Fabio Steven Gonzalez
"Funny fact: my dad's name is Fabio. My mom's name is Fabiola. So I'm Steven," explains Fabio Steven Gonzalez, the US finalist in the Patrón Perfectionists competition. "My dad was always Fabio in the house, so in order to differentiate us, it was easier for everybody to call me Steven."
Colombian-born, Gonzalez has lived in New York since finishing high school in Cali and has spent more than half his life in the US. "I don't want to say I've become Americanised, because, you know, I want to stay true to my roots, but I have adopted a lot of American culture into my life and embraced it," he says. Married to a Russian-Ukrainian and working in English, he has even started to occasionally forget Spanish words.
A lucky chance
Gonzalez fell into bartending by a happy accident. "My sister was going for an interview to work at the front desk in a hotel, so I came along," he says. "My sister asked the guy interviewing her if they had a job for me."
His sister didn't get the gig. But Gonzalez landed a job as a houseman, ferrying towels and toilet paper to the hotel bedrooms. Identifying potential, the hotel manager offered him a job in the restaurant.
The restaurant had a balcony and the bartender liked to go out there to smoke. "He told me, 'Hey, if somebody comes in, make the drinks.' And I was like: 'I don't know how to make drinks,'" Gonzalez recalls. "So he wrote on a napkin how to make some of the cocktails that were very popular then-they were horrible because we were using really bad ingredients and really bad techniques-but I kind of liked it."
After a period at a Mexican restaurant and an internship at the Mandarin Oriental, Gonzalez joined the Park Hyatt New York, where he was worked for almost eight years.
In pursuit of perfection
Gonzalez entered the Patrón contest as one of his last shots at competing before the birth of his first child. "I've done a lot of competitions throughout the years: some of them I won, some of them I lost. I've lost more than I've won," he says. "Competitions are tough. They require a lot of time; they require money; you have to have a lot of inspiration and dedication. It's not just taking a picture of a cocktail and sending it in."
In a competition replete with perfectionists, Gonzalez stands out for his extreme attention to detail. "If you're doing something, you should do it the right way or not at all," he says. "One time I came home and my wife had folded my laundry. I unfolded everything and folded it again, because it was imperfect in my eyes. Since that day, she never folds my laundry any more. So I kind of shot myself in the foot."
Despite his perfectionism, Gonzalez was amazed to find he had made it to the global final. "I couldn't believe it. I knew I was up against very stiff and strong competition, some people who had been national winners and global finalists before," he says. "And when I read the recipes, I was like: 'I don't stand a chance.'"
Making it to the final felt like getting a monkey off his back, Gonzalez says. "After so many years of doing competitions, I feel like I finally won the big one, and that everything that I've done finally paid off."
For Mrs Gonzalez, safely relieved of her folding duties, the contest also seemed the perfect fit. "When I won, my wife said that I couldn't have won a better competition," Gonzalez says. "Because perfectionist describes everything that I am."
Fabio Steven Gonzalez's Winning Cocktail: La Ultima Cita
Gonzalez's cocktail is inspired by a dessert his mother used to prepare when he was a child. Made with passion fruit juice and condensed milk on a base of Ducales crackers, it's the taste of happy childhood memories to him.
"You can find Ducales crackers in the United States, but they're more of a Colombian type of thing that people eat for breakfast," he says. "They're buttery, salty, nutty, they're perfect with coffee or any kind of hot beverage."
As a new father, 2021 was Gonzalez's last year entering cocktail competitions. The drink's name, La Ultima Cita, signifies this last attempt, as well as paying homage to Colombian culture: it means "the final peak" and references his mother's favourite song, Galy Galiano's La Cita.
45ml Butterfat-washed Patrón Silver tequila
22.5ml Amontillado Sherry (preferably Lustau Escuadrilla)
30ml Condensed milk
15ml Freshly squeezed lime juice
15ml Passion fruit puree
Sea salt (preferably Maldon)
Method: Add first five ingredients to a shaker and shake with Kold Draft ice cubes for about eight seconds (halve the shaking time if not using Kold Draft cubes). Rim a double old-fashioned glass with Maldon salt, add a large ice cube, fine strain the drink and finish by grating nutmeg.
To make the butterfat-washed tequila
First, clarify butter: this stops the tequila going cloudy when fat washing. Place a stick of butter in a heat-resistant glass container and put that in a pan full of water. Turn the heat to medium then wait until the butter has melted, and the milk solids and water have separated from the fat. Remove from heat and let stand for five minutes. Skim off the foam then slowly pour the clear yellow liquid through a fine strainer, leaving behind the residue of milk solids and water.
Combine 180ml Patrón Silver tequila and 60ml of liquid clarified butter in a Ziplock bag. Close and shake for 30 seconds. Let the mixture settle for two hours at room temperature, then place in freezer overnight. Remove the bag from the freezer and strain the tequila through a coffee filter into a sealable container. Store in the fridge until needed.