Bartender Giulia Cuccurullo, the winner of the 2020 Patrón Perfectionists Cocktail Competition, tells The Spirits Business how she faced her fears to triumph.
Having started bartending in her home country of Italy, Giulia Cuccurullo says she was always attracted to the opportunities a career in the glittering London cocktail scene could offer. Now working behind the bar at Artesian at The Langham hotel in the UK’s capital, Cuccurullo shot to new heights last year when she was crowned the winner of the 2020 Patrón Perfectionists Cocktail Competition.
“When we were on the stage, they announced the third place, the second place, and there were still people there that I thought did really well,” she remembers. “But when they said my name, it was like all the adrenaline just went down to my feet. I thought that I wanted to faint, and was like ‘Oh god, what’s happening?’. I thought: ‘Did they really say my name?’”
The panel had indeed called Cuccurullo’s name to crown her the winner of the competition, which took place at Hacienda Patrón in Mexico, and saw 21 bartenders from around the world tackle challenges to test their bartending prowess.
The Patrón Perfectionists Cocktail Competition was one of the first contests Cuccurullo entered. She says the idea to begin participating in competitions came about as she wanted to push herself to overcome her nerves and stage fright.
“If you asked me ‘what’s your greatest fear?’ I would have told you the stage,” she says. “To overcome this, I started to work on myself, and I started to go to see cocktail competitions and imagine myself there. Then, at some point, I noticed that I wasn’t panicking anymore when I imagined myself there. So, I thought ‘OK, now that’s something that I want to do’.”
As such, Cuccurullo entered the competition, but left submitting her recipe until the last minute while she deliberated about her decision. She was then invited to the UK final, before securing her place in the global contest with her winning cocktail, called The Bridge.
The serve was a combination of Patrón Silver Tequila, rhubarb cordial, fortified wine blend, tomato water and salt solution, which Cuccurullo said represents her friendships and stories.
When it came to competing, Cuccurullo says the secret to continually keeping her nerves at bay was to over-prepare. She recalls practising her presentation over and over, until she knew all the details inside out. Before her time on stage, Cuccurullo says she was nervously dancing while thinking through her speech, before the adrenaline kicked in and she thought: “OK, let’s go, let’s do this.”
Cuccurullo’s entry was over in a flash, and she says as she left the stage she felt happy with the drink she had prepared, and with her performance. “In every competition, when you do your part and you are happy and had fun, that’s the most important thing,” she says. “Because it’s about the judges’ decision and their own style choices, so you can’t control that. But if you are happy with what you did, if you win, amazing, but if you don’t win you don’t have regrets.”
Having found success in the Patrón Perfectionists Cocktail Competition, Cuccurullo says she could be tempted to enter further contests. However, she says this will only happen if the contest involves a brand that she feels truly aligns with her own beliefs. “It’s about having time and choosing the right brand,” she explains. “I chose Patrón Perfectionists because I like the brand. At the end of the day, when you do a competition, you have to talk about the brand, you need to know more about the brand, you need to use the brand. And I like Patrón for the concept behind it, and the liquid as well.”
Until such a time that Cuccurullo uncovers a new contest to conquer, she can be found tending the bar. “Artesian has always been one of the places that I would visit when I was going to London for holidays,” she says. “I liked the style, I liked the building and The Langham itself; it is a beautiful building. So, when I had the chance to work there, I was just like ‘yeah!’ – I really love the place.”
Cuccurullo explains that she was always attracted to the creativity on show at the five-star hotel bar. Since joining the team, she says she has relished the venue’s efforts to encourage imbibers to become more curious about their cocktails.
She explains: “We want people to be curious. We don’t want to push people in a way that they don’t understand, but we want to make people curious. As long as you understand what’s going on and what you have in front of you, then it’s easy with the menu. But if you are curious, there are some points that you can take from the menu.”
As the bar pushes drinkers out of their comfort zones, Cuccurullo explains that the team regularly invites guests to visit Artesian’s lab, where they create the distillates, infusions and fermentations that form the basis of its drinks. While the lab in the bowels of the hotel may be compact, the space offers everything the team needs to craft its award-winning serves.
As well as its high-tech kit, Cuccurullo believes the tightly knit team at the bar is what has fostered the venue’s success in recent years.
“There is a connection between us that is really strong,” she says. “We push ourselves to do a little bit more and to develop our strength. That helps us to grow as a group and a bar. The bar is not always about the walls, it is about the people that work there. And you spend so much time in there so it is good when you have a team like that.”
Having started out in wine bars and nightclubs in Italy, before a stint working in Paris before she moved to London, Cuccurullo says the opportunity to travel was one of the major draws of a bartending career. Despite this, and her newfound success on a global stage, she remains committed to a future in London, as she is “not done yet” with everything the UK capital has to offer.
“My ambition is to stay at the Artesian and to be part of the best team, best bar, best cocktails, best atmosphere,” she says.
“I love travelling, so I will go and visit, but I believe that I will stay in London for a while. You have to make sure you use all the chances that you can get in London, use as much as you can.
“And after that, then you can decide. But right now, I’m not done yet.”