It’s been a big week for interviews here at Capital Spice. First Elizabeth had a chance to chat with Top Chef finalist (and our absolute favorite) Carla Hall in advance of last night’s finale. Then I had a chance to catch up with Todd Thrasher as he gets ready for the Domaine de Canton Bartender of the Year competition in Saint Maarten next month.
Back in December, we wrote about Todd Thrasher’s big win over some of New York’s best bartenders and mixologists in the regional semi-finals of Domaine de Canton’s Bartender of the Year competition. Since then, Washingtonian has added some additional details to the picture: it turns out Thrasher made it to the semi-finals when a friend submitted an older recipe of his unbeknownst to him!
This week, we had the opportunity to chat with the Proprietor/Sommelier/Bartender at Restaurant Eve and PX about the upcoming finals, which are taking place in Saint Maarten on Monday, March 9th. He’ll be facing off against the five winners (and the six runners-up) from the other semi-final competitions that took place in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and Boston. Even with the $10,000 prize on the line, Thrasher’s numerous responsibilities have made it pretty hard for him to do much in the way of hardcore preparation for the contest. But if his previous performance is any indication, he’s more than ready to go.
Cocktail conversations with Thrasher after the jump.
CS: Thanks for giving us a chance to chat – have you been doing much to prepare for the contest next month?
TT: There really isn’t much I can do to prepare. All they told us was to bring a shaker…no special ingredients, no prepared stuff.
CS: Any techniques you’ve been working on? Maybe some extra work with Domaine de Canton to familiarize yourself with how it blends?
TT: Now that you mention it, that’s probably not a bad idea…but I don’t have anything new in the works right now. Part of that is just a general lack of time. Because I’m also a proprietor and the sommelier at Eve, my days are generally filled with lots of things that have nothing to do with being behind the bar.
CS: So who’s going to be handling the sommelier and bartender duties while you’re away?
TT: We’ve got a great team – Craig [Erion, the service director] and Carly will still be there at Eve, so people probably won’t even notice I’m gone. Clinton is always over at PX; Jason makes a great cocktail and has a terrific presence behind the bar.
CS: Yeah…we’re definitely fans. Speaking of cocktails, what would you say is your favorite recent creation?
TT: Right now it’s something called The Plight of the Honeybee – my attempt to draw attention to the serious issue of honeybees disappearing around the world. It’s going to be on the menu at Eve and the Majestic starting next week. We use honey liqueur, honey syrup (made from raw honey), honey vinegar, Jim Beam, milk and a whole egg. The ingredients are shaken and we garnish with stripes of ‘liquid black licorice’ to make it look like a honeybee.
CS: Wow. So what’s the procedure to get a drink onto the menu at PX or Eve?
TT: There isn’t really a set procedure, to be honest. But everything starts at Eve. When a new drink is created, we run it as a special in the Lounge. If it’s a hit, then we’ll add it to the menu at Eve or PX…and figure out what to take off. In a lot of cases, the seasonality of items like fresh tomatoes and fruits help us make those choices. Generally speaking, the more outlandish cocktails tend to end up at PX – people seem to prefer more adventurous drinks there.
CS: Do you have favorite ingredients to work with?
TT: Liquor-wise, it’s definitely rum…there are so many possibilities. I love working with fresh herbs and whatever is in season. Because of my background as a sommelier, I’m always looking for balance in the drinks I make – the same way a good winemaker does. I want to make my cocktails accessible to everyone.
CS: Anything that has been particularly hard to perfect?
TT: House-made tonic and cola.
TT: It took me eight months to get my tonic recipe to the point where I could replicate it and be satisfied with the results every time. I’m still not happy with my cola…I’ve probably got a new batch of syrup going every week or so, after a year and a half of work. I know the flavor profiles of the liquors I’m working with, so the hardest part is to add my touch to the cocktail – looking at it from the kitchen perspective.”
CS: So would you call yourself a Bar Chef, then?
TT: Bar Chef, Mixologist, Craft Bartender…I really don’t like to use any of those terms. Historically, there was one person who did all of that, and that was the Bartender. I’m happy to say I’m ‘just’ a Bartender.
CS: And how do you feel about the proliferation of ‘modern speakeasies’ like PX?
TT: The more bars, the better – right? I don’t think a place needs to be covert or call itself a speakeasy to serve top-quality drinks…but I do think it adds something to the overall experience when you have to seek it out.
CS: Any favorites among the other bars in DC?
TT: My schedule doesn’t offer a lot of opportunities to go out, and I’m rarely looking to have a cocktail when I do since I’m around them so often. But I did enjoy the Gibson – I loved the bar itself and the drinks. And I think Adam at Bar Pilar does some “magical” stuff when it comes to cocktails.
CS: Nice. Just a few final questions for those of us who aspire to make cocktails at home. What’s the most important piece of advice you would give?
TT: Absolutely, you should start with the best spirits you can buy. It may seem like a splurge, but the quality makes all the difference in cocktails as well as infusions.
CS: Any essential ingredients or pieces of equipment?
TT: Good glassware. A quality shaker. A strainer. And a very, very sharp knife.
CS: Last question – are there any spirits we’ve probably never heard of but shouldn’t miss?
TT: My favorites right now are Averna and Fernet Blanca. They’re both digestifs, so they have herby, slightly medicinal flavors…but they work really well in cocktails.
We here at Capital Spice wish Todd the best of luck in Saint Maarten…and we’re more than a little jealous of his trip. Keep checking in with us for updates on whether Thrasher continues to trash the competition on his way to Bartender of the Year!