A few weeks ago I received an email to my inbox titled "The Patrón Secret Dining Society Event - Austin" and although I had no idea what to make of it at the time, I was intrigued by every word in that sentence. I opened the note to find an invite for the event from a series of exclusive Patrón-sponsored dinners that were held in "unforgettable locations" and featured top culinary and mixologist talent. The majority of the details were to remain a secret until the day of and I would not know anything about the company until I got there. With the message equal parts cryptic and exciting, I half expected Mr. Body from the movie Clue to show up at the table, but regardless I was sold.
I spent the next few days poking around on the Internet for more info and discovered the team at Patrón was not messing around with their take on the secret dining club trend: The event in New York featured Top Chef Masters' Marcus Samuelsson at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion. In Miami, they brought James Beard Award winner Michelle Bernstein in to the Spanish Monastery and in St. Louis, John Galliano prepared an intimate meal at Busch Stadium. Research also revealed that although I was extended the privilege of a media invite, the events are always free to the 30-50 lucky attendees, with a guest list comprised mostly of Patrón Social Club virtual community members who had gained entrance to the live party by solving a riddle and RSVP'ing immediately.
The event drew close and the day before the dinner I received clue #1 : "Please arrive at H.E.B. Grocery in Dripping Springs, TX at 6:30pm sharp tomorrow" to which I screamed "WHAT!?" as I read it from my phone. It's about a 45-minute drive from downtown Austin and known for being in direction of wineries, ranches and swimming holes, but not much else goes out there.
The next day as I eagerly pulled into the parking lot of the suburban shopping center, I eventually spotted a group of others in cocktail attire standing around, also looking clueless and excited. From there we were given instructions to an address about five miles away and a few minutes later we arrived to the rocky grounds of a private ranch where we were greeted by waiters in tuxedos holding our first divine cocktail of the night: the Austin Sunset made of Patrón Silver, Aperol and lemon juice.
The group of dolled up guests then boarded a farm vehicle with cocktail in hand for a sunset hayride through a rolling landscape of Live Oak trees and rare animals, which roamed free on the property. Another key piece finally fell into place as we arrived at a gorgeous ranch house and our destination was revealed: there we stood at the personal ranch of John Paul DeJoria, founder of Patrón and Paul Mitchell products, billionaire and Austin resident, who warmly greeted each guest at the door.
From there a cocktail hour ensued on a patio overlooking the 100-acre property, and as the golden twilight set in over the sweeping vista, the scene officially took on a surreal quality: a three-piece band played and the staff passed apps of savory Ramp Crème Caramel. Mr. DeJoria welcomed everyone with personal stories and waxed poetic about the history of the company and making premium tequila. Endangered species of African gazelle frolicked in the distance, Patrón flowed like water and personal photos of the host with Brad Pitt and Nelson Mandela sat in plain view on the piano.
The festivities continued as the crowd was ushered inside to find two beautifully set formal dining tables, and just after each guest found their name card came the ultimate reveal: Ned and Jodi Elliott of Austin's own Foreign & Domestic and Bar Master Larry Miller from Péché emerged from the kitchen to a round of applause and would be providing the menu for the evening.
With each of the four seated courses, the Chefs Elliott and Mr. Miller came out to personally explain the ingredients and pairings, in addition to how they arrived at their creations and integrated the tequila. The Patrón-cured cobia with blood orange and jamon was sensational and its cocktail companion, made with a blend of Patrón Reposado and Citrónge, jalepeno cucumber syrup, and tarragon was both smooth and punchy; a piece of fresh butter-poached lobster on top of a deconstructed bisque was the seafood bite dreams are made of, and the meal closed out with a luxurious Patrón XO Dark Cocoa and chocolate chili sauce concoction that could have been a desert on its own.
With engaging and chatty company on every side, especially by pairing #4, it was clear each person felt lucky to be there and Mr. DeJoria dined with his guests who were becoming more devout fans of his tequila by the minute. The marketing concept was brilliant and like other historically successful efforts, the approach to the whole event was thoughtful, fun, integrated, personal, creative and buzz-worthy from start to finish.
From the welcome cocktail to the star-filled sky over the hayride back to the property foreground, the Patrón Secret Dining Society delivered on its promise of an unforgettable night and I'm happy to report any movie murder mystery theories unfounded. Anticipation mounts for where the Society goes from here but if the Austin event is any indication, the fortunate group in the next city is in for an evening bathed in mystery, tequila and delight.