Leading industry experts and the judges for the 2017 Patrón Perfectionists Greater China regional finals, Matthew Sykes, Mark Hammons and Joe Villanueva, discuss how bartenders can set themselves apart on the competition stage.
Drinks World: What was it about the winner that stood out to you above the rest?
MATTHEW SYKES: Li stood out above the rest of the competition for a variety of reasons. I think she was consistent in our different scoring categories. I thought the story and how she linked in the Chinese ingredients and the idea of wellness was ingenious. In the end, though, it comes down to the drink. And as Mark did say in that summary speech, “The tequila needs to sing. Patrón needs to be the hero of the cocktail.” She delivered that.
MARK HAMMONS: I think in addition to letting the tequila sing, you also have to think about how the story is going to travel to Mexico. The idea of healing and cooling and heating herbs may be common in this region, but when you take that to Mexico it becomes exotic and fun for the audience and judges. The thing that stood out about Li was the way her personality and enthusiasm made her glow from the moment she stood up there. Of course, the drink was good, but I think it was her bubbly enthusiasm that carried us through the presentation and didn’t let your attention wander.
DW: Joe, as a seasoned competitor in regional and world competitions, do you have any advice for regional winners heading to the global competition in Mexico?
JOE VILLANUEVA: You need to know everything about the brand, even down to the shape of the bottle and what the cork is made of. You really have to understand everything there is to know.
DW: This is the first year of the Patrón Perfectionists Greater China regional finals held in Hong Kong. Going back to you Matt, what about this region, in particular, stood out?
MS: What stood out for me was the way the competitors really brought local trends and ingredients into their cocktails. You could see the inspiration they drew from their cities and from the places they come from. That feeling of personalisation was great. People are putting a part of themselves into their cocktails and into the competition in a way that I didn’t expect them to do. That’s been really exciting for me.
DW: In presenting to judges on an international stage, most of who are native English speakers, do you feel the language barrier can hinder competitors in a way?
MH: Yeah, I would say the ability to connect with the judges through language is an important tool. I mean, you could take the winners of the American bartender competition and send them to China to present to Chinese judges in Mandarin, and they would quickly appreciate how difficult it is to express your own ideas in a different language. I think that is an underappreciated aspect of these bartenders. I’m sure when they’re in their bars in Guangzhou or Taipei, they don’t have to present the cocktails in English very often. The banter they have with their customers might not translate into English, so it’s definitely a challenge and a skill set they need to develop.
MS: Even if you’re not a fluent English speaker, I think judges can overlook issues with syntax and pronunciation if you make a connection with them and the audience. If someone connects like Li Tong did, that goes beyond words. It’s a genuine warmth.
DW: Joe, if you had to give one word of advice for bartenders and bar managers in the Asian market right now, what would that be?
JV: Competitions can help to develop you quicker, but remember to remain humble. Winning and gaining popularity on social media might lift you up, but don’t get ahead of yourself. Continue to love what you do, enjoy what you do and stay passionate.
DW: Matthew, going into the global stage obviously being held in January in Mexico, we’re seeing all these diverse bartenders and bar managers and their stories, what is the one thing that’s really going to stand out for these judges?
MS: It’s really important that they know as much as they can about Patrón, from our production process to the values of the brand and portray that in their drink. It’s about being passionate and creating a drink in a very serious way, but not taking yourself too seriously. They need to be proud of their country/region and showcase it to the rest of the world to really be the best possible representative of the region.