Local bartenders from the Comox Valley squared off in the Mott’s Best Caesar in Town Competition on June 14th. Hosted by The Flying Canoe West Coast Pub, the contest was the kickoff to the BC Shellfish Festival. Our resident Caesar drinking expert Meaghan was graciously invited to sit in as a guest judge. The pair of us were put up in a beautiful room at the Best Western Plus -Westerly Hotel and Convention Centre. We were grateful for our comfortable beds that were within stumbling distance from the event; a determinant that would facilitate optimal Caesar drinking efficiency. With bragging rights and a coveted trophy on the line, this seafood themed battle royale was about to go down…and we were sitting in the meat seats.
The Caesar was invented in 1969 by Walter Chell, resident mixologist of the Calgary Inn. Inspired by the flavours of Spaghetti Vongole (spaghetti with clams), his new concoction combined tomato juice, salty clam nectar, lime, spicy Worcestershire sauce and tangy celery salt. This savoury drink is celebrated as “Canada’s cocktail” and tastes like a kiss that ends in a playful bite.
The rules of the contest were simple; create an original Caesar recipe using any variety of Mott’s Clamato and Schramm Vodka (an organic potato vodka made with five varieties of potatoes) from the Pemberton Distillery. Contestants were judged on appearance, taste, garnish, originality and shellfish relevance which reflected the festival’s theme. Sadly, potency was not one of the categories being judged but we figured in this instance, wimpy could still be delicious.
The competition was stiff and we were impressed at the overall calibre of the cocktails being produced. Over the top garnishes were the trend with edible embellishments ranging from veggies to crustaceans. Alan Watson from Union Street Grill & Grotto mixed up his take on the bloody Caesar garnishing it with their house speciality smoked maple glazed salmon. Mad Chef Cafe’s Kevin Munroe finished his rendition with sunflower sprouts, carrot, daikon radish and pea shoots served in their trademark square glasses. Already having a reputation for mixing the best Caesars in the Comox Valley, 2 ounces of vodka comes standard in a Mad Caesar, certainly scoring brownie points with the judges. Not to be outdone, The Flying Canoe West Coast Pub sent their very own bartender Nicole into the mix. Her Caesar combined cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, pink peppercorn infused Schramm Vodka, muddled and strained before being garnished with sweet basil and a bacon wrapped quail’s egg.
Contestants drew inspiration from many sources when it came to their recipes. Mixologist Angela Crowder from Atlas Cafe drew from the flavours of Asia with her East meets West Coast inspired Caesar. Wasabi and Tamari soy sauce matched nicely with the Thai spiced BC prawn. The Caesar was beautifully presented with a crisp black and white salt sesame seed rim. Guan-Carlo “Benny” Benvenut from Fluid Bar & Grill presented a locally inspired gluten-free Caesar contained pickled olive juice infused ice cubes, wasabi, pickled carrots and beans. He substituted the traditional Worcestershire sauce with Sriracha and garnished with prawns and a stick of venison pepperoni. As it that wasn’t impressive enough, Benny also served an amuse bouche to prep the palates of the judges. Peppercorn infused vodka, lemon, pickled olive juice was reduced and made into a gelatin cube.
Victoria Burns from Avenue Bistro made an impression with her originality. She infused the Schramm Vodka with pink peppercorns and combined it with Sabotage red wine. Hand blown hurricaine glasses were rimmed with salt made of dehydrated ocean water harvested off of the Comox Valley. Seafood was also well represented with octopus and scallop adorning her cocktail.
Judging was tough as the panel which included food writer and photographer Hans Peter Meyer from the Comox Valley and Mark Chandler from Mott’s Clamato. In the end variety won Benny Benevut 1st prize as he went above and beyond with his ingredients. Victoria Burns placed second and Angela from Crowder rounded out the top three.
The festivities continued long after the trophy was handed out, as the bustling crowd danced the night away to the sweet sounds of The Lou Gutherie Band. We were quite taken with the Comox Valley and had a fabulous night mingling with its friendly locals. Little did we know, our love affair with BC Shellfish Festival would continue the following day as we were to crash the much anticipated Chef’s Dinner.
To be continued…
Now we leave the judging to you. Who serves the best Caesar in town? Post your answers below!
Disclosure: The room was provided free of charge by the Best Western Plus -Westerly Hotel and Convention Centre.