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There are few experiences in an aficionado's life that can bring them closer to their cigars than actually rolling one. On Sunday morning, some 500 well-fed cigar enthusiasts had just finished a hearty breakfast hosted by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer. But when they re-entered the conference room, they found that it had been transformed into a cigar rolling gallery. Each seat had a place setting consisting of a hard plastic mat, a razor blade, a wrapperless cigar, and a small cup of vegetable glue, or gomma. For some, this was deja vu, as many attendees have been doing this for more than a decade. For others, it was their first shot at trying to roll a cigar.
"How many of you are hungover?" joked Michael Giannini, General Cigar Co.'s director of Team La Gloria. "Part of our job is to coach you through this, but part of our job is to make fun of you and laugh at you," he added.
The entire setup is designed to emulate a cigar factory, while master roller Leo Peraza constructed his cigars up on stage. His deft hands are a testament to his years in the industry and were projected onto large video screens as he worked. The crowd is shown how to stretch, cut and roll the wrapper leaf onto a cigar. Every roller is handed a piece of perfectly pliable, fermented Ecuadoran Sumatra leaf.
Peraza effortlessly showed his form, no doubt slowing his pace so the crowd could watch and learn. He cut, stretched and rolled in nearly one motion. Then he did it again, and then again.
There were two aspects to the seminar. While it is a hands-on tutorial on how to apply a wrapper leaf to a cigar, it is also a competition. At the end of the seminar, the one who has rolled the best cigar would win two 2006 La Gloria Cubana Serie R Limitada Humidors (one natural, one maduro) from filled with 30 cigars each, as well as a two La Gloria Cubana branded lighters.
Giannini had served as co-host of this event for years with former La Gloria brand owner Ernesto Perez-Carrillo. This was the second year Team La Gloria has hosted the event.
Team La Gloria consists of roller Peraza; general manager Yuri Guillen, who couldn't make the show; Rick Rodriguez, who is billed as a premium cigar apprentice, and Giannini.
"This is not as easy as it looks," said Giannini, prowling the aisles and watching his erstwhile students struggling with the assignment. "I've seen some of you roll and it's a disaster."
The playful, good-natured ribbing of poorly rolled cigars has always been a signature of the Roll Your Own seminar. As Leo showed how to cut the wrapper into neat sickle-shaped pieces, you could see some attendees following his instructions attentively, others slicing their leaves to unusable shreds. Then Leo showed exactly how to apply the wrapper and how to finish it off with a neat, pigtail cap.
Rodriguez found his first victim for ridicule and held up his shoddy cigar. "This looks like something I left back in my hotel. ...bathroom."
Laughter erupted in the room. Everyone seemed comfortable with the unwritten rules of the competition: If you roll well, you are rewarded, if you roll poorly you get a good zing from the stage.
As the session came to a close, cigars were collected for review. Giannini held one up.
"I don't even know what this is," he said. "Who's responsible for this atrocity?"
Consolation prizes were given for ugliest and most creative cigars. One person crafted what looked like a space ship, another roller made an elaborate boat out of 15 cigars and someone else took the cigar, glued macadamia nuts to it, and fashioned a hula dancer. One cigar submission looked as though it had been put through a wood chipper and the re-assembled.
Rollers of these particularly funny, albeit unsmokeable sticks, received boxes of El Rico Habano, La Gloria Cubana Serie R and Reserva Figurado cigars just for making the crowd laugh.
But after the laughter subsided, the judges began to seriously evaluate all the submitted cigars and held up a near perfect smoke rolled by Fletcher Welles. He was presented with two La Gloria Serie R Limitada Humidors as well as two La Gloria Cubana lighters.
As Giannini handed Welles his prize boxes of cigars he said "Good luck getting that on the plane. That weighs about 100 pounds."
The audience applauded and the event was over. Some finished with a sense of accomplishment. Some failed miserably, but their attentions were now turned too the series of glasses passed out at every setting. In a few moments, those glasses would be full of Scotch, the focus of the next seminar. It would be poured for the good rollers who earned it, and the failed rollers who truly needed a drink.
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