After three challenging rounds against competitors from 15 countries, Mor Koral was crowned winner of the 2023 Patron Perfectionists competition in Jalisco, Mexico.
The global competition, organized annually by the famous Mexican brand, bills itself as a stage where mixologists (bartenders who mix cocktails), “bring a new level of creativity and a new approach to flavor, creativity and storytelling with Patron Tequila at its heart.”
For those used to ordering a simple Aperol Spritz or G&T, this sounds like cocktail making on a completely different level.
Which it is, as Koral is happy to explain to ISRAEL21c at her Tel Aviv apartment with its own outdoor, well-stocked bar area.
“Being a mixologist today has a lot to do with personal style, like a good chef. Some focus on the technicalities and have a cocktail lab where it takes five weeks to ferment fruits and make kombucha or they distill their own spirits and liquors.”
She defines her style as an expression of her love of telling stories and experiencing different cultures. It’s “very low-tech with no fancy machines” and is often based on alcohol infused with Mediterranean spices such as za’atar, hibiscus, lemon verbena and thyme.
The big stage
Held in March this year, the final event of the Patron Perfectionists competition consisted of three challenges in front of judges including Sandrae Lawrence, founder and editor of award-winning publication and podcast “The Cocktail Lovers,”Ana Martorell, chef of Mexican restaurant Oxa, and Giulia Cuccurullo, 2020’s competition winner and head bartender of Artesian, London.
Koral says she had no pre-competition nerves, but was “excited to be able to join this amazing group of people and celebrate my culture, rituals and ingredients alongside Patrón Tequila in its very home.”
In the first round (Field to Flavor) contestants were presented with a Mexican market stall featuring local ingredients and given 45 minutes to create a cordial using one of the items.
Koral’s cordial consisted of guava, honey, rice syrup, lime juice, sherry, cinnamon and ginger, which was then added to Patrón Reposado tequila to create a highball.
In stage two (Stories We Share), finalists had to develop a Patrón cocktail recipe and story inspired by Mexican culture.
For this, Koral used Mexican surrealism as her inspiration and created a cocktail that was made of tequila and atole de elote (a sweet corn Mexican beverage) garnished with a baby tortilla, habaneros and candied black beans.
The final challenge was to host the judges at a full table experience with a serving of neat Patrón Tequila and a non-alcoholic side cocktail.
Koral did this in an informal Israeli style, kicking off with a tequila l’chaim, followed by plating a mezze-style dinner on a simple paper cloth and a cocktail based on clarified labaneh cheese water, Israeli honey, lemon juice and aromatic frankincense.
She was then awarded the gold medal for the highest scores overall.
Where it all began
Koral traces her love of the hospitality industry to childhood.
As the daughter of two high-powered career parents who didn’t have time to prepare meals (“it’s not a sad story,” she jokes), the family ate out at least three times a week at some of the best restaurants in Israel. “More than the food I loved the atmosphere and looked up to the servers.”
At 16, she and her family moved from Tel Aviv to Ramat Hasharon, where she got a part-time job at Sushi Bar Bazel. Her manager, she recalls “was from Moscow, super professional and took his job as seriously as if we were in a Michelin star restaurant.”
It was here she realized the bar serves as a “platform in between the guests and the kitchen and bartenders have an opportunity to play with materials and be creative.”
In 2014, after completing her military service, she traveled in Central America, where she made an extended stop in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. There she worked in a bar where she eventually became manager and had to build her own cocktail menu.
She also honed her hosting skills. “When I am in front of guests in a bar, I feel they are giving me two hours of their time and I give them the best cocktail custom-made experience and we have a conversation to go with it. Great hospitality is always the X-factor.”
Gaining degrees and experience
She came back to Israel to study business management and marketing. However she continued to be part of the bartending community by working part time at the veteran Tel Aviv cocktail bar 223 Dizengoff, and started entering national cocktail competitions.
In two that she won, the following rounds were held in Shanghai and London and on the global stages she realized how much more there was to master.
“The Israeli cocktail scene was young and I got to see what the leaders in the US, England and Central America were doing. Especially the Mexicans, who are another level as they mix their personal style with their cultural roots.”
To up her level she joined a department of Mulberry Project, a bar team originating in New York, which creates bespoke cocktails at its popup restaurant bars around the world.
This was followed by a master’s degree in gastronomical science in Piedmont, Italy, home of the slow food movement.
In 2020, when the pandemic hit, she was back in Tel Aviv “with a degree in gastronomy, experience as a mixologist and no bars to work in.”
Undeterred, she opened a successful cocktail delivery service called Cocktail Kitchen. Two cocktails became instant hits: The British Baladi – gin infused with lemon verbena, honey, fresh lemon, apple juice and arak with a salt-and-za’atar rim; and the Levinsky Margherita, based on the classic drink but seasoned with geranium and a salt-and-spice rim.
The business has now been expanded to include workshops and a consultancy and has been renamed Salt & Spirit.
Koral, now 32, is traveling with Patron to four European countries and the UAE to do master classes in October. Next March, she will be in Mexico to judge the same competition she won this year. She also has two book projects underway.
Patron Perfectionists describe participants as “the tastemakers, the leaders, those changing the way the world drinks.” This sums up Mor Koral perfectly.