As bar manager and mixologist at Room at Twelve Centennial Park in Atlanta, Steven Kowalczuk knows a thing or two about hosting mixology classes and competitions. His extremely successful Mixology 101, 201 and 301 programs have educated consumers by enticing them to come in for an evening and get behind the stick. And on Nov. 1, he prepared the ultimate challenge: The Mixology Showdown.
“Grand Marnier approached me about doing an event with local mixologists,” Kowalczuk says. “The Grand Marnier Mixology Showdown was the first official event of a new organization for mixologists called the Georgia Round Table of Mixology. I am one of the co-founders of the GRT alongside Darrell Autrey. When Grand Marnier called, we decided to make this the first official GRT event. Every attending mixologist received a lifetime membership to the GRT, and we hope that Grand Marnier decides to make this a national yearly event.”
Kowalczuk used Facebook, Twitter and e-mails to invite consumers and past students from his Art of Mixology classes to attend the showdown portion of the event. Some past students competed in the event, with a few even making it on to the second round. Other competitors were invited to compete based on attendance at previous mixology events, Kowalczuk explains.
The idea was to make it a special daylong Grand Marnier workshop and competition. “The first portion of our day was Chef Terry [Koval] and I making the mixologists delicious culinary dishes with Grand Marnier,” he says. “Between each of the four courses, the mixologists prepared some of our favorite inspiring cocktails made with Grand Marnier and Navan.”
At 3 p.m., the showdown began with three rounds and 15 eliminations, leaving one mixologist left standing. Judges for the event were Kowalczuk, Autry, who is a mixologist at Atlanta’s One Midtown Kitchen, and Holly Beach, Grand Marnier Regional Executive. Secret ingredients and chances to block the other mixologists by employing unique ingredients kept it challenging and entertaining.
“This space [at the hotel] worked extremely well. We had one huge classroom with two 6-foot cooking tables surrounded by a half square of tables with 22 bar stations. We also had the lounge, which is one half of a whole hotel floor, complete with sofas. And, we had another room overlooking the pool on the seventh floor, which was our meet and greet room and beverage table for mixologists.”
There was no cost to attendees, which proved enticing to consumers, who had a chance to taste Grand Marnier cocktails, Room’s food and meet and cheer on local mixologists. The winner, Garland Raiford of Varasano’s Pizzeria, was rewarded with a handcrafted trophy, the title and a chance to defend it next year. Although Raiford had to make three cocktails to claim the grand prize, the one that stood out most to Kowalczuk involved Grand Marnier, muddled strawberry, red Fresno peppers, an egg white and other “secret ingredients.”