Speaking from his hotel room in Las Vegas, a slightly hung-over but still ecstatic Ryan Pinés talked about what it was like to place in the top 10 this weekend at the Bombay Sapphire and U.S. Bartenders Guild’s Most Imaginative Bartender search.
“It was the most fun and also one of the scariest things I’ve ever done,” said Pinés, the lead bartender since July at Edison Food + Drink Lab in Tampa.
Just a few weeks ago, he won the local stage of the Imaginative Bartender competition with his Sapphire Rose cocktail, a concoction of egg whites, pine nut syrup, lemon juice, Cardamaro (a cardamom spirit), raspberries, rose water, and — surprise — Bombay Sapphire Gin.
“I was just hoping to place,” said Pinés after the local mix-off, still stunned by the results. “It feels amazing to be recognized for my hard work. I’ve wanted to win for such a long time.”
That victory then took him to the nationals, where he competed with 48 other finalists from bartender guilds across the country. The Sapphire Rose got him past the semi-finals. The next day, finalists had only 30 minutes to come up with another completely original cocktail.
“Then they gave us a $300 gift card, a chauffeur, and an hour and a half to go get ingredients to make cocktails for the judges and batching for 400 people,” he said. “It was awesome trying to figure out what cocktail to make, and then pray to God all the ingredients could be sourced for that many people.”
The components he chose were yellow beet juice (mixed with lemon and honey to preserve the color), Yellow Chartreuse liqueur, tarragon, and, yes, Bombay sapphire gin — and he dubbed the whole thing the Orient Express after his long journey from Tampa to Las Vegas. Downstairs at Mandalay Bay’s Light Nightclub, Cirque Du Soleil performed while Pinés and his barback created their drinks for the judges. He didn’t take one of the top three spots, though another Floridian did — Miami’s Julio Cabrera won first. And Pinés was happy to get some positive feedback after the competition.
Tony Abou-Ganim, whom Pinés calls “the godfather of cocktails for the United States,” introduced Pinés to Top Chef judge (and guest judge for the competition) Chef Tom Colicchio. Though Colicchio wasn’t allowed to know the drinks’ names, when Pinés described his cocktail to Colicchio, the chef gave him a very nice compliment: “He said, ‘Can I tell you that your cocktail was my favorite of the whole competition?’”
Pinés says Colicchio’s press handlers even asked how they could contact him for the recipe later.
“I was speechless,” he said. “I couldn’t even talk straight and it wasn’t the booze. It was such a great response for my first time being in the top 10 of something so serious. This is the biggest cocktail competition in the United States.”
If Colicchio wants another taste of the Orient Express, he may have to head to Edison. Pinés hopes to talk to Chef Jeannie Pierola about adding the two Bombay Sapphire drinks to the cocktail menu, at least for a limited time.
“Besides hung over, I feel blessed to be a part of this,” Pinés said. “And I got so much support from everyone at Edison. It was truly a great experience. I’m still in awe.”
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