Go on, admit it, do you, like us, tune into shows like Masterchef or GBBO, not just for a good old comfort watch but with your judging hat on, trying to predict the eventual winner? It doesn’t matter that you can’t actually taste the dishes, you get the gist from the look and yum-appeal of the finished product. Do you like the cut the jib of the contestant? Does their dish capture your imagination? Does it perk up your palate and the ultimate test, does it get filed in your ‘things-that-I’ve-seen-on-screen-that-I-want-to-make’ mental library? Well, dear reader, here’s your chance to make your visual expertise and opinions count. How? By casting your votes in this year’s Patrón Perfectionists Cocktail Competition.
For the first time in its seven year history, the Patrón Perfectionists contest has gone virtual. Not only that, it’s opened up its prestigious judging panel to take in the consumer vote. Smart thinking as far as we’re concerned. Hands up if you’re one of the growing number of people who have taken to making cocktails for themselves during the past 18 months? Yup, us too. Lockdown may have deprived us of catching up with friends in our favourite bars IRL but what it did give us was plenty of time and opportunities to sharpen up our mixing games at home.
Which is where your voting skills come in. Head over to patronperfectionists.com and check out the 30 shortlisted bartenders and peruse their submitted recipes. Close your eyes, conjure up the creations and imagine them being presented to you á la (insert your fave cookery show here). Which one sounds simple but delicious enough to make you want to reach for your cocktail shaker (or kilner jar, we won’t judge) and recreate it for yourself at home? Which feels like it makes the most ingenious use out of (whisper it) pretty ordinary ingredients? Once you’ve decided, cast your vote and just to make sure it counts, you can keep asserting your authority every day until July 22nd when voting closes.
What’s in it for you? Unlike Masterchef or GBBO, you can really make your opinion count and of course, there’s the warm glow that comes from seeing your favourite bartender/s and their Patrón Perfectionists cocktail get the recognition you believe they deserve.
What’s in it for the bartenders? Bragging rights, obvs. But apart from that, the three bartenders with the most consumer votes will make it through to the next stage (fanfare please): the Top 10 virtual finals (the remaining seven competitors will be decided by Patrón themselves). Here’s where they get to really show what they’re made of as the stakes are high: the chance to represent the UK at the Patrón Perfectionist Global Final at the home of Patrón Tequila in sunny Mexico. That will be in January 2022 but in the meantime, we thought we’d check in with Tom Sellers, one of this year’s Patrón Perfectionists judges to find out what he’ll be looking for when he takes to the hot seat to decide on the overall winner.
See the 30 competitors and their drinks and cast your vote for who YOU think should go through to the next stage of the competition by visiting patronperfectionists.com
Talking Patrón Perfectionists with Chef Tom Sellers
With a passion for storytelling, a keen eye for aesthetics and a mighty fine pedigree when it comes to challenging perceptions in the visual and taste departments (in case you didn’t know, not only did he train alongside top chefs like Tom Aikens in London, Thomas Keller at Per Se in New York and René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen, Sellers has notched up an impressive two Michelin-stars for his culinary genius at his own venue Restaurant Story – the first at the ripe old age of 26!), we couldn’t think of a more qualified person to talk taste, flavour and being a perfectionist.
So Tom, let’s start with what does perfectionism mean to you and how does it translate to your ethos at Restaurant Story and how you’ll be judging the competition?
Firstly, it’s a pleasure to be involved with the competition. You could argue that that the idea of being perfect doesn’t exist but what absolutely does is the unapologetic drive and journey in wanting to be perfect in what you do. There’s a lot of similarity in what we do day-to-day in my work, my craft and what we do in the restaurant that feeds into this really nicely.
As for my criteria for judging the competition: not sitting solely in the beverage world but being involved in beverages and spirits, my viewpoint will be slightly different from the other judges but that will bring something different to the way I look at the drinks and what the competitors are doing, why they’re doing it and the narrative behind what they’ve created – that’s something I focus heavily on throughout my process and what I do.
What are you most looking forward to in your capacity as a judge?
It’s always exciting when you’re surrounded by great talent and anyone who’s got to this stage of the competition is immensely talented, so I’m looking forward to being involved in an environment like that. Also, there’ll be an element of learning for me which I always find exhilarating. Overall, I’m genuinely excited to see what they’ve put together and why. I’m really looking forward to seeing the motive, the story, or the driver behind what they’re creating.
As someone who’s won two Michelin Stars and countless accolades, how important are competitions/awards for building careers?
I think you have to focus on what you do day-to day and the accolades, awards and notoriety should be a by-product of what you do and love. If you have that mindset I think it’s much more likely for the awards and accolades to be achieved.
How did the wins/accolades impact on you personally and professionally?
Whenever you achieve something of a certain stature, naturally you’re given more airtime and a bigger platform to project who you are, your brand and your work – only positive things can come from that. From a personal standpoint, I saw a different respect from my peers within the industry which allowed for further opportunities to come to the table and for me to flourish personally as well.
I think everybody has a different approach as to why they’re doing something and what they want to achieve from it, so I have a huge amount of respect for anyone putting themselves out there on a platform to be judged. This competition is a perfect example of that. You have an array of young talent who are willing to go out there and put their best forward. Just being there, they’re already on the path to changing their lives and careers.
How do you approach creating a new dish or ‘story’ for your menu?
It always starts with an idea and that can come from anywhere – walking down the street, the colour of a leaf, a certain colour palette, lyrics from a song – I take inspiration from all over. It also comes from the seasons, I’m very focused on cooking around the seasons that are gifted to us. I’ve always been a firm believer in there has to be narrative or story behind the dishes – it genuinely empowers what you’re doing and gives it more clout.
The other thing I would say is always start with the product. Whether in the case of Patrón Perfectionists it’s the tequila, or when we’re working in the kitchen, it comes from the ocean, grows from a tree or comes from the ground – it’s about really understanding that ingredient and product because ultimately, what you’re trying to do is showcase it.
Will you be looking for a similar kind of methodology when judging the Patrón Perfectionists cocktails?
However much you want to dress something up or project a certain narrative, you can never overlook the core values: what is the product, what is it they’re using, how have they enhanced it, have they understood it and how have they got to grips with what it represents? The first thing I’ll be asking is, does this cocktail give the tequila the right representation, does it truly understand the heritage and the story behind the product itself?
Do you have any favourite cocktail and food pairings from your menu?
When I look at how we work with food and drink together, we never want one to outshine the other. In my earlier, probably less mature days I was very food focused, very chef focused. Now we approach things very differently. We all sit down together and ask how we can find harmony within a certain pairing.
You’re someone with strong aesthetic taste, not just in your intricate dishes but the look and feel of your restaurant. How important will the visual effect of the Patrón Perfectionists cocktails be to you?
I’ve always said an experience or product is multi-faceted, you can’t just focus on one particular part, so for me the visuals are just as important as anything else. As a creative, nine times out of 10, I have a visual idea of what I want before I’ve created it because it’s coming out of my mind. I imagine that will be similar for the contestants – when they start creating, they’ll already have a preconceived idea of how they’re going to serve their drink. Of course, that should absolutely fall in line with what the drink is and why they’ve created it… The whole visual side is very important because ultimately, you see something before you taste it. However, sometimes you can be driven by something visually but obviously what’s important is how it tastes and the methodology behind it.
And what about taste? Stories are incredibly important to you, hence the name of your restaurant and the narrative shared through your dishes, are you looking for the same kind of cohesion in the glass?
However much we talk about things looking amazing, I’m a big believer that you hold flavour in your memory longer than you do something visually. Flavour is super important. It’s about finding that balance of something that tastes unbelievably great but of course, all of the other things have had the same thought process put behind them in terms of the narrative and what it looks like visually. Sometimes creative people can get hung up on wanting to tell a certain story or give a certain narrative and then the taste and how it delivers can fall by the wayside. I’ll be approaching the competition the same way I approach my day-to-day work.
You’re renowned for breaking convention and equally, for respecting and understanding ingredients. Which of these will be more prevalent in your judging of the Patrón Perfectionists cocktails?
Ultimately, it’s about making the best Patrón-based drink. The biggest driver for me will be, have they really understood the liquid that they’re using? But of course, all of the other things matter. My restaurant is called Story, it’s the DNA of my brand because I believe stories are so powerful. Sometimes it’s not about the beginning or the ending, actually it’s about the process and the story that really counts for a lot of people. For me, that will bear heavily on how I look at the drinks. I like to think I have a good palate but there will be other judges who are more qualified in terms of what’s in the glass than me, so there will be some learning, which will be exciting. But I’m looking forward to the exchange from my side of how powerful the narrative can be and how powerful the story can be. For me, they are all-encompassing and all-important.
The competitors have had to show their creativity using store cupboard ingredients, what’s your favourite store cupboard ingredient to add perfection in the kitchen and why?
It’s going to sound boring but there are two things that I live by in my kitchen. Obviously, one of them is salt. When you learn to use it properly, salt is about how you build flavour: you can add it to certain ingredients to bring out water and moisture depending on what you want to create and you can use it for lots of things including different level of viscosity.
The other essential for me are acids. I love different kinds of vinegars – Japanese, British, self distilled, all kinds – we make a lot of pickles in the restaurant. Acids are very important when I build flavour, particularly sweet and sour dishes. I would rather find acidity through vinegar than citrus, it’s reflective of what I do in the kitchen.
Which store cupboard ingredients would you reach for to create a Patrón Perfectionists cocktail and why?
[Long pause]. I’ve got some elderflower vinegar I made last year, I’d probably go for that.
There can only be one Patrón Perfectionists winner, what advice would you give to the remaining competitors?
Never be discouraged, if you’re not failing, you’re not trying. My message is simple: keep going, carry on, use it as a learning experience, not a losing one. If you ask anyone who’s found success, they’ll tell you that they’ve failed many times. I have. I failed before I opened my restaurant and I failed while having my restaurant – I failed in my own mind, the parameters I’ve set for myself, what I deemed to be progression and achievement. Like I said at the beginning of our conversation, having made it to this stage of the competition already says a lot about the individuals – their character, their ambition and where they want to get to in their lives.
You can’t always win, it’s not possible. Every year I fail to get another Michelin star I could say I’m failing, that I’m losing but I’m not. You have to shift your mind to say that you’re a year closer to the next step, to where you want to get to in your career or your journey. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out, if anything be motivated to come back stronger. It’s all about learning, all about the process.
And your advice to the winner?
My honest advice, and a note to myself (which is something I’ve never done): enjoy it. Enjoy the moment. People who are driven and possess a level of talent can find it really difficult to hold on to that moment and enjoy it, they’re always thinking about what’s next or being pulled to the next thing. That’s great but a big part of me would say enjoy being recognised for your work, take everything that comes with that because you can’t relive it – once it’s done, it’s gone. To the person who deserves to win, and will win: enjoy it.
The judging panel is made up of Tom Sellers who will have a keen eye for a fine-dining worthy cocktail that breaks convention; Giulia Cuccurullo, winner of the 2020 PATRÓN Perfectionists Cocktail Competition; Deano Moncrieffe, founder and director of Hacha Bar and Agave spirits expert; and Matt Sykes, founder of PATRÓN Perfectionists Cocktail Competition and Global Commercial Execution for PATRÓN.
For more details and to cast your vote, visit patronperfectionists.com
Images: Food Story Media Ltd