By Haylie Navarre
The Renaissance Hotel was shaken, not stirred, by the 2015 ART-ini fundraising event on Thursday night as 14 local restaurants participated in a competition to craft original martinis. The event was garnished by a silent auction showcasing the work of local artists, and had a splash of live music performed by The Tricky Dickies, as well as interludes of Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra musicians. Funds went to the Baton Rouge Symphony League.
The martinis in the competition were judged on three qualifications: taste, originality and visual appeal. Each restaurant also decorated their table and dressed in attire aligning with a theme, according to their beverage creation. All were required to contain one ounce of Sobieski vodka.
George Krause IV, executive chef at Doe’s Eat Place really played up the heritage of the Polish vodka. He started by creating a kompot, a traditional Eastern European drink made from boiled fruits. Krause used black cherries, strawberries and apricots to make what he described as “essentially a Polish tea.” Then he strained and reserved the pulp, added sugar and made preserves.
His efforts paid off though when the martini was selected by the judges as the winning ART-ini 2015 Martini as well as the People’s Choice award. “You never would have expected that they gave us this vodka on Tuesday,” said Krause referring to two days before the competition.
City Pork gathered their inspiration from local fresh produce. Stephen Juneau, Manager at the Jefferson Highway location, said his team used locally sourced blueberries and made their own lemon verbena simple syrup to create the “Twig & Berries” martini. They won the Best Themed ART-ini, for their table decoration and coordinated plaid and denim ensembles.
Some restaurants used unexpected ingredients. Charlie Cox, bartender at Bistro Byronz, concocted a creamy drink that he described as a “breakfast dessert martini,” rimmed with cane syrup and pieces of bacon. “It’s a little salty, and a little sweet,” said Cox.
Stroubes Bar Manager, Sarah Plumb fashioned a martini that is poured over a piece of cotton candy. She spent a day in the kitchen working with liquid ingredients, and said she felt like a mad scientist. At first she tried replicating the taste of cotton candy with mixers, but she felt the drink was too sweet. She realized cotton candy itself didn’t have an overpowering flavor and decided to use it to infuse the drink.
“The visual aspect is very fun and very original,” said Plumb. She added other flavor profiles of basil and ginger beer to give the drink a light, summer time feel.
Lucy’s Retired Surfer’s Bar put a twist on a classic margarita by creating a jalapeno-cucumber version with vodka. Bar Manager, Marcus Lasseigne, said the event was a good opportunity for the bar to showcase its upcoming new drink menu.
Lasseigne has participated in ART-ini previously as a member of another restaurant. He said he has seen the event practically double in size, starting with only eight participating restaurants and roughly 150 attendees.
While the event served as a martini competition, it’s also a fundraiser for the Baton Rouge Symphony League. Executive Director of the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra Cary Byrd said the overall goal of the event is to get people familiar with the family of the league.
“It’s just a big group of people that like music, and enjoy sharing it with each other,” said Byrd.
Event coordinator, Sharon Furrate, said while the mission of ART-ini is to raise money for non-profit organizations, it has also taken on the role of growing the local art scene. She said it’s becoming an event where artists actively want to participate.
It’s also an opportunity for local artists to gain exposure. Street photographer Sheldon Anderson entered a photo of Canal Street into the silent auction at the event. He’s only been showing his work for about a year, and is just trying to get his name out there.
“Someone buys this, they put it on their wall. Someone else sees it, they call me,” said Anderson referring to the image he submitted.
Local artist Jade Brady also entered a piece into the event’s silent auction. Brady has been showing her art for a few years in Baton Rouge, and recently landed some of her work at venues in Austin, Tx. She said breaking in to the art world can be difficult. In Austin she went door to door trying to gain a spot for her art, but felt it was more accepting than the art scene in Baton Rouge.
“It’s tough,” said Brady, “It’s a little less supported here.”