Bartender wins Cointreau challenge with Italian twist on Margarita

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A competition run by Cointreau to find a twist on a Margarita has been won by a bartender drawing inspiration from his Italian roots.

Michele Venturini from Cahoots in London beat seven other finalists with a recipe using herbs, wine and pesto – ingredients from Liguria in north-west Italy. His prize is a glamorous 24-hour trip to Cannes Film Festival.

The competition is part of the “Margarita Loves Cointreau” campaign to celebrate the liqueur’s long-standing relationship with the iconic drink and the cocktail’s 70th anniversary.

The bartenders presented their Margarita twists at Skylon bar and restaurant in London to a judging panel comprising Emma Murphy and Siobhan Payne from London Cocktail Week, wine and spirits writer Adrian Smith from The Independent, and Jenia Matthews, Cointreau’s marketing manager.

Michele said: “Inspiration came from the heritage of my family. I was born in north-west Italy, Liguria. I was with my family eating and drinking when I discovered a book from grandfather with a picture and dedication from Margaret and a card with a recipe. The recipe was inspired by all Ligurian ingredients, such herbs, wine and pesto – all ingredients that work fantastically well with Cointreau’s fragrance.”

The first runner-up was Pepijn Vanden Abeele from Sketch. He said: “I took my inspiration from the early days of the Cointreau family, before they made their triple sec and were confectionery makers, and the roots of the Margarita, the classic Daisy cocktail.

“As ingredients, I used the most popular French dessert ingredients in chocolate, almonds in the form of orgeat, and apple. To balance all the sweetness I used yuzu juice. Then I obviously used Cointreau and tequila but I also used Cointreau Noir, which is cognac based, as a homage to the classic Daisy cocktail.”

The second runner-up was Eduard Balan from Aqua Shard. He said: “I was inspired to create a cocktail that would be a fusion of two of the biggest consumed cocktails in the States: a Margarita is the number-one choice followed by the Martini.

“I wanted to maintain the Margarita cocktail but with the influence of a Martini. I was inspired by pastry ingredients and their properties and used agar-agar to clarify the lime juice in order to have a Martini-style drink.

“I used agave and orange flower water to emphasise the Cointreau orange taste, and finally the wakamono peach as a substitute for the olive. The result is a fusion of the two favourites, creating a transparent, unique cocktail I call the Margini.”

The other bartenders, all from London, were Michele Quarta from Four Degrees, Sara Moudoulaud from Artesian, Ciprian Zsraga from The American Bar at The Savoy, Cameron Attfield from Dandelyan and Marco Stella from Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.

In May, people will be able to try Michele’s winning Margarita at Cahoots as well as Eduard’s at Aqua Shard and Marco’s at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park as part of the celebrations for the cocktail’s 70th anniversary.

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