FIU. She has worked with the bartender’s guild to create a holistic educational program for students interested in mixology and craft cocktails. Panthers learn about bartending techniques, the origins of spirits and how to best engage customers at live events like Saturday’s. Students of all majors are welcome to join.
“The students get to feel the energy here, right?" Moguel said. “That’s not something I can create or simulate in the classroom or on Bacardi Teach, our online platform. I see them grow more when they come in person, when they are on-premise. I even see them bond. Their differences get put aside."
For the students of the guild who have been working and learning mostly through Zoom for the last year, the event was a reminder of what they love about the hospitality industry.
“I have missed big events like this so much. It’s so fun to be here. These have all become my best friends behind me,” said Rebecca Bohigas, a senior in the Chaplin School, pointing to other students at the bar.
“We have all worked closely together in the last year and a half, so it really feels so good to be here right now with all of them.”