Competition is nothing new to Kat Stanley-Whyte, the UK's representative in the Patrón Perfectionists global final this May. Raised in a globetrotting Navy family, she started sailing aged three and represented first Scotland then Great Britain-the team that includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland-in sailing contests around the world.
"Eventually, I made the decision not to take it as professionally as before. The choice was, essentially, either train for the Olympics and make sailing your entire life or actually have a bit of fun," Stanley-Whyte says. "I'd given up the majority of my youth to training, nutrition, all that kind of thing, and my weekends were spent travelling up and down the country to different events, so I never really got the usual UK house parties: I missed all that."
Aged 18, Stanley-Whyte left Scotland for Australia to work as a sailing coach during her gap year, but when the season finished so did the jobs, so she took a gig in a hostel bar and caught the hospitality bug. Waitressing for Scotland's Signature Group helped fund her sports science degree; after graduation, she stayed with Signature while pursuing other jobs until a eureka moment hit. "I was travelling America with my parents and, when I came back, I had that realisation that I was actually really excited to get back to work," she recalls. "That definitely made my whole outlook on the job do that switch."
Signature provided intense, all-around training and Stanley-Whyte worked her way up to drinks development manager for the group, before making the switch to work for an independent. She joined Sian Buchan and John Mclellan's late-night Edinburgh venue Uno Mas at the start of 2020. "Yeah, we were clever," Stanley-Whyte says, sardonically. "We opened a bar five weeks before the pandemic hit. And that was a little bit unfortunate."
Over intense periods of the pandemic, a British government scheme allowed employers to furlough their staff-ie, put employees on paid leave with payments covered by the taxman. Uno Mas, however, was such a new business that furlough was not an option during the first lockdown. And yet the venue survived and, with the pandemic apparently in abeyance, Stanley-Whyte is pleased to see life and customers coming back.
An acccident-prone Perfectionist
Spectacularly accident-prone, Stanley-Whyte reckons she has visited over 40 different hospitals in "13 or 14" countries. Her impressive catalogue of injuries runs from a dislocated shoulder while kayaking in the Canadian Arctic to a thumb permanently damaged by her decision to whittle a stick on a bumpy bus ride across the Moroccan Sahara. Despite this, she considers herself a perfectionist-in the workplace, at least.
"I've always been one of those that can stress out if everything's not placed perfectly: I'm a little bit OCD, I'll admit that," she says. "Not at home: I seem to be quite messy at home. But the second I'm at work it's a whole other kettle of fish."
Yet Stanley-Whyte does not consider perfectionism an essential part of being a bartender. "The fun part of being a bartender is that happy accidents end up creating some of the most magical things," she says. "There are certain environments where that element of perceived perfection is required, but it depends on the venue, the style of bartender, the type of service that you're giving."
For herself, Stanley-Whyte believes both sailing and her Forces father have shaped her professional perfectionism. "Obviously, growing up as a competitive sailor, you're driven to be really, really competitive the whole way through," she says. "There's definitely a sort of military, regimented way to my routines and how I work."
Kat Stanley-Whyte's Winning Cocktail: Escape the Box
35 ml Patrón Reposado tequila
20 ml Crème de framboise liqueur
20 ml Raspberry syrup
50 ml French Malbec (Le Coq Perdu, Pays d'Oc)
2 drops Saline solution (4:1)
Caramelised raspberries to garnish
To Make the Caramelised Raspberries:
3 Fresh Scottish raspberries
10ml Patrón Reposado tequila
1 teaspoon Raspberry syrup
1 tablespoon Demerara sugar
Infuse fresh raspberries in Patrón for 45 minutes. Remove, then freeze for two to three hours: enjoy the tequila while you wait. Roll the frozen raspberries in raspberry syrup then demerara sugar, and carefully caramelise with a blowtorch until all the fruit is covered in caramel. Leave in the fridge for two to three hours until the caramel sets: keep refrigerated before use.
Method: The Escape the Box cocktail is designed to be served using a bag-in-box system: the bag holds six servings, perfect for sharing, and the box is upcycled Patrón packaging. This recipe makes a single serving. Simply pour the first five ingredients into an ice-filled wineglass and stir, then add the caramelized raspberries.
Exceptional thought and creativity went into Stanley-Whyte's winning drink. "Because the competition had a voting element, I wanted to make an impact and make a statement," she says. "I started with the concept first and the drink came later."
Her first inspiration was to reuse Patrón's distinctive box, which otherwise contributes to the mountains of packaging waste contemporary bars produce. As Covid had placed many traditional sharing serves, such as punch bowls, off-limits, her second idea was to create a sharing concept for the pandemic era. Combining the two concepts produced the notion of a bag-in-box sharing cocktail, which naturally made her think of wine-and her favourite French Malbec.
It took months to perfect the drink and Stanley-Whyte is still finetuning some details ahead of the finals. She is working with raspberries, perhaps the fruit most associated with Scotland, to make not only her own syrup but her own liqueur. And she has collaborated with local artists and a branding company to create a wrap for the box.
And the creativity does not stop there. The box's wrapping will feature two QR codes, one leading to a dedicated website for the Escape the Box project and a second to a song by Edinburgh musician Joseph Malik, a friend. "During lockdown, he wrote a piece called 'I Quit My 9 to 5', which was real emotional honesty," Stanley-Whyte says. "It was a track reaching out to what happened not just to us bartenders and hospitality staff, but to taxi drivers, musicians, dancers, performing artists-anyone that was essentially told by the government that theirs wasn't a real job."