Bar Chat: Harrison Kenney, Patrón Perfectionist Winner

Words by Jane Ryan & Harrison Kenney

Photography by Nikki To

Bar Chat: Harrison Kenney, Patrón Perfectionist Winner image 1

Profession: Bartender
At: Sydney

Winning the Australian finals for Patrón's Perfectionist cocktail competition, Harrison Kenney from Cantina OK! in Sydney presented as the ultimate threat with his innovative yet easy to replicate drink and a warm and natural presentation.

Harrison will now be jetting off to the global finals in Mexico to represent Australia against 22 other countries such as the UK, the Philippines and Russia at the impressive Hacienda Patrón.

"This year the competition had slightly different feel to it and we asked our competitors to create their perfect Patrón cocktail using common household ingredients. We judged each cocktail on taste, appearance, inspiration, and originality. Our four judges all agreed Harrison Kenney had the best presentation and they all felt like they were sitting at his table in his house enjoying his cocktail Teal," said Patrón tequila brand ambassador Joseph Chisholm.

"To all 138 entrants I want to say a massive thank you for being apart of this competition and I hope I see many of you competing again next year! There were a few honourable mentions to Grace Rawlins from Memphis Slims on competing in her first ever national final, to Aiden Rodriguez for his delicious cocktail and great presentation, and to Niccolo Maffezzoni for his intriguing use of ingredients."

Here, we chat to Harrison about his journey through the competition and pick up some secondhand tequila knowledge and passion.

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What was your initial reaction to winning the Patrón Perfectionist Australia competition?
I was totally taken aback, I heard my name called and I didn’t know what to do! It wasn’t until all these messages started flooding in that I started to realise what had actually happened, it’s still a shock now, I’m eager to celebrate.

What made you enter Patrón Perfectionists this year?
I said at the beginning of the year that I would try to enter more competitions to get my name out there, so I had to stick to my word on that one. It’s the perfect platform for me to showcase my approach to Tequila cocktails, and I thought it would be a great challenge for my own personal development. Working at the Tequila Bar of the Year, and with a trip to Mexico on the line it was a bit of a no-brainer for me. The quality of drinks throughout the competition was outstanding, I highly recommend getting involved.

A lot of the judges said they really liked your presentation and how you came across. How was it presenting at home, virtually?
It’s difficult to compete this way, it can be hard to provide that genuine hospitality virtually, there’s a disconnect that doesn’t feel as warm and welcoming, but I suppose that’s where you’ve got to try and break the 4th wall. Once you’ve broken down the invisible barrier, the connection becomes more personal, I tried to use being in the comfort of my own home to my advantage.

Are you looking forward to being in front of actual judges for the global final?
Absolutely, it always helps when you’re able to read the room, it’ll be a very different atmosphere but there’s time in the lead up to refine my presentation and cater it correctly, I look forward to it for sure.

You work for a bar that really specialises in very small, niche agave – what’s it like to then take that passion and apply it to a bigger more established brand?
I took a similar approach in the sense that you tell the story and treat the product with respect, whether you’re working with mezcal on a micro scale or a brand like Patrón, the people involved are still trying to maintain the integrity of Mexican culture.

I’d like to think you can’t have one without the other, they both serve a purpose in the bar. We’re lucky to have tequila being produced on a larger scale so that we can enjoy our favourite cocktails day in and day out, but it’s important to understand that we’re talking about a culture that has existed for thousands of years, so we need to appreciate the people, places and experiences on a smaller scale too.

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What do you want to get out of a trip to Mexico, to the Hacienda Patrón and to the heartland of tequila?
So much. I’ve been dying to go, I can’t wait to experience the culture firsthand, and to be totally immersed. I’ve heard a lot about the Hacienda and it’ll be special to learn about the history in person. I’ll definitely be spending some extra time in the heartland that’s for certain.

This competition was all about drinks that could be made at home. What style of drinks do you think best resonates with your style – is it simple and replicable or do you love the chance to get wild and whacky?
I had to make something low trickery definitely, but I think it’s expressive and inspired too, I love finding unexpected combinations of flavour, actually it meant I could make something simple and replicable, but also wild and whacky! I was so glad to see people make it for themselves.

What was one drink and one dish that got you through lockdown? Korea’s No.1 Lager (Cass) and Kylie Kwong’s home-style fried eggs.

How did you start out as a bartender and what took you to Cantina OK!?
I started picking up glasses at The Beresford as soon as I turned 18 pretty much, it wasn’t my intention to be a bartender ever, it was just a natural progression, a very classic story. After jumping around a few different bars all things led to Cantina OK! It was maybe 8 years down the line in the end, but everything just fell so naturally into place. The bar is so special, I’ve never looked back.

Where are you most looking forward to eating after lockdown? Definitely Porcine! I haven’t had the chance to go yet, plus P&V is downstairs.

If there was one bartender you’d want everyone to know better in Aus who would that be? Andrew Mccorquodale from Charlie Parker’s.

For those of us staying in Australia for the moment, how would you recommend we enjoy our tequila this summer? Is Teal’s fresh vibes the way to go? Come to the bar and have a Margarita served over hand-shaved ice, and while you’re there try Teal, because yes, Teal’s fresh vibes the way to go!

TEAL

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Garnish: 3-5 drops of Vanilla EVOO
How to make: SHAKE ingredients over ice and fine strain into a chilled coupe.
30ml Patrón Silver
10ml Fino Sherry
15ml Simple Syrup 1:1
20ml Fresh Pressed Lime
20ml Fresh Juiced Celery
3 x 50c size pieces of fresh Kiwifruit

To make the garnish infuse extra virgin olive oil with vanilla pods.

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