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Archive for November, 2014

Honey, Maple and Spice, Oh My!

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

By Lara Creasy

From Restaurant INFORMER, 2014, Vol. 4, Issue 3

Gunshow's Mercedes O’Brien

Gunshow’s Mercedes O’Brien

Ask a craft bartender or a chef how they feel about flavored spirits, and the answer is fairly predictable: “If I want a flavored spirit, I’ll do it myself.”

“All the flavors I could possibly want are 100 feet away,” says Chris Gianaras, beverage manager at Atlanta restaurant 4th & Swift, referring to his restaurant’s first-rate kitchen.

Craft cocktail bars tend toward the DIY attitude with most of their ingredients. But the particular bias toward flavored spirits probably stems from the sickening number of flavored vodkas that have flooded the market in recent years. Many vodka flavors are clearly artificial, and clearly marketed to underage drinkers, barely legal drinkers, or at least those with palates that are not accustomed to actually enjoying the flavor of alcohol. Does a grown adult want their drink to taste like caramel whipped cream or tropical gummy candy? Probably not, and the majority of Georgia restaurants are understandably not keen on serving these types of flavored products.

But there are some really well-made flavored vodkas out there – Square One Cucumber and Hangar One Buddha’s Hand come to mind. But the real news in the flavored spirits category for the past few years is flavored whiskey.

Breakout Category

Mercedes O' BrienWhiskey, as a category, saw a 30-year decline of almost 50 percent in sales from 1970 to 2000, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). But a few things happened starting in 2000 that led to 13 years of accelerated growth. One thing is an explosion in the “super premium” whiskey category, the most expensive whiskeys, like MacAllan 18-year, Noah’s Mill and Pappy Van Winkle.

The other thing that happened is the introduction to the market of flavored whiskeys. In 2012, flavored whiskeys accounted for 75 percent of the growth in the whiskey category, according to Nielsen ratings. In 2013, flavored whiskey made up 45 percent of the growth, according to DISCUS. During that time, Fireball, a cinnamon-flavored whiskey owned by Sazerac, found its way onto the list of Top 10 best-selling spirits, bumping off Cuervo Gold in the process.

Flavored whiskey isn’t brand new. Fireball has been around since the mid-1980s, formerly known as Dr. McGillicuddy’s Fireball Cinnamon Whisky. Sazerac acquired it from Seagram’s in 1989, changed the name in 2007, and started a grass-roots social media campaign the likes of which the industry has never seen. Hello, Top 10.

Wild Turkey’s American Honey has been made at the distillery since the 1970s. It, too, underwent a name and marketing change in 2006. Cue the instant list of honey whiskey imitators from Jack Daniels to Bushmill’s to Dewar’s. And according to The New York Times, “the dam burst” in 2009 with Jim Beam’s introduction of the cherry-flavored Red Stag. Now, whiskey flavors from a multitude of producers tout not only cinnamon, honey and cherry, but also apple, maple and spice.

Legal Limits

Mercedes O' BrienBut will whiskey’s more limited range of flavors spare us the gross market saturation that we had with vodka? Vodka is basically a blank slate. Like tofu, it takes on the flavor of whatever you put with it. But whiskey? It’s already got flavors, and only certain things will realistically work. Not to mention, in order to retain the legal right to call something “whiskey,” distillers are held to a higher standard. Regardless of what country it is made in, whiskey must be made from grains, it must be aged in oak barrels and it typically must be bottled at or near a minimum of 40 percent alcohol.  This limits what distillers can do to a spirit and still call it whiskey.

This may not make a huge difference to consumers, but it does to bartenders like Mercedes O’Brien, the “Cocktail Cart Conductor” at Gunshow in Atlanta. “To the novice consumer, I don’t think the limits matter much. Certain people want their honeyed whiskey and aren’t necessarily concerned with the codes and ethics portion of the products.” On the other hand, she says that those rules are standards that professionals, like she, can depend on as indicators of overall quality.

Brands like Crown Royal Maple Finish are able to label their product as whisky because they technically follow the rules. According to the Diageo, their “flavoring” comes from finishing their regular Crown Royal whisky in an oak cask with maple toasted onto the wood.

I had a great deal of success using the Crown Royal Maple Finish at King + Duke in Atlanta. A cocktail called the “Root Beer Flip” used the whisky with Art In the Age’s Root liqueur, egg whites, cream and bitters for a cocktail that harkened back to our nation’s early days. (See recipe on page xx.)

Anyone familiar with Scotch should be used to the cask finishing approach. “Aging in a port cask, for example, is widely accepted and even lauded,” says Chris Hall, a partner at Atlanta’s Local Three. However, he feels differently about other types of added flavoring. “Adding honey to Wild Turkey somehow feels like you are changing the intrinsic nature of the spirit. Not sure there’s a big difference in reality, but I do think that they are perceived differently. … Perception is everything.”

To be fair (and legal), Wild Turkey labels its American Honey as a liqueur. According to the company’s website, they just add pure honey to their bourbon. Is adding honey to bourbon before it goes in the bottle really that much different than adding honey to a bourbon cocktail?

I hit a home run at JCT. Kitchen & Bar with a cocktail called the Kentucky 75. Knowing that in our experience at JCT. any cocktail with whiskey sold very well to men, and any cocktail with sparkling wine sold very well to women, I decided to combine the two, and I knocked it out of the park. The blend of American Honey, lemon juice, regular honey syrup and prosecco sold like sweet tea to both genders equally. (And yes, we tried it with regular bourbon, and the cocktail just wasn’t as good.)

The Female Market

Garron Gore

Garron Gore

In fact, selling whiskey to women is one of the main motivations behind the flavored whiskey boom – and it’s working. Close to 45 percent of flavored whiskey consumers are women, compared to around 30 percent for regular whiskeys. Many in the industry have viewed flavored whiskey as a “gateway” for women and young people into the straight whiskey world.

Eduardo Guzman, current beverage manager of JCT., supports this notion. “Most people who take a shot of flavored whiskey have never taken a whiskey by itself,” he says, adding that shots of American Honey are still very popular with the clientele at JCT.

To further support this idea, I have observed that female friends of mine, who were previously only vodka drinkers, have gradually warmed up to Jack Daniels Honey as a new spirit of choice. This style of drinking may not be what many in the restaurant industry want to cater to, but it’s definitely the way that a large portion of the public drinks.

For many bar managers, to use or not to use flavored spirits comes down to quality. “Does it fit the concept? Is there a clientele for it?” says Guzman. “Craftsmanship and the history behind it play a big role in the decision-making process for buying flavored spirits.”

“Quality is a big factor,” says Garron Gore, general manager and beverage director for Buckhead’s soon-to-open The Gypsy Kitchen and The Southern Gentleman. “There are too many synthetic and fake-tasting flavors on the market. [But] there are some great small producers starting to make high-quality stuff.”

O’Brien of Gunshow agrees. “If something was produced with skill and craft, then I will enjoy working with it. I base all decisions for the bar program on quality,” she says, adding that she still prefers to infuse her own spirits but makes exceptions. “When looking for a flavored spirit, I am most interested in the distillation process, the method of extraction or macerating of flavors, the mouth feel.”

Like O’Brien, Hall prefers to infuse spirits on his own. “We prefer to make things when we can. It’s really about authenticity. The story behind something you bought is generally much less compelling than something you made,” he says.

While many flavored spirits have worked for me at various bar programs I have created, and they continue to work for Guzman at JCT. and the Optimist, they clearly aren’t for everyone in the Georgia restaurant community.

Gianaras stands firm by his belief that “true whiskey lovers want their whiskey to taste like whiskey.” He chooses not to sell any flavored whiskeys at 4th & Swift.

I don’t blame him at all. Despite my success with Crown Maple and American Honey, and despite its obvious popularity, I never could bring myself to carry Fireball.

“I can tell you I never want to hear about Fireball again,” Gore says. “The day I quit is the day I see Jalapeño whiskey!”

Lara Creasy is a consultant with more than 14 years experience in beverage management. She has developed wine and cocktail programs for such restaurants as St. Cecilia and King + Duke through her consulting business Four 28, LLC. Her work has been featured in such publications as Bon Appetit, Imbibe, and Wine Enthusiast.


And the Lifetime Achievement Award Goes to…Hal Nowak

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

From Restaurant INFORMER, 2014, Vol. 4, Issue 4

Hal NowakOn November 2, the restaurant industry gathered at the eighth annual Georgia Restaurant Association Crystal of Excellence (GRACE) Awards Gala to recognize and pay tribute to the leaders who have made outstanding contributions to Georgia’s restaurant industry.

Lifetime Achievement Award Winner: Hal Nowak

A New Orleans native, Hal Nowak first came to Atlanta on a business trip in the 1980s. At the time, he worked in real estate.

“I grew to like this city and the progressive thinking of all the businessmen,” he recalls.

At the time, the real estate industry was struggling in New Orleans, and he found himself returning to Atlanta more and more. “One day I woke up and drank some of that New Orleans coffee, that chicory, and I said, ‘I’m moving.'”

He packed his bags and left the next day, and never looked back. Once he got to Atlanta though, he noticed there was something lacking.

“In those days, there was Pano’s and Paul’s, or there were mostly chain restaurants,” he says. “I traveled over the years to New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, the oldest cities, and they had single-owner, quality neighborhood restaurants that were very successful. I saw a void in that here.”

So in 1990, Nowak opened Hal’s on Old Ivy just off Habersham Road in Buckhead. The only experience he had in the restaurant industry up to that point was eating in them.

“I spent a lot of money in a lot of restaurants,” he laughs. “I grew up with parents who dined out a lot, and I was in a business that required a lot of travel, so I would eat in different cities all over the country.” His experience in the business world also helped the restaurant succeed. “I was fortunate I was a businessman before I was a restauranteur, and I understood overhead, insurance and taxes.”

But diners don’t come back to a restaurant because it’s run well. They come back because of quality service and consistent, delicious food.

“I believe a great restaurant is a restaurant that a person has a meal in and that they get a craving to come back in a week, two weeks, three weeks and have that same meal prepared the same way,” he says. “I don’t care if it’s a hamburger, if it’s a steak, or if it’s a bowl of spaghetti. If you can develop a [menu item] that is better than most and is great, then people are going to want it.”

Hiring good people is important, too.

“And of course, there’s good service. I like to say we hire professionals to deal with professionals. We also believe in a lot of training,” he says. “I have some people who have been here for 20 years.”

Nowak admits it’s a hard industry, but he discovered early on he was in the right place. “I found out immediately that I loved it,” he says. “To be successful, you have to love this industry, and you have to love people. You have to be able to talk to a chairman of the board of a big company, and you have to be able to talk to people who are in the back of the house, cleaning and stacking dishes, and peeling your potatoes. So you have to love people. It was just natural for me.”

Most of the menu, from steaks to seafood to pasta, was developed by Nowak “from my favorites at different restaurants around the country … things that I would go back for. If you can put out a dish that people are going to want again, you’re putting a hook in them.”

Nowak believes in giving back to the community and sits on the board of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau and is a founding board member of the Hospitality Business Network Foundation, which this year has designated the Navy Safe Harbor Foundation and the Shepherd Center “SHARE” Military Initiative as its primary charities.

“We’re all here to help other people,” Nowak says. “That is one of the greatest parts about being successful. Being able to give back.”

Over the years, he’s seen the state’s restaurant industry change and grow.

“The restaurant industry as a whole has grown tremendously over the last 10 or 15 years, and it keeps growing more as more people eat out,” he says.

“We’re a close-knit group. I think we all have respect for each other, because it is a hard industry,” he says. “I love the people who I’ve met through here. I’ve met the finest people in the world, and I’ve become friends with so many. … Everybody in the industry are just good people.”



Castellucci Hospitality Group’s Latest Concept, Cooks & Soldiers, Opens

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Cooks & Soldiers, Castellucci Hospitality Group’s (CHG) latest concept, is now open for business at Elan Westside. 

Located at the base of the new Elan Westside luxury apartment development, Cooks & Soldiers focuses on the signature cooking methods of the Basque coast, a culture robust with gastronomic societies and some of the world’s best restaurants. The menu features “pintxos tradicionales,” or tapas-like snacks served on toasted bread; “pintxos especiales,” or Basque-inspired small plates; “asador” including a variety of wood-grilled fish, meats and vegetables; and “postres,” a selection of unique and modern desserts, a contrast to the rustic, savory fare.

Dish highlights include brûléed fig pintxo with Caña de Cabra, Bayonne ham, 25 year sherry vinegar and torn mint; boquerones with white anchovy, blood orange marmalade and apple-serrano salad; Spanish octopus served with charcoal potatoes, rosemary and piquillo emulsion; “chistorra in a blanket” made with chistorra sausage, croissant and cider glaze; Ibérico tenderloin served with butternut squash, morcilla sausage and quince demi-glacé; and Marmitako “hot pot” featuring grilled tuna, Iberico broth, piperade, chorizo peppers and garlic-parsley pistou. Behind the bar, Cooks & Soldiers will offer guests an extensive list of Basque wines, txakoli and ciders in addition to craft beer and signature cocktails. The dessert menu will include regional specialties like Basque cake made with house-made cherry preserves, marcona almonds and “sparkling” cider and a modern “Fruity Pebbles” cereal croquetas served with goat’s milk gelato and marshmallow.

Executive chef Landon Thompson, previously chef de cuisine at The Iberian Pig, will lead the kitchen at Cooks & Soldiers. Over the last seven years, Thompson has developed his talent in several Atlanta kitchens before joining CHG, including stints at Craft, ONE. Midtown Kitchen and Holeman & Finch. In 2013, Thompson traveled to San Sebastián, Spain, with Federico while John Castellucci, sous chef of Cooks & Soldiers, worked at three Michelin-starred Arzak, in preparation for the restaurant. Led by Juan Mari Arzak, Arzak was the first restaurant in Spain to receive the coveted three stars. John was selected from hundreds of applicants and spent five months working in the pastry, meat and fish stations of the restaurant, providing a true emersion into the Basque cooking style.
Cooks & Soldiers will be CHG’s fourth concept, joining a family of restaurants including The Iberian Pig, Double Zero Napoletana and Sugo Kitchen. The restaurant’s name draws inspiration from the annual Tamborrada festival in San Sebastián. Also known as the “feast of Saint Sebastián,” Tamborrada happens each year on January 20. From midnight to midnight, the entire city is awash with the sound of drums while parades of drum corps, dressed as cooks and soldiers, march across the city in honor of the patron saint of Donostia.


Buckhead Atlanta’s New French Bistro, Le Bilboquet

Monday, November 24th, 2014
Le Bilboquet Cajun Chicken

Le Bilboquet Cajun Chicken

On November 20, French bistro, Le Bilboquet, opened its doors for dinner in the new Buckhead Atlanta district. The only freestanding restaurant on the property, Le Bilboquet brings uncomplicated, traditional French cuisine to the neighborhood.

Reminiscent of a European square, Le Bilboquet is located at the center of Buckhead Atlanta, anchoring the upscale retail and dining development. The bistro and bar offers a natural gathering spot to enjoy a chilled bottle of rosé alfresco during warmers months or classic bistro fare or a draft beer and croque monsieur at the bar.

Le Bilboquet originally opened in New York City’s Upper East Side as a 38-seat hotspot in 1986. After 27 years, the restaurant relocated to a larger space on East 60th Street in Manhattan in October 2013. Philippe Delgrange, founder of Le Bilboquet, teamed up with fellow restaurateur Rick Wahlstedt to bring the restaurant to Atlanta. Overseeing the Atlanta location is general manager Jon Skinner, who joins the restaurant after more than 15 years with Buckhead Life Restaurant Group and maître d’ Ilona Knopfler, who brings French heritage and 25 years of international hospitality experience.

In the kitchen, chef de cuisine Jean Louis Sangare brings the same approachable classics from Le Bilboquet’s New York outpost, where he trained under executive chef Julien Jouhannaud for 16 years. Standout menu items include Le Bilboquet’s signature Cajun Chicken served with a heaping bed of crispy pomme frites and green salad, as well as crab and avocado salad, veal scallopini, beef tartare and lobster and tabouleh salad. A selection of house made sauces – peppercorn, béarnaise, bordelaise and shallot – is available to pair with a New York strip, hanger steak and filet mignon. For dessert, guests can indulge in classic French pâtisserie such as tarte tatin, crème brulee and chocolate mousse.

Illuminated with natural light from surrounding floor-length windows, Le Bilboquet incorporates quintessential Parisian elements like blue velvet banquettes, a two-color terrazzo floor and pewter bar counter. The space features a mix of contemporary and vintage pieces, creating a chic Parisian ambiance that reflects Buckhead Atlanta’s bourgeois feel. The walls boast a rotating collection of paintings and photography by locally and nationally acclaimed artists, including a giant mixed media piece by Peter Tunney that features an American flag and vintage record covers.


Tavistock Group and Gerry Klaskala Announce the Arrival of Jason Babb as General Manager of Atlas

Monday, November 24th, 2014
Jason Babb

Jason Babb

Tavistock Group and Gerry Klaskala recently announced the arrival of Jason Babb as general manager of Atlas, the new restaurant opening in January 2015 in the heart of Buckhead at The St. Regis Atlanta. With more than fifteen years experience in restaurant management, Babb has led dining establishments from Atlanta’s Bones to Boston steakhouse, Grill 23.

Earlier this month, Atlas announced the arrival of Chef de Cuisine Christopher Grossman. Grossman served as chef de cuisine at Atlanta’s Aria for four years prior to his move to Napa Valley’s The French Laundry.

Babb’s passion for the industry began at an early age, when he served as a dishwasher for a local restaurant in high school. While earning his bachelor’s degree in organizational and managerial communications from Emerson College in Boston, Babb started what would be a long and successful career at Grill 23, beginning as a server and ultimately serving as the general manager for twelve years. During Babb’s time at Grill 23, the restaurant received recognition from food writer John Mariani and publications including Zagat, Town & Country, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Wine Spectator, Cook’s Illustrated, Connoisseur, Santé and Boston Magazine. In addition to pioneering the city’s first craft cocktail menus and spearheading the restaurant’s transition to an all-natural beef provider, Babb created a collaborative service-minded culture before moving to Atlanta to join Bones steakhouse.

“Jason brings an extraordinary level of precision and understanding of how to run a restaurant efficiently so that everyone from the front of the house, the kitchen, the bar and most especially the guest, all feel like their needs are taken care of,” said Klaskala, Atlas’ consulting chef and founder of Aria and Canoe. “It’s a rare skill set, and we are delighted to have him on board.”






Hyatt Hotels Corp. Announces Chef Rodney Ashley of Polaris the Winner of its First “The Good Taste Series”

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Hyatt Hotels Corp. recently announced the winner of its first “The Good Taste Series” competition, Chef de Cuisine Rodney Ashley of Polaris at Hyatt Regency Atlanta.
Judged by a panel of food industry and hospitality veterans, the 12 contestants prepared two food items that incorporated local ingredients, regional influences and represented Hyatt’s global food philosophy: Food. Thoughtfully Sourced. Carefully Served. Each plate was judged on taste, presentation, technique and authenticity. Chefs earned additional points by incorporating two surprise ingredients into their dishes: Bacon and Lilikoi (Passion Fruit native to Hawaii).
Chef Ashley presented two plates, in two categories. The first category was Chef Ashley’s interpretation of “street food,” in which the item had to be eaten by hand, or with a small utensil. For this dish, Chef Ashley presented Veal Cheek and Anasazi Bean Stuffed Sopapilla with Hatch Green Chile. The second category was focused on an item that represented each competitor’s background or culture. Originally from New Mexico, Chef Ashley prepared Charred Wild Boar Tamale with New Mexico Red Chile, Avocado and Lilikoi.

“Winning this competition is particularly meaningful since my love for cooking and passion for food started with emulating my parents. Both of the dishes I presented speak to my childhood, my background and my family,” Chef Ashley said. “Additionally, this experience has brought so many new ideas, and I’m excited to share all that I learned with my team at Polaris and Hyatt Regency Atlanta.”
As winner of The Good Taste Series, Chef Ashley receives an additional week of paid vacation, plus air and travel accommodations for two to any Hyatt destination within the U.S., Canada or the Caribbean.
The Good Taste Series competition was comprised of 12 chefs that won regional competitions that took place earlier this year:
Rodney Ashley, Chef de Cuisine, Hyatt Regency Atlanta
Matthew Buchan, Executive Sous Chef, Hyatt Regency St. Louis
Bradley Deboy, Sous Chef, Park Hyatt Washington
Paul Dobroski, Chef de Cuisine, Park Hyatt Chicago
Matthew Garelick, Chef de Cuisine, Grand Hyatt New York
Jesse. J Harris-Lockard, Banquet Sous Chef, Hyatt Regency Austin
Gary Johnson, Lead Cook, Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort
Dennis Kim, Chef de Partie Park Hyatt Toronto
Sean Leone, Sous Chef, Hyatt Regency Newport Beach
Patrick Mohn, Executive Sous Chef, Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa
Eric Rogalski, Banquet Sous Chef, Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport
Noel Willhite, Sous Chef, Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa
The Good Taste Series final event was judged by a panel of esteemed industry professionals that included:
Chef Sheldon Simeon – Migrant Maui
Sam Bhandarkar – Director of Events, American Chef Federation
Beverly Stephen – Editor in Chief, Food Arts magazine
Naomi Tomky – Editor in Chief,
Beth Weitzman – Vice President Editorial, Modern Luxury Publications


Georgia Food Code Briefing

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

November 19, 2014, GRA Office. For more information, visit Georgia Restaurant Association


8UP Opens its Doors in Louisville

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014
Chef Russell Cook

Chef Russell Cook

8UP: Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen has officially opened its doors with an outdoor and indoor all-glass drinking and dining space in Louisville.

Conceived and developed by Atlanta’s Concentrics Restaurants, guests can experience The Dining Room at 8UP, a 90 seat restaurant that has a kitchen designated to the indoor bar, which has dark wood paneling and 8-foot high backed banquets opposite large picture windows. 8UP’s open air rooftop bar is complete with fire pits and soft seating, overlooking Downtown Louisville and the Ohio River.

“We are thrilled to make our debut upon Louisville’s growing culinary landscape and offer Louisvillians the city’s first unparalleled rooftop experience,” says Bob Amick.

Chef Russell Kook, formerly of TWO urban licks, helms 8UP’s kitchen. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Kook’s menu will focus on ‘progressive American’ cuisine. Signatures include a Bacon Chop, pork chop with Broadbent bacon that is braised, smoked then grilled over 8UP’s wood fired oven.

Sean Thibodeaux, formerly of Louisville’s St. Charles Exchange and of Cure in New Orleans, spearheads the bar program. Thibodeaux offers seasonal cocktails with a culinary focus, alongside his extensive wine and artisanal beer lists. Making a name for itself in ‘bourbon country,’ 8UP offers a list that includes over 50 bourbons, plus a wide variety of rye and scotch selections.


Savannah Food and Wine Festival

Monday, November 10th, 2014

November 10-16, 2014, Savannah, Ga. For more information, visit Savannah Food and Wine Festival.


“Afternoon in the Country” Hosted by the Atlanta Chapter of Les Dames d’ Escoffier International

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

November 9, 2014, Serenbe, Palmetto, Ga. For more information, visit Les Dames d’Escoffier International Atlanta Chapter


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