Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Grand Marnier Mixology Summit Day 2
7am Day 2- My phone rings, or is that my brain? Groggy, I answer the phone, "Good morning Mr. Mayhew, this is your 7am wakeup call". Huh? I requested a wakeup call? Maybe I did. After all, I did want to try the snowmobiling, but between the altitude and the alcohol, I wasn't getting out of bed to see if I made it off of the waiting list. Back to sleep for me.
11am Day 2- I finally roll out of bed, feeling much better. A couple of aspirin, lots of water and a hot shower and I'm ready to take on the world again. Since I'd skipped breakfast, I couldn't wait for lunch to roll around. I watch a little sports before heading down to lunch.
12:30pm Day 2- Lunch! I was starving and so Raena and I headed down to the Colorado Ballroom for some food. Pistachio crusted salmon was an interesting and nice choice, there were some great salad options, and then I came across Grand Marnier chicken. I had to try it. It reminded me of Orange Chicken that I'd get from a chinese restaurant, but I thought it was an interesting touch. Ky Belk from Elway's in Denver and Jonathan Pogash joined us for lunch, and the food was a pleasant as the company. The staff at the Marriott (as well as the staff at Larkspur the night before) really did a great job the whole weekend. I was pleasantly surprised by how warm and courteous everyone was. I also receive a book of the 400 recipes contributed by the attendees. Very cool.
2:00pm- I start to get a little nervous about my Mixology Consultation. Some people had told me that one person had already blown fire during his presentation (it was probably one of the Vegas guys) so I start trying to figure out how to blow fire nonchalantly while making my drinks. I finally decide that burning my beard off on a snowy day in Vail may not be the best idea. I'll stick to my plan of crafting my drinks.
2:40pm- My Consultation is set to start. I'd spent the last 10 minutes searching the 4th floor for room #404, only to find out that the hotel has some weird split, and yes, I'm on the 4th floor, but to get to room #404, I follow a maid down to the 2nd floor and up some service steps to find #404. I am sure that I'll never be able to find this room again.
2:45pm- The guy in front of me (I'm guessing he's from Atlanta with that accent) finishes up, and is pouring shots of Navan and white cranberry juice for the room as I enter. I like this guy already, and the shot goes down smoothly.
2:46pm- I am informed by a GM rep that they couldn't source Clear Creek Distillery's Pear Brandy for one of my cocktails, but they offer me Hiram Walker's Pear Schnapps as a substitute. I freak. I ask if they have any eau de vie's in the room. In spite of the very impressive liquor selection, no eau de vie's. Someone suggests that I use the bottle of Luxardo Maraschino instead. Huh? I finally agree to make the cocktail with the pear schnapps as long as no one tastes it. It comes out a hideous, kryptonite green. Thanks Hiram Walker. My other cocktail goes much smoother, and the photographer was cracking me up as I made my recipe.
3:15pm- I finally find my way out of the room, and its time to hustle down to the Apres-Ski event in the ballroom. I'm 15 minutes late by the time I get in, and all the subtle seats in the back of the room are filled. Luckily, I find a seat up front next to Jimmy Patrick. I realize when I get in that all I've missed is some tray passed cocktails.
3:30pm- Steve Olsen comes out and starts to give a lesson on the history of Grand Marnier, which, if you haven't heard it, is quite impressive. Steve is a natural on stage, really well prepared. Next, he brings out Leo Degroff and Andy Seymour for a demonstration of a 150th Sidecar. Essentially, just GM 150 and lemon juice with a splash of orange bitters, its an interesting take on the sidecar, and something that I'll tuck away for use someday. Next, Steve introduces people at a series of stations, one doing GM as an enhancement, one as a base spirit, one doing luxury cocktails, another doing Navan, and then one doing "progressive bartending". As soon as I see who is behind the progressive table, I decide its my first spot. Its Death & Co's Phil Ward, and Don Lee of PDT. They've got a Hot Buttered Popcorn Rum going, a Bacon infused Bourbon, and a number of tinctures and bitters displayed.
3:45-4:00pm- I make my way around the stations, observing Jacques Bezhuidenhout make a Millionaire's Margarita with GM 150 and Don Julio 1942 and follow that with a 150th Sazerac. Willy Shines is holding court on foams, and Aisha Sharpe is showcasing Navan's versatility. There are almost too many options for cocktails, I hold off as I'm saving myself for the upcoming dinner, but I listen and learn at each station.
6:45pm- Raena and I head out into the snow dressed to the nines, for a ride up the mountain in a gondola to the Eagle's Nest, for the Gala dinner. I had the good fortune to run into Jason Neu along the way, and he kept us laughing all the way to the top. I believe we ended up at 13,000 feet when we got to the top of the mountain. As soon as we got off the gondola, we were greeted by servers carrying trays of Lanesborough cocktails, a nice start to the evening. Once we got inside, Raena and I met Jimmy Patrick and his wife and joined their table. Ky Belk and Erica Bodley, both of Elway's in Denver joined us as well, and we had a beautiful view down the mountain as the sun sank from view.
7:00pm- Our first course is served. I was really looking forward to to this dinner. I expected it to be the highlight of the event. Grand Marnier had flown in Chris Lee, chef at Gilt in NYC.
I'm just going to get this out of the way now, and this is in no way a criticism of Grand Marnier, they put on a great event and I hope to attend again next year. However, Chris Lee was a major disappointment. His dishes were good, but they redefined microscopic. I've never left a 4 course meal hungry, but I did this night and the numbers of people returning to order room service at the Marriott were the tale of the tape. I thought it was irresponsible to serve such small portions for a dinner with cocktails matched to every course, the quality of the food was excellent, but each course was better suited to an amuse bouche than an actual course. Even worse, there was no vegetarian option available. One of my friends had to suffer through with 2 courses with the proteins removed. In my opinion, this was extremely amateurish to assume that there would be no vegetarians in a crowd of 200+. While I enjoyed the small portions that I did get to eat (the quality was outstanding), this is the first time in my life that I've left a meal hungry, and I won't be putting Gilt on my list of places to eat in NYC.
I would like to list the cocktails served-
After the Lanesborough, we moved into Grand Ma's Rhubarb Fizz, a drink I found compelling, and I may recreate here on a Portland Spring day. Next up was a Pods and Pears, which featured both Navan and gin, an interesting combination, followed by the Fairy Grandmother, with an absinthe foam which, at 13,000 feet, didn't hold up on the way to the table. Finally, we finished with snifters of GM 150, an absolutely delicious end to the meal.
9:30pm-We then took a gondola ride back down the hill for an after party at Garfinkel's, a ski bar at the base of the gondola. We had a great time there, I switched up to Hennessey XO for the party, and my hunger was finally assuaged by a friendly bouncer who handed me a 1lb bag of Rold Gold pretzels to take back to my room. That guy was the greatest bouncer of all time, thanks buddy.
We called it a relatively early night as I had a photoshoot to participate in the next morning.