By Nick BeJeaux
Ten of Baton Rouge’s top bartenders kicked-off the first Restaurant Week of 2015 with a battle of skill, showmanship and ingenuity, with three emerging as the best of the best.
Famed BR foodie Jay Ducote, Olive or Twist co-owner Joshua Duke and RNDC Spirits Specialist Lawrence Steele bent their alcoholic expertise together to judge the stiff competition. Of the ten tapsters, three were put at the top of separate categories: Best Presentation, Fan Favorite, and Best Overall.
Blake Hernandez of Galatoire’s Bistro won Best Presentation with his cocktail “Enigma,” aptly named because on paper it may sound senseless. But on the tongue, it’s a different story.
“The main ingredients are Glenlivet 12-Year Scotch and fresh coconut water,” said Hernandez. “It seems like a contradiction, but that’s why we named it the way we did.”
“Contradiction?” To some, more like “WTF?” But, unsurprisingly, there is a precedent for such an odd pairing in the eccentric history of mixology.
“The inspiration for the drink came from Liquid Intelligence by Dave Arnold, and in that book there’s two pages that talk about combining scotch and coconut, which sounds absolutely absurd,” said Hernandez. “I combined those ingredients and kind of saw where he was coming from. So I developed a drink that was to my taste because I don’t even like coconut. Once my second in command behind the bar, Ben Phillips, and I got the recipe down we tried to come up with the best way to present it and that turned out to be the simplest way possible.”
A clean presentation was key for such an odd pairing, which could have been tilted from delicious to disagreeable with any unnecessary fanfare.
“I think our presentation was very clean,” said Hernandez. “There weren’t a lot of elaborate garnishes — everything was very clean and simple. We wanted our ingredients and ingenuity to speak for themselves because we used a lot of ingredients that many people wouldn’t think to put together. More than anything, we wanted to show that. A Galatoire’s we want to make good, quick and strong drinks; if we did that, we did our job well.”
John Morris of Bin 77 Bistro & Wine Bar won the coveted title of Fan Favorite for his cocktail “A Rose For Emily,” a brew as complicated and sublimely stirring as any Faulkner plot.
“It was a collaboration of everyone behind the bar at Bin 77,” said Morris. “We experimented, we tasted, we tried and let our customers try it — like we do all of our new cocktails — and I knew we would win Fan Favorite because everyone loved it at Bin 77.”
“It’s actually an old recipe of mine and I expanded on it for this competition with the help of my favorite bartender/assistant Laura Gremillion. She’s the one who suggested we add spice to balance the sweetness of the drink and the….acidity of the rosemary. We infused my homemade grenadine syrup with allspice to create a unique spike that not only complemented the rosemary, but kept it under control. It evened everything out.”
The top spot of the winner’s circle was claimed by Josh Allison from The Little Village for his drink “Guns N Roses,” a scotch cocktail even scotch lovers and haters (of which there are many) alike would likely find smooth and flavorful.
“I tried to do something that you normally wouldn’t find at a restaurant or bar, and scotch was on this list of liquors we could use,” said Allison. “I wanted to make something harsh, but smooth — something even ladies would like because scotch is not a typical drink for them, but I didn’t want to mask the taste of the scotch. I tried to stay simple with it, so I didn’t add liqueurs or anything like that. What I did was infuse my simple syrup with vanilla and rosemary and added some lemon to offset the simpleness of it. Add a dash of bitters, and the whole thing came together.”
Allison was actually the underdog of this competition. Originally, The Little Village was supposed to be represented by Mike Shay, but he fell under the weather and called Allison that morning to take his place. Allison got to work bright and early and developed a cocktail that came out on top over recipes that had been in development for weeks.
“I actually came up with this recipe this morning,” he said with a laugh. “Yeah, this fell on my plate this morning and I spent the day trying to figure out what went together, worked together. And there was extra rosemary in the restaurant and I decided to do something with that, and it happened to work very well with the Glenlivet and lemon juice. It worked out perfectly.”
The competition was hosted by Republic National Distributing Company, Mockler Beverage, XO Nightclub, Bite and Booze, The UPS Store on Jefferson, Yelp, Uber and Organized by DIG Magazine.
If you missed it, don’t worry! You can still experience the winning cocktails at their respective venues during Restaurant Week, which runs from Jan. 19 – Jan. 24. Find out who has great deals on meals and cocktails during Restaurant Week at www.eatbr.com.