Pope Pumps it Up at CCVI Food Fight

•February 18, 2013 • 2 Comments

Chefs are a competitive lot, but it was all friendly competition at last week’s CCVI Food Fight 4. Three of the city’s best gathered on stage at The Guild, cooking to beat the clock, impress a panel of judges and benefit the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired.

Alex Pope of Local Pig topped the event, closely followed by Howard Hanna of The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange and Michael Smith of Michael Smith and Extra Virgin in what co-chair Dolly Wood called the tightest point-spread in the event’s four-year history.

Food Fight 4 Competitors: Tony Glamcevski, Howard Hanna, Jerry Fisher, Alex Pope, Michael Smith and Ryan Sciara

Food Fight 4 chefs with their sous chefs: Tony Glamcevski & Howard Hanna, Jerry Fisher & Alex Pope and Michael Smith & Ryan Sciara

This year’s twist? Help from a trio of untrained sous chefs. Jerry Fisher, a self-described food enthusiast who’s never worked in a professional kitchen, backed up Pope. Hanna’s second was Tony Glamcevski, an industry pro who’s worked at Le Fou Frog and Green Dirt Farm and is now front-of-house at The Rieger. And Ryan Sciara of Cellar Rat Wine Merchants served as Smith’s sous.

If it added tension to the evening, you couldn’t tell. Each duo focused on the job at hand, chopping, frying and roasting as efficiently as possible in their make-shift kitchens. Their task: to prepare three courses in one hour, using ingredients from a grocery bag that included cod, flank steak, black walnuts, piquillo peppers and the like.

They could plan everything in advance but for one factor: a secret ingredient announced by honorary chef and chairman David Crum at the outset of the evening. His pick? Sweet potatoes grown by Thane Palmberg.

“It’s the only thing grown locally that’s available this time of year,” said Crum, general manager of Arrowhead Specialty Meats and Food Fight veteran (he served as sous chef to the late John McClure of Starker’s in 2011 and for Patrick Ryan of Port Fonda in 2012). “They’ve been cellared since last fall, and they’re so tasty.”

Read more…


Conatser tops PoPFest Bartending Competition—again

•August 27, 2012 • 2 Comments

In the weeks leading up to the Paris of the Plains Bartending Competition, much was made of the fact that Chris Conatser of Justus Drugstore placed every time he entered what was formerly known as the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition. And last night he kept the streak alive, taking first place with his Manhattan (in)Verse.

PoPFest Bartending Competition winners lookin’ pretty happy. From left, Berto Santoro (3rd), Matt Seiter (Fan Favorite), Jenn Tosatto (2nd) and Chris Conatser (1st).

That bring’s Conatser’s tally to two first-place wins (2008 & 2012), one second (2010) and a third (2009). Not that he was the only one to reaffirm his track record.
Second-place winner Jenn Tosatto, bar manager of The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, is a five-time finalist who placed third in 2008. Berto Santoro, Extra Virgin’s bar manager, and Matt Seiter of Sanctuaria, St. Louis were both onstage last year. Santoro took third in 2012; Seiter was voted Fan Favorite.
Theirs weren’t the only familiar faces.  Kansas City’s Travis Stewart of Port Fonda, Paige Unger of Michael Smith Restaurant and Arturo Vera-Felicie of The Farmhouse were all returning competitors. Other finalists included Chris Burmeister, The Goose and Bramble & Hare, Boulder, Colo.; Carol Donovan, Hearty Restaurant, Chicago, Ill.; Phoebe Esmon, Kennett South 2nd, Philadelphia, Pa.; Giovanni Ferlaino, Ludivine, Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Liz Pearce, The Drawing Room, Chicago, Ill.
Did they put on a good show? Absolutely. Read more…

PoPFest Bartending Competition goes big

•August 24, 2012 • 2 Comments

There’s nothing like strolling into your favorite bar, takin’ a seat and watching a great bartender go to work. Unless you go to the Paris of the Plains Bartending Competition on Sunday night, where you can see a dozen of the country’s best mix it up on Sunday night as they vie for the $1,750 in prize money, not to mention free press and bragging rights.

The event might feel familiar to those who’ve attending the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition over the past five years. The PoPFest version is again organized by Ryan Maybee of The Rieger/Manifesto, wine and spirits savant Doug Frost and Brandon Cummins, an all-around awesome cocktail dude. It’s again at The Uptown Theater. And there will again be a tasting room and food from local restaurants.

But this year, I promise you, it will be even bigger and better.

Finalists from Kansas City, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma will batch their drinks for the tasting room, and then make them onstage for the judges. They’ll also have to prepare a surprise classic cocktail (check out the Top 26 as chosen by Barsmarts) and demonstrate their industry knowledge.

The Farmhouse, Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen, The American Restaurant, Local Pig, Chez Elle Creperie & Coffeehouse, Farm To Market Bread Co. and Gram & Dun are providing food. There will also be live music from Loaded Goat (a local band featuring The Drop’s Eddie Crane), The Late Night Callers and The Grisly Hand and burlesque performances, if you’re into that sorta thing. You get all that for $25, plus one free drink token.

Pernod Ricard USA’s sponsoring this year’s event, so it will be awash in brands like Absolut vodka, Jameson Irish whiskey, Chivas Scotch, Glenlivet single malt, Beefeater and Plymouth gin, Avion tequila and Kahlua liqueur.

Can’t wait to see what these finalists do with all that:

Chris Burmeister, The Goose and Bramble & Hare, Boulder, Colo.

Chris Conatser, Justus Drugstore, Kansas City, Mo. (first place, 2008; third, 2009; second, 2010)

Carol Donovan, Hearty Restaurant, Chicago, Ill.

Phoebe Esmon, Kennett South 2nd, Philadelphia, Pa.

Giovanni Ferlaino, Ludivine, Oklahoma City, Okla.

Liz Pearce, The Drawing Room, Chicago, Ill.

Alberto Santoro, Extra Virgin, Kansas City, Mo. (finalist, 2011)

Matt Seiter, Sanctuaria, St. Louis, Mo. (finalist, 2011)

Travis Stewart, Port Fonda, Kansas City, Mo. (finalist, 2010 and 2011)

Jenn Tosatto, The Rieger Hotel / Manifesto, Kansas City, Mo. (finalist 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011)

Paige Unger, Michael Smith Restaurant, Kansas City, Mo. (finalist 2010 and 2011)

Arturo Vera-Felicie, The Farmhouse, Kansas City, Mo. (finalist 2008; first place, 2009)

A Dale DeGroff Top 10

•August 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

What’s the big deal with this Dale DeGroff guy? Someone asked me that awhile back, and I hardly knew where to start. So, here are 10 reasons why you should care that DeGroff’s at the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival.


10. He’s the king. Really, when a guy knows so much about cocktails, and is so generous in sharing his expertise, that he earns the title “King Cocktail,” he’s someone you should know.

9. Fresh juice. Mixes out of a gun and canned juices ruled the day when DeGroff took over New York’s newly restored Rainbow Room in 1987. He proved that bars should—and could—use freshly squeezed juice in cocktails. What was then an astounding new trend is now practically mandatory.

8. Joe Baum. This legendary restauranteur hired DeGroff at the Rainbow Room and demanded he recreate a nineteenth century bar stocked only with fresh ingredients. Why’s he on this list? Because Baum also helped design The American Restaurant.

7. DeGroff wrote the book. Literally. His The Craft of the Cocktail is required reading for anyone who owns a cocktail shaker.

6. He’s into Kansas City. “I love Kansas City,” DeGroff told me during this year’s Tales of the Cocktail. “I love the music. It’s at the heart of America. It’s a cool place.”

5. Pimento Aromatic Bitters. DeGroff makes them, and they’re fantastic, with layers of allspice (or, pimento in Jamaican), anise and other spices.

4. He’s a nice guy. DeGroff has never once refused me an interview. That counts for something, especially when you’re on deadline with articles like this 2007 piece I wrote for the Kansas City Star.

3. Jill DeGroff. I’ve only spoken to Jill once on the phone, but she seems lovely. She’s a self-described “saloon artist” and author of Lush Life: Portraits from the Bar.

2. Beverage Alcohol Resource. He’s a founding partner of BAR, the most gruelling and complete bartender education program around. Survive both it and the United States Bartenders’ Guild Master Accreditation testing program, and you’ve got the mixology and spirits equivalent of a Master of Wine or Master Sommelier certification.

1. Night on the Town. It’s DeGroff’s tribute to the great tradition of American bars, and he’s bringing it to Nica’s Cafe tonight. Buy a ticket. Go. You won’t regret it.


Paris of the Plains pops in Kansas City

•August 22, 2012 • 1 Comment

In 2007, Ryan Maybee and Doug Frost started a little thing called the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition. Well, little in comparison to what that event’s grown into—the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival. The week-long event’s already underway, and I wrote about it in today’s Kansas City Star (KC’s cocktail culture births Paris of the Plains festival). The main point? That this festival celebrates not just booze, but the city’s heritage and culture.

“It’s not just about beverages,” says Brandon Cummins, who together with Maybee and Frost created the event. “It’s about Kansas City’s culture.”

There are dinners and tastings—tequila at Mestizo, Angostura bitters at The Rieger, agave-based spirits at Crayola Café and wine-tales (wine-based cocktails) at The American Restaurant.

There’s music—Snuff Jazz, a self-described experimental and improvisational jazz project, will play at Grünauer while Justus Drugstore bartender Chris Conatser serves up Horsefeathers (whiskey and ginger beer). Mark Lowrey and the New Jazz Order will offer a Tanqueray-sponsored Count Basie tribute at the not-quite-opened Kill Devil Club.

You already missed Chris Conatser’s Monday session on molecular mixology at Justus Drugstore—check out the PoPFest calendar to get in on everything else!

There are parties—cocktail competition finalists Berto Santoro, Paige Unger and Conatser cracked open some Barrel Aged Negronis at Extra Virgin last night, but there’s still the Midwest Mohawk Melee. It’s at The Rieger, where mohawked competition finalists Jenn Tosatto, the bar’s manager, and Matt Seiter, bar manager of Sanctuaria in St. Louis, will duke it out. KC Magazine’s also hosting it’s “Best of KC” awards at The Gallery with sponsor Dark Horse Distillery on Saturday night.

There’s philanthropy—KCPT is the beneficiary of the PoPFest Gala on Monday. It’s not just any gala, though. Attendees will also get to judge the final round of the Washington Cup, the only competition exclusively for American-made spirits and liqueurs.

And of course there’s the Paris of the Plains Bartending Competition on Sunday, when a dozen finalists including both familiar KC faces and bartenders from Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma will take the stage at The Uptown.

But PoPFest is also an incredible opportunity to learn from some of the industry’s greats. It’s a testament to the professionalism and reputations of the festival’s organizers that they’ve managed to collect all these guys in our city, for our first cocktail festival. As much fun as all the other stuff is, you definitely don’t want to miss these:

Read more…

The ‘life’ part of FoodDrinkLife

•July 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Life’s good these days, but it’s left me precious little time for blogging. Maybe you noticed? No? I’m not surprised. Your life is probably more hectic than mine. As soon as school let out, the pace picked up—swimming lessons, summer theater, preparing for the 4H fair, family reunions, attempting to keep at least the fruit trees, roses and other trees and shrubs alive during this searing heat…and suddenly it’s time to pack up and head to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail.

I have managed a little work in between it all. I wrote about the wonderful people at Dark Horse Distillery for the Kansas City Star (New Laws Spur a Generation of New Microdistilleries), and I’m working on a big piece about the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival for the same paper.

The folks behind Lenexa’s fabulous Dark Horse Distillery (from left): Kris Hennessy, Patrick Garcia, Damian Garcia, Mary Garcia, Jeanne Garcia and Eric Garcia.

There have also been a few restaurant profiles for 913, a Johnson County news magazine, and features for Lawrence Business Magazine.And I keep eying the stack of cocktail books on my office floor, thinking I really should get around to reading them.

Which is why I was happy to stumble across a book review by Wayne Curtis (What Goes Well with a Martini) in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. If you like his writing as much as I do, then it’s well worth tracking him down at The Atlantic for his most recent column on Cognac’s identity crisis. Or go old school by picking up a copy of And a Bottle of Rum, perhaps one of the best rum books ever written. That should keep you busy ’til I get back to blogging.


In season: lavender

•June 21, 2012 • 2 Comments

Lavender is one of my favorite flowers, but I can never quite decide what to do with it. Dry it and use it in a lamb rub? Or sew it into sachets, like my friends at Washington Creek Lavender do? But it’s so lovely fresh. This year, the scent sent me to my cocktail books, and there I discovered  lavender lemonade.

Lavender lemonade.

The below recipe comes from How to Make Your Own Drinks, and it’s especially fun to make with kids. They can pick the lavender, squeeze the lemons (maybe) and ooh and ahh when adding lemon juice to the lavender syrup turns it pink. Since we also had some grown-ups in the crowd, so I also shook it with Dark Horse Distillery’s Long Shot white whiskey for one of the best cocktails I’ve had all summer.

You can also infuse vodka with lavender (another idea from How to Make Your Own Drinks), or use it to flavor simple syrup. That syrup can then go into a mojito (an idea from Market-Fresh Mixology), Saveur magazine’s lavender-lemon fizz or Imbibe’s Provençal martini.

Maybe I’ll have to plant even more lavender next year…

Lavender lemonade: pick a small bunch of fresh lavender and shake to remove any insects. Put the flower heads in a sauce pan and pour about 2-1/4 cups boiling water over them. Put sauce pan on the stove and bring mixture to a boil; simmer for a minute or two. Turn off the heat and leave for 10 minutes to steep. Strain (I used a cheesecloth-lined strainer). Add about 5-1/2 ounces (about 3/4 cup) granulated sugar and stir to dissolve. Add 5 cups cold water. Squeeze 5 lemons and add juice to the pan (this is when it turns pink). Strain again, if needed. Taste to see how concentrated the flavor is; add more sugar or water to taste.

To make a lavender lemonade cocktail: Combine 3 ounces lavender lemonade and 1 ounce Long Shot white whiskey to a mixing glass. Fill partway with ice, and then shake. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lavender sprig.