The final preliminary Round of Chopped Mixology Columbus is in the books, next week will see the champion crowned. (Here are the Week One, Week Two and Week Three roundups)
This week’s contestants struck me as each possessing a personality and style that perfectly suits the establishment they were representing to a T. The crowd was a little smaller this week, due to extreme patriotic shenanigans hangover among the general Columbus populace, but each contestant had a retinue of their faithful to keep enthusiasm high. A note to the contestants in the finals on next Monday: Get your fans to Mozaik. A cheering mob does not affect the judges (at least it didn’t affect me), but I have noticed an increased energy and focus on the part of the bartenders as they craft their entries.
The first round this week featured a mystery basket containing one of the sponsors, Finlandia Tangerine Vodka, whole lychee fruits, and some strawberry soda. Each contestant presented a drink that looked good and tasted nice. This left the judges resorting to the secondary areas of the scoring system to make our decision. Brian ‘Whitey’ White, of The Pub at Polaris Center got the chop for his Strawberry Red Wagon due to its being pretty significantly different in strength from one judge’s drink to the next. All the contestants had this issue in the first round, actually, as they worked their way into the competition, but Whitey just suffered the worst. Frankly, we were all cranky to have to chop Whitey, as he was very charismatic and any dude with the balls to wear a kilt to work every day is OK in my book.
One element of the competition I had not noticed before is that Brandon Bowsher, the organizer, only gives the contestants a few minutes behind the bar before the contest. Brandon says it adds another element to evaluate in how well the contestants work under pressure, but I suspect it is just because he is evil.
The second round saw a basket that included Herradura Anejo Tequila, coconut water, roasted yellow peppers, and Fee’s Mint Bitters. The second round is the savory round, and the same thing happens each week. A contestant makes a drink that tastes good, sometimes better than the others, by covering up the powerful ingredients instead of balancing them, and gets chopped for his trouble. If your drink would taste just the same without one of the secret ingredients, then you have a problem. If your drink would taste better without an ingredient or two, well that’s a problem too. Balancing the two is how you win.
This week’s guy to fall afoul of this issue was Chris Yoha of Elevator on High Street. He was my initial favorite, based on our interview before the event started. Any bartender who will wax eloquent about Negronis, Sazeracs, and Pimm’s Cup (coming soon to the Elevator cocktail menu), is my kinda mixologist. Chris’s Mint Jubilee was frothy and tasty, but we had a dickens of a time picking up the peppers or even the tequila. The Herradura was pretty smooth stuff and just got lost.
The dessert round came down to Joseph Gardina of the Refectory and Benjamin Handley of Vonn Jazz. The Refectory is a Columbus institution that has never let slip the quality that got it that status. The food, the drinks, and the clientele for that matter, are all classic, elegant, and expensive. Joseph’s style matched that. All three drinks were subtle, meticulous, and classically attractive. Vonn Jazz is a new, very cool club that is seeing a lot of success. Benjamin mixes with a very jazz style himself, with lots of improvisation, flash, and panache. If he hits an off note or gets a bit messy, who cares, the whole groove is just so cool. I should clarify that Benjamin was, for all the improvisation, an incredibly detail-oriented, meticulous worker.
The final basket contained sponsor Jack Daniels, Chambord, and Old Engine Oil Scottish Black Ale. (I told you Brandon was evil!) Both contestants immediately called for vanilla ice cream, and I was afraid we’d have similar drinks again, which would suck since they were essentially tied going into the last round. I could not have been more wrong.
Benjamin presented us his Holy Brown Cow first. It was a big, fun, delicious rootbeer float-type drink, served with chocolate covered strawberries and a big honking spoon to help eat, er, drink it. It was a crazy mess, and we all loved it.
Joseph then presented us with a perfect little creation, the Black Beer Berry Kiss. It was much smaller than any other drink I’ve seen throughout the competition, but also one of the most meticulously constructed. It was a frothy, particularly balanced mix of the ingredients and vanilla ice cream that held together very well. the surface was lightly drizzled with a bit more Chambord and garnished with a single blackberry. The colors were great, the taste was great, the whole package was very cool, very elegant. It looked as if it was ready for a magazine photo shoot.
After much deliberation among the judges, we made our decision. And with sadness, we gave the chop to Benjamin.
Monday, July 12th 2010, will be the finals of the contest! If you are one of my Columbus readers, I hope you’ll come down and support this very cool event. Doors open at eight, and the contest begins right at nine. The final four contestants hoping to survive the final chop are:
Cris Dehlavi of M at Miranova
Zak Renzetti-Voit of Black Olive
Jordan Conkey of Smith & Wollensky
Joseph Gardina of the Refectory