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Meet Aurelie Panhelleux Meet Aurelie Panhelleux

Meet Aurelie Panhelleux

Never heard of empty shaker syndrome? It’s the mixologist’s version of writer’s block, and occurs when you’re seized by a desire to shake up an original cocktail but can’t decide where to begin. Fortunately, creativity is a muscle that can be strengthened. All you need is a regular dose of inspiration and a little bit of madness.

Some tried-and-tested drinks will never go out of style, and you’ve got the Cosmopolitan, the Margarita, the White Lady down…. But sometimes, you’re in the mood to take a creative detour from the classics. Hot Cointreau Cider or a lavender and cacao concoction, anyone? But how exactly does one go about expressing creativity via cocktail making? It just so happens we know a bartender who’s an expert in creating daring, imaginative drinks.

Aurelie Panhelleux

Behind the bar at Paris’s distinctly nautical CopperBay, you’ll find Aurélie Panhelleux, arguably one of the most creative bartenders of her generation, flanked by her two equally talented associates, Elfi Fabritius and Julien Lopez. The Brittany native began her career not in mixology, but in gastronomy. Starting out in some of the French capital’s most prestigious kitchens, she developed a taste for unusual flavor pairings while picking up complex culinary techniques along the way. Drawn to the bartending world by her outgoing, friendly nature, she set out to marry mixology with cooking in what you might call “liquid gastronomy.” When it comes to creating and sourcing her drink ingredients, she relishes using techniques gleaned from her days at culinary school, from infusion to sous vide.

Just a few of the ingredients you’ll find on CopperBay’s menu: sheep’s milk, tobacco leaves, powdered shrimp. “Crazy!” you say? Maybe. But a big part of Aurélie’s mixing philosophy is simply: “have fun.” Each one of her cocktails is designed to be enjoyed like a course of a gourmet meal. And each one is unforgettable—in a good way.

Somewhere by Paris’s Porte Saint-Martin, in the bustling and multicultural 10th arrondissement, Aurélie Panhelleux invited us into her airy, Mediterranean drinking spot to share a few of her tips for making creative cocktails.

The latest creation the CopperBay trio brewed up? A transalpine twist on the Margarita. Their aptly named Margerita cocktail was inspired by an olive and caper-topped Neapolitan pizza, and includes Aurélie’s own sundried tomato-infused Cointreau. Creativity and cocktails are always a good mix.

 

Margarita Tutorial by Aurelie

The Recipe for Creativity

Copperbay

The Recipe for Creativity

Behind her counter, Aurélie Panhelleux is busy experimenting with her vast collection of tipples and elixirs. At this now-cult Paris bar, Panhelleux is working on her latest craft cocktail recipe. Though all appears calm on the surface, the inside of this ocean-loving, Breton-turned-Parisian’s mind is swirling with ideas. It only takes a quick glance at CopperBay’s drink menu to understand that here, cocktails are a highly creative pursuit, and that anything you order will be an unusually gourmet experience. As her Anaïs Nin-inspired tattoo suggests, Panhelleux is all about exploring the depths of her own creativity to unearth pearls of ideas that she’ll turn into new drinks. To do so, she picks up on all kinds of sensory pleasures: the movement of a garment at Paris Fashion Week, the aroma wafting out of a French bakery, Pantone’s color of the year, a flavor discovered in a seaside restaurant in Greece… Everything is a potential source of inspiration for Panhelleux, who’s been ranked among the best 50 bartenders in France.

In 2014, Aurélie Panhelleux and her two business partners, Julien Lopez and Elfi Fabritius, dropped anchor in the heart of Paris’s thriving Porte Saint-Martin quarter. Halfway down the comparably peaceful Rue Bouchardon, the three of them opened a bar—or shall we say flagship—where creativity and conviviality would flourish. And they have. In under five years, CopperBay has become an essential stop on any Paris craft cocktail pilgrimage, and it’s easy to see why. The lighthearted, seaside ambiance, the inviting brass and wood interior, and a menu brimming with imagination have successfully wooed cocktail aficionados from all over, who stop by whenever they need a quick hit of sun, surf, or pastis.

A CHEF’S APPROACH TO COCKTAILS

margherita
“The line between ‘solid’ gastronomy and ‘liquid’ gastronomy is getting finer and finer.” 

A CHEF’S APPROACH TO COCKTAILS

The names of CopperBay’s cocktails are nods to its three owners’ affection for food: Tzatziki, Tahini Sour, Deep Sea Sour… The drink Aurélie was working on when we met her was inspired by Margherita pizza. For Panhelleux, a trained cook, mixology is a kind of “liquid gastronomy.” Her chef-style approach to cocktails stems from a culinary background working in some of Paris’s most luxurious kitchens and hotels.  “I’m from a family of chefs,” she tells us, “so the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree!” Sourcing, seasonality, and sous-vide all form part of Panhelleux’s mixology vocabulary, and she makes frequent use of food and pastry techniques in her bartending work. It’s what makes each one of her drinks so surprising, even in the creative universe of craft cocktails. Her flavor philosophy is very much centered around the question “why not?” Sheep’s milk, powdered prawn, feta… Surprising ingredients often find a home in her drinks.

“The line between ‘solid’ gastronomy and ‘liquid’ gastronomy is getting finer and finer.” 

With a classic Margarita recipe as their starting point, Aurélie, Elfi, and Julien brainstorm, test, and taste until they find the perfect recipe for what will soon be baptized The Margerita. (Tip: It’s part of the bar’s secret menu, so to test it, you’ll have to ask.) It’s the perfect example of its makers’ mixo-gastronomic creativity. Powdered olives, caper liquid, and sundried tomato-infused Cointreau liqueur… Where does Madame Panhelleux get these ideas? From traveling, yes—but not just. For Aurélie Panhelleux, creativity is about exploring both foreign cultures and your inner self.

Aurelie's Squeeze Quiz

EXPLORATION + ENCOUNTERS = THE RECIPE FOR CREATIVITY

Cointreau sea
“Travel is vital to me. Without it, I start to feel suffocated.” - Aurélie Panhelleux

EXPLORATION + ENCOUNTERS = THE RECIPE FOR CREATIVITY

This coastal native often returns to the Breton creeks of her childhood and the seaside cliffs of the team’s second port, CopperBay Marseille, which opened in 2018. These trips like these have inspired drinks like the mulled Old Fashioned made with Breton whisky and a revitalizing take on the classic Cointreau Fizz.

But it’s in faraway lands that Panhelleux truly feeds her creativity. “Travel is vital to me. Without it, I start to feel suffocated.” A free spirit, she often travels solo, immersing herself in local cultures and traditions. From Mexico, to Greece, to the Middle East, the whole world is her source of inspiration and a breath of fresh air. “Right now, I’m dreaming of a trip to Oslo to try out the Himkok bar. Their work fascinates me and I want to understand it.”

For Aurélie, meeting new people helps put her own life and work in perspective. Traveling alone, far from the spotlight of international bartending competitions (at which she’s a regular) and the joyful whirlwind that is her life, Panhelleux savors moments of introspection and restorative solitude.

Often, after closing time at CopperBay, she roams the surrounding streets, taking in the sounds and smells of restaurants; the colors and textures of old, decrepit buildings; and other sensory impressions that she’ll later turn into a moodboard at home. Her phone is full of images from fashion shows, screenshots of Pantone samples, and pieces of furniture she loves. “My camera roll is always full! I’m constantly capturing the movement of a certain fabric, an interesting color, the texture of wood…” These moments of solitary inspiration-sourcing are vital to her creative energy and help make her a better bartender. She’s also inspired by the work of her colleagues—in particular, Carina Soto Velàsquez of Quixotic Projects (the group behind Paris favorites like Candelaria, Le Mary Celeste, Hero, and more),and the team at London’s Mint Gun Club.

COCKTAIL CULTURE: A SHARED PASSION

Copperbay bar

COCKTAIL CULTURE: A SHARED PASSION

Sharing their love of cocktails with others is vital to the CopperBay trio. “The human dimension of bartending is key.” Sunny and outgoing, all three of the bar’s founders wanted it to be a place for social connection above all else. They see their work as bartenders as an opportunity to share cocktail culture with a wider public.

“The greatest revolutions all began in bars.”

While demonstrating excellent technical skills and making use of modern classics like Cointreau are fundamental to bartending, Panhelleux’s focus is on impressing her customers rather than her fellow mixologists. She defines her bartending approach in one word: hospitality.

The team tends to shun overly complex recipes in favor of punchy, evocative flavors that pay tribute to their love of the profession. “If I want to put passion into what I do, I need my clients to understand what I’m doing.” She often takes the time to explain both her creative process and ingredient choices to customers. In fact, the bar is designed so that bar-goers can easily watch bartenders work—observe their movements, see the ingredients that go into their drinks. Unsurprisingly, Panhelleux’s communicative smile and nimble gestures have a way of winning over the crowds seated at the counter. “So,” she asks them, “what do we think of the Margerita?” Eyes close in pleasure or widen in delight, heads nod in approval, and the questions begin: “Amazing, how do you make it?”, “How on earth did you come up with this?!”, “I should be drinking this with pizza, right?”

Bartender, community maker, creator of liquid gastronomy: These are Aurélie Panhelleux’s three vocations, and we’ll happily hop onboard CopperBay’s ship at any time.

 

Cocktail Talks Podcast with Aurelie