Maxime Potfer : Experimental Cocktail Club (Paris)

Maxime, is the head bartender of Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC) in Paris. He makes two cocktails for us, one with sherry and antica formula, and the second is with verjus and cognac.

Maxime introduce yourself
I’m Maxime Potfer, I’m 24 years old and I am the head bartender at Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC) in Paris. I studied hospitality, because I always really wanted to work in this industry. After several jobs in hotels I started as a barman and loved it, especially the creativity involved. So I thought because I was young, I would spend a few years working in the bars, then move back into hotel management. I came to Paris from Nice 5 years ago and joined the Plaza Athénée bar. I was surprised, because even if the Plaza is a great place, the customers were totally different from the ones I was used to interacting with when I was in the South of France. One day someone mentioned there was a good bar in my neighbourhood called ECC, so I went there and Michael Mas and Romain were working behind the bar. The ambiance and the vibe were amazing, the people were lovely and the drinks were great and I knew instantly that’s where I wanted to work. I was annoyed that I didn’t fully understand what was in all the cocktails on the menu at ECC, so I bought some books and started studying. The day I resigned from the Plaza, I happened to cross paths with Gwladys, who was the director at ECC and she asked if I was looking for a job. I was so lucky because I started at the Curio Parlour and was trained by Arthur for 2 months, then moved to ECC, my favourite bar in Paris. After two years all the senior staff left, Pierre-Marie then Gwladys, so I was made the Manager and built a new team. I am now in charge of all the new openings in France and I thank the group for this great opportunity.

The classic you want to show us
40ml of Antica Formula
40ml of Oloroso Sherry
2 dashes of Scrappy’s Orange Bitters

The bar or party you dream of
At this moment in time I don’t feel ready to open my own bar. I want to travel more, discover different cultures, their local produce and the ways different bars around the world look and operate. When I do open a bar I want it to be out of the city and in a more relaxed environment to follow the pace of nature. I would want a bar with a restaurant and to work closely with a chef whose menu changes daily according to what is available at the market each day. We’d have cocktails and dishes using the same ingredients, for example if the chef made a carbonara with sage, I would create a cocktail using sage too. It would hold no more than 40 people, so I had time to interact and chat with customers and explain the ethos behind the bar like a chef does in a good restaurant. I would focus on only using fresh, seasonal produce like Gravity here in Paris. I am really inspired by chefs like René from Noma who utitlises herbs and roots in his dishes in unexpected ways and I love what Nico de Soto does at Mace with different types of spice.

When I go out I like to go to restaurants, especially old Parisian brasseries where you can be surprised by the most simple of dishes. If I want to drink I love to go to Sherrybutt thanks to Amaury and I am very happy to see how Javier has re-energised the place in his own way. I also love L’Entrée des artistes where my favourite cocktail, Le Bon is served. It’s an easy to drink cocktail made with Granny Smith apple juice, celery, wasabi, lemon and gin. It’s like eating a salad in the sun… you can sip it all day long, like a Cynar and tonic.

The spirit you like the most
It depends on the season, like red and white wine. In winter I prefer armagnac or japanese whisky and in summer I like to use tequila. As it’s summer now, I guess I’ll explain why I like tequila. For me, tequila is tequila blanco, not anero or reposado, so it’s green, fresh and spicy and I love Tapatio because of it’s medicinal taste. Tequila makes people happy and I think it has a real summery flavour. And, of course with cocktails it works well. Any classic can be made with tequila, from an Old Fashioned, a Tequila Collins to a smoky Martini. It has an intense aroma, so it won’t disappear behind other flavours in a drink. It’s important to use 100% agave and choose the right tequila regarding what cocktail you want to create. For a fresh cocktail I’ll use Tapatio and for something drier I’d use a Fortaleza.

What makes a good cocktail and which product do you want to highlight at this moment
The important thing is for the customer to have a pleasurable experience. From their very first sip they taste one thing, then another which was not obvious at first and it takes another sip to understand all the flavours. I also love that everyone has an internal olfactive library and I like to play with this. So if you use laurel, it will take them back to a time they’ve smelt laurel and it’s like a little souvenir. It can make them happy or sad, but it makes them feel something and for me, this unexpected experience is part of what makes a good cocktail.

The ingredients I like to use at the moment are vegetables. For instance, I’ve just created a cocktail made with raw green bean juice, so the flavour is like freshly cut grass. It mixes well with ginger and peaty whisky and adds a crisp, fresh flavour to the cocktail. There are so many other vegetables I like using too, but it’s all about what is in season and using local produce.

The signature cocktail you want to show us
Le meilleur
30ml of Verjus
30ml of Fino Sherry
15ml of Sugar Syrup
15ml of Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac

Where do you think we need to go to interview another bartender?
You have to go to Tjoget in Stockholm for simple, good cocktails and Rabbit Hole in Beirut.