Sunday, April 30, 2017

Run for the Roses - A Champagne Derby Party

Without a doubt, one of my favorite spring events is the Kentucky Derby.  There are handsomely groomed horses, spring dresses, gentlemen in seersucker and colorful ties, big hats, bourbon, and oodles champagne.  What's a girl not to love? 

This year I partnered with G.H. Mumm to inspire you to throw your own champagne-filled Derby Party, and I hope that you send me photos of your glamorous parties and festive hats.  Seriously, it's one of the best days of the year.

The Menu

I like to keep my parties simple, mostly because throwing a party is always 1,000 times more stressful than I originally intended it to be, and things always go wrong.  So plan ahead, and anticipate a back-up plan (like ordering pizza when a dish ends up on the floor – don’t judge, it’s happened).

To Start

A Champagne Toast

Start off in the early afternoon with a toast of champagne, G.H. Mumm, of course.  Keep
a case of bubbles chilled in the refrigerator, and keep those bottles popping as your guests arrive.  For extra flair, break out the saber.  Everyone loves a good party trick, and nothing says party quite like chopping the top off a bottle of champagne.

Pro Tip: If you have never sabered a champagne bottle before, I recommend watching a few YouTube videos.  It’s incredibly easy, but the bottle has to be very cold to avoid embarrassing explosions. 

The Punch

Run for the Roses Champagne Punch

I know, I know, Derby is supposed to be all about Mint Juleps.  But unless you’re planning on hiring a skilled bartender to make craft cocktails for your guests or you don’t mind spending the entire party in the kitchen mixing bespoke Juleps, I recommend another strategy for your libations.  The remedy?  Punch.  Prep it ahead of time, make backup batches a head of time, and get the (bleep) out of the kitchen. 

This punch is inspired by a classic Mint Julep and all those amazing red roses that are synonymous with the event.  It is made with Bourbon, homemade Rhubarb-Rose Syrup, Aperol, Fresh Lemon, and topped off with an entire bottle of Champagne.  This recipe will serve 4, and for a good-sized party, I recommend having enough ingredients to make 4 rounds of punch. 

Like any cocktail, the secret ingredient to this punch is water – it needs the dilution of the ice to balance out the acidity and the sweetness of the Aperol.  Prep your ice blocks a few days ahead of time by freezing ziplock freezer bags full of water, or for those ambitious party people, prepare large blocks of clear ice using the Alcademics directional freezing method.  A big block of clear ice does look impressive in a punch bowl, I’m not going to lie.

Run For the Roses Champagne Punch
Created by Gastronomista

Serves 4

1 bottle of G.H. Mumm Champagne
1 c. Aperol
3/4 c. Rhubarb-Rose Syrup*
1-1/2 c Bourbon
1 Lemon, Juiced
5-6 dashes Orange Bitters

Build in a punch bowl over a large block of ice.  Garnish with lemon wheels, rose petals, and fresh mint.

Rhubarb-Rose Syrup

1 c. Sugar
1 c. Water
1-1/2 c. Chopped Rhubarb
2-3 dashes Rose Water

Add sugar, water, and rhubarb to a pot and simmer on medium-low for 15-20 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft and mushy.  Let cool, add 2-3 drops of rose water, and strain into a non-reactive container.  Reserve the solids.  Makes approximately 1 cup of syrup. 


Rhubarb-Rose Compote with Brie, Fresh Fruit, and Mint

Use the leftover solids from the Rhubarb-Rose syrup to make a compote for your canapés, it is delightful served with brie and crackers.  Add fresh berries, fresh mint, and charcutarie to make a wonderful spring spread that is perfect for noshing.

Depending on how many guests you are having, prepare small sandwiches and other savory snacks to keep your guests satiated until dinnertime.  Another great pairing with champagne is caviar, crème fraiche, and potato chips, it’s salty, savory, and a decadent treat that is sure to make your guests laugh. 

The Table

There is so much great imagery for Derby to play with including the horses, the jockeys, julep cups, trophies, and of course, a celebratory pop of champagne!

I have a long-standing obsession with vintage silver serve-ware, an influence I can trace directly to my Grandmother, who was an expert hostess in her day.  I love how a touch of silver can make any event feel just a bit classier, and a lot fancier.  Although I was lucky enough to receive a few signature pieces of silver from my Grandmother, I have also been known to scour vintage markets and antique shops for great silver pieces like these amazing silver trophies. 

One of my favorite finds from my last antiquing haul was this mini silver champagne bucket flower vase that has a flower frog in the bottom, a perfect piece for champagne parties!! 

Another recent find is this horse trophy plate, perfect for serving hors d'oeuvres, or cupcakes topped with red roses.

The Hat

Ladies, we all know the best part of derby is the hats, and the bigger and bolder the better amirite?  I found the most amazing giganticred rose fascinator, perfectly suited for a Run For the Roses party. 

After the Party

After all the bets have been made and the horses have made their mad dash towards the finish line, the distinctive clinking of glassware is sure to be heard from party to party for those who won their bets (and those who did not).  A final round of bubbles is in order before heading out on the town, for a dinner on someone else’s watch.  It would be a shame to stay in and order take out, after all, your hat does look fabulous. 

Styling Notes
G.H. Mumm Champagne: Provided by G.H. Mumm
Coupes: Waterford
Trophies: Vintage
Skirt / Wrap Top Set: Billabong
Watch: Grayton Watches
Earrings: Lulu Frost
Hat: Fab Hatters


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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Campari America Spirited Connections Interview Series: Alex Jump & Speed Rack

Alex Jump, Rino Yacht Club
Dedicated readers of Gastronomista already know that I am working on an amazing campaign in partnership with Campari America with the goal of highlighting socially-conscious bartenders who use their platforms to make the world a better place.  Last month's Spirited Connections interview was with Tristan Willey about Bar Sustainability, and this month we are talking about Women's Equality with a few ladies who are changing the game for women in the Cocktail & Spirits industry. 

This month's Campari America Spirited Connections interview brings us back to Denver, Colorado and to the heart of The Source, the Rino Yacht Club, one of Denver's hottest cocktail bars.  The woman who brings us here is Alex Jump, winner of the Southwest Finals of Speed Rack 2017.  I caught her at her post behind the bar before she jets off for finals on May 21st in New York City. 

Before we get to know Alex, I had the opportunity to catch up with co-founder and bar boss-babe Lynnette Marrero to understand more about what inspired Speed Rack, how it has changed the game for female bartenders, and what is next for Lynnette and her business partner, Ivy Mix. 

Ivy Mix & Lynnette Marrero
Gastronomista: Lynnette, you and Ivy started Speed Rack six years ago, what inspired you to start the competition and how has it evolved over the years?

Lynnette: It all started as Ivy ran into me at the Superbowl Feb 2011 and told me about this idea she had for women bartenders called Speed Rack.  Since I was president of LUPEC NYC and was already working nationally with other chapters it was a natural partnership. We then worked to take the idea and give it the structure and format we have today. 

We decided to create a platform for women bartenders. We wanted to create a competition that tests bartenders in real life situations. Instead of testing their ability to create one drink we wanted to challenge them to showcase what they do every day in a bar; create quality cocktails with speed to service in mind.  Speed Rack, the tour that it is now, is the result of an intense few years and I could not be more proud of what Speed Rack is today.  As we expand globally it is incredible to see how it translates worldwide.

Gastronomista: Speed Rack has brought attention to female bartenders in a unique way – how do you think Speed Rack has changed the industry for women?

Lynnette: I think it has helped women get into a different tier of the business. Many of our past competitors got incredible job offers post competing in Speed Rack.  It has also created a network for these women.

Grastronomista: What has been the best take away from Speed Rack?

Lynnette: In the past six years we have grown from small local us competitions to a global phenomenon, expanding every year to new cities and countries, and investing in their bar communities.  We have had over 800 women compete in Speed Rack, we've raised over $550,000 against breast cancer.

Gastronomista: What do you think bar programs can do to be more aware of Women’s Equality?

Lynnette: Offering opportunities for upward mobility for women.  There are a lot of women in the bar community but there are fewer at the top.  We need to create mentorship opportunities, training, and offer other assets to women to gain the experience they need to move up into top beverage position.

Gastronomista: What is next for you two?  World domination?

Lynnette: Year 7 is next year. We are hoping to expand to more markets while we keep investing in adding more to the Untied States, such as the Sisterhood Project we started this year.  Our first empowerment day will be on Monday, May 22 and will be an amplification of the sisterhood.


Which leads us to Alex Jump, Miss Speed Rack Southwest 2017.  Speed Rack has a way of amplifying up and coming talent, letting the world know about the new female bartenders we should all be paying attention to.  So, pay attention.

Southwest Speed Rack Finals 2017
I sat down with Alex to talk about her experience at Speed Rack, how she started bartending, the unique camaraderie that comes along with being a Speed Rack finalist, and what's next for this incredibly talented lady. 

Gastronomista: Frist of all, congratulations on your Speed Rack win!  Tell us a little bit about how you secured victory!

Alex Jump:  Thank you!! Leading up to the big event, I spent a lot of time practicing for Speed Rack at work, RiNo Yacht Club, with a coworker (Heather Hass) who was also participating in Speed Rack. We would practice almost every day with bottles filled with water. We practiced making water cocktails for both the preliminary rounds & the judged rounds. I also practiced a new way of picking up bottles that made me a little faster, I think.

Last year was my first attempt at Speed Rack, and even though I had spent some time getting advice from friends about the competition, I was essentially walking in blind (I hadn’t even attended a Speed Rack before I competed in Nashville). After competing last year, I had a better idea of what I was walking into, so I spent a lot of time thinking about the competition & how I could work efficiently. I feel like I spent just as much time mentally preparing as I did physically.

As far as on stage, it was a real hair splitter! Nicole Laurita & I finished the final round within ½ a second of each other!! It all came down to our 4th (last) cocktail, our own riff on a Ramos Gin Fizz, which Pamela Wiznitzer ordered. Neither cocktails were perfect, but mine sat with a better meringue on top, & Nicole accidentally put a whole egg in hers. With penalties I only ended up beating her by 10 seconds. It was so close.

Gastronomista: Speed Rack is an incredible program that promotes Female Bartenders – why did you choose to compete, and what was the best take away from the competition?

Alex Jump:  Speed Rack is probably my favorite competition of the year for so many reasons. Not only do they promote female bartenders in a way that literally no other competition ever has, but they also raise money for breast cancer research.

What’s not to like? If you’re an attendee, you get to cheer on badass women in your region while drinking cocktails to raise money for breast cancer research. If you’re a competitor, you get to spend an entire day surrounded by inspiring female bartenders and rooting for each other while they’re on stage. Aside from the feeling of doing something good for the world, I’d say the best take away is the feeling of camaraderie that you walk away with after the day is over. I chose to compete because I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of.

The All-Amari

Gastronomista: You live in Denver, which is notoriously a male-dominated city (and nicknamed Menver).  How do you navigate your career in a male dominated industry in a dude-centric town?

Alex Jump:  I’m so new to Denver that I’m not sure I’ve really noticed the outnumbering of men to women yet, honestly! Since I’ve moved here I’ve been fortunate enough to get hired on to two really wonderful bar teams in town- the RiNo Yacht Club & Mercantile Dining & Provisions. There certainly are a lot of men in the city, but there are also a lot of women in Denver doing some really amazing things.

Author's Favorite - A Classic Negroni
Gastronomista: What are your favorite bars right now?

Alex Jump:  Oh man.. I’ll try to narrow this down. It’s hard to even pick a place to start. Here in Denver I’ve fallen in love with the 715 Club, Star Bar, and B&GC. 715 Club is the perfect amount of dark & dive-y. It’s the exact bar I want to sit at when I get off work & need a Coors Banquet & a shot of Cynar. Star Bar is a Denver institution for sure, & it completely lives up to the hype. They have an awesome back bar and karaoke two nights a week. Win/Win. B&GC is a beautiful bar in the basement of the new Halcyon Hotel. It’s stunning inside, and the cocktails are lovely.

Since I’m from the South, it’s no surprise that some of my favorite bars are also located there. Robert’s Western World in Nashville is one of my most favorite places in the world. Amazing live music, dancing, & the Recession Special ($5 for a Bologna Sandwich & a High Life)… how do you not fall in love with that Honky Tonk? Then there’s Kimball House in Decatur, GA. It’s absolutely gorgeous, the food is wonderful, & the drinks are complex & delicious. Ticonderoga Club in Atlanta is another one of my favorite bars in the South. The space & décor makes you feel like you’re drinking in your own personal clubhouse. The food is absolutely incredible & the cocktail & wine lists are always lovely. And finally, Empire State South in Atlanta… The hospitality that Kellie Thorne & her crew exude at that bar is outstanding. All of these bars feel like home when I’m there.

Other bars that I love are ones that inspire me every time I visit them: Dante, Death & Co., PDT, Clover Club, Trick Dog, Clyde Common, & La Factoria, just to name a few. The people running these bars are constant sources of inspiration & motivation for me.

Gastronomista: If you could visit any bar anywhere in the world, at any point in history, what bar would you visit?  Who would you have a drink with?

Alex Jump:  Honestly… It may not seem like that far back to go, but I think I would go back to the early 2000’s when Sasha Petraske was opening Milk & Honey. I never had the opportunity to know him, but his legacy will influence my bartending for the rest of my career. I wish I had been able to sit at his bar, drink a cocktail, and ask him questions.

Wild Turkey Rye, Lustau Oloroso Sherry, Cynar, Lemon, Sesame Seed Orgeat, Egg White

 Gastronomista: What drives the creative process for you when you're creating cocktails?  Any tricks of the trade you can share?

Alex Jump:  I get a lot of inspiration from what my Chefs are cooking. What’s in season and what’s being served on dishes in the restaurant. When working on new cocktails, I always draw inspiration from a classic in some way. One of my bar mentors said to me, “Classics are classics for a reason. They will be good until the end of time. History has decided that they will be remembered. Because they are balanced.”  So if you’re working on a new cocktail, but already have a blueprint mapped out for you from a classic, you’re nearly guaranteed to create a balanced cocktail.

Gastronomista: This series, as well as Speed Rack, is sponsored by Campari America, would you mind sharing a few of your favorite recipes with us using Campari America products?

All Amari
Co-Created by Alex Jump of Rino Yacht Club

1 oz Cynar
3/4 oz Braulio
1 oz Punt e Mes

Stir and strain into a chilled Nick & Nora Glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

For more follow Alex Jump & the Rino Yacht Club on Instagram.

* * * * *

Speed Rack Finals will be held May 21, 2017 at the Weylin in Brooklyn.

The Finalists:

Top 8 Winners:
Elyse Blechman – Tongue-Cut Sparrow; Ms. Speed Rack Texas
Mony Bunni – Boleo, The Kimpton Gray Hotel; Ms. Speed Rack Midwest
Clairessa Chaput – Highball Lounge, Central Kitchen; Ms. Speed Rack Northeast
Jacyara de Oliveira – Rob Roy, The Hideout; Ms. Speed Rack Northwest
Helen Diaz – Bloodhound, Churchill; Ms. Speed Rack California
Jenny Feldt – Le Diplomate; Ms. Speed Rack Southeast
Alex Jump – RiNo Yacht Club; Ms. Speed Rack Southwest
Anna Wingfield – Mother’s Ruin, Ba’sik; Ms. Speed Rack New York

Wild Card Winners:
Katie Astrauska – Moneygun; Midwest Wildcard Winner
Tiff Jones – Pagan Idol, Rickhouse; California Wildcard Winner
Jen Laforge – Tiger Mama, Franklin Café; Northeast Wildcard Winner
Megan Radke – Canon, Liberty; Northwest Wildcard Winner
Zulcoralis Rodriguez – The Esquire Tavern; Texas Wildcard Winner
Jess Sandberg – Under Current; Southwest Wildcard Winner
Kristine Serrano – Forest Hills Station House; New York Wildcard Winner
Andrea Tateosian – Urbana; Southeast Wildcard Winner

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Kitchen Garden Gin & Tonic

Today is Gin & Tonic Day, a day that reminds us that summer is coming, and there is nothing better than a Gin & Tonic on a beautiful day.  Nothing.

But sometimes dinner prep conflicts with happy hour, and let's be real here, even the chef deserves a proper adult beverage! The Kitchen Garden Gin & Tonic is inspired by cooking itself, loaded with fresh herbs traditionally found in savory recipes. 

This cocktail calls for Uncle Val's Botanical Gin, a aromatic gin distilled with Juniper, Cucumber, Lavender, Sage, and Lemon.  Uncle Val's was inspired by Zio Valerio, a man who loved to cook Tuscan cuisine.  For expressive gins such as Uncle Val's I like to build flavors upon one another, using fresh herbs to accentuate the signature flavors.

Unfortunately, not everyone has their own Kitchen Garden continuously bursting with fresh herbs, but thankfully even the most common grocery store has packs of "Poultry Blend" fresh herbs packed with sage, rosemary, and thyme.  A sprig of each for each cocktail, a few slices of fresh cucumber, a slice of fresh lime, and two dashes of Lavender Bitters make this G&T complete. 

This G&T is extremely simple, leaving it open for interpretation and creative experimentation.  Instead of Lavender Bitters one could try Cucumber, instead of lime a big squeeze of fresh Lemon, or even a few drops of Bay Leaf Bitters and a few fresh Bay Leaves as a garnish.  The wonderful thing is that Uncle Val's has a wide range of culinary flavors that are wonderful to play with - as one does with savory recipes.  The possibilities are endless!

Recently I have been drinking my G&Ts in wide rim glasses, similar to how they do it in Japan, with a slow pour of tonic over the gin, careful not to pour the tonic directly on the ice.  This makes the cocktail sweeter and less bitter.  Give the drink a long and slow stir, and enjoy. 

Kitchen Garden Gin & Tonic
Adapted by Gastronomista

2 oz Uncle Val's Botanical Gin
4 oz Tonic
2-3 Dashes Lavender Bitters
Fresh Herb Bouquet: Sage, Rosemary, Thyme
Fresh Cucumber Slices
Fresh Lime Slices

Build in a large tumbler over quality ice.  Add gin and bitters, followed by tonic, careful not to pour the tonic directly on the ice.  Garnish with a bouquet of fresh herbs, a few slices of cucumber, and a lime wheel. 

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Uncle Val's Botanical Gin. All opinions are 100% mine.
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