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While Hollywood spent Monday evening recovering from Oscar parties, more than 300 Philadelphians made their way to the National Constitution Center to attend the KitchenAid The Book and the Cook Cocktail Classic, presented by C�roc Vodka. Twenty cases of C�roc Vodka, 10 pounds of limes and lemons, 7,000 glasses, 1,400 olives, 60 cases of tonic and 1,000 pounds of ice went into a classy bartending competition to rival any Oscar-night soiree. The event was a competition to find the most deliciously innovative cocktail using sponsor C�roc Vodka’s signature “snap frost” vodka, made from French grapes. The winning concoction would have the honor of being named “Signature Cocktail” for the entire Book and the Cook series, celebrating its 20th anniversary in Philadelphia this year. The judges for the evening — Lauren Bernadini of Sant� magazine, Ray Foley of Bartender Magazine, Dana Spain-Smith of Philadelphia Style Magazine, Philadelphia chef Tony Clark, and April Adamson of the Philadelphia Daily News – blind-tasted cocktails by 20 of Philadelphia’s hottest bartenders, from restaurants like Le Bec-Fin, 333 Belrose, Happy Rooster and Denim. At stake: a $500 prize and bragging rights to the signature cocktail of The Book and the Cook. The bartenders were invited on the basis of word-of-mouth recommendations and their reputations in the Philadelphia bar scene. All of them had two to three weeks between the time they enrolled and the competition and about 10 days from the time they received a bottle of C�roc to test out the recipes. The challenge at hand was to find just the right mix of accompanying flavors to enhance the light smoothness of the vodka. The only specification for the recipes was that the sponsor’s product had to be included. Upon entering the spacious Grand Overlook Hall in the new Constitution Center, guests received miniature martini glasses to sample single servings of each drink, which were made fresh throughout the night. Every participating bartender was on hand, manning tables set with placards announcing who they were, what restaurant they worked for, what their special drink was called, and what was in it. Guests wandered freely, reading ingredient lists and sampling the drinks that appealed to their tastes. While innovation was the order of the evening, a couple of trends emerged. Pomegranate juice has been enjoying a renaissance in the past year or so, saturating supermarket shelves and making frequent appearances in bars and restaurants around the country. At the competition, three cocktails, one of which took the evening’s top prize, counted pomegranate juice among the key ingredients. Bartenders said they chose it for the fruit’s subtle sweetness as well as the color it added. Pomegranate seeds also make a unique, stylish garnish when dropped into a martini glass. Champagne also featured strongly in several recipes. Four of the evening’s bartenders used champagne to top off their cocktails, which added a luxurious feel and a fizzy flavor. When mixed with more potent accompaniments like Cointreau or triple sec, the champagne gave each drink a more balanced overall taste. The traditional mixers made appearances as well, but the drinks they graced were far more exciting than your average screwdriver. Orange, cranberry and lime juices, rather than acting as main ingredients, often just added a splash of fruit flavor to enhance the drinks’ other elements. Perhaps the most exotic touches were in the garnishes, often used to identify the flavor and flair of each cocktail. Starfruit slices and Starburst candies perched on the rim of the C�rocan Burst created for Suede Lounge by Zachary Cotler. Sugar-crusted blueberries rested at the bottom of Moshulu’s Cabin Boy Blues, executed by Dale Krum. A whole Hershey’s Kiss added extra sweetness to Bobby Doyle’s chocolate marshmallow Smortini at Red Sky. Skewered, caramelized, candied grapes adorned Jack’s Firehouse’s C�roc ‘n the Haus, in which Dean Pailas combined Black Haus schnapps and cranberry juice. The Belrose Botox created by Chris Metell for 333 Belrose was topped off with pineapple-flavored whipped cream and orange zest, while Lacroix’s Gabriel Major finished off his Mediterranean with cantaloupe balls. Of the contenders, my favorites were Christian Fittipoldi’s Love Potion No. 9, Le Mas’ sweet offering that contained pomegranate juice, Cointreau and lime juice, and Timmy Miller of Capital Grille’s C�roc M�lange, a delicious, tropical mixture of Midori, a bit of orange juice and 7-Up. My companion, who prefers stronger drinks with less overt sweetness, adored the Pineapple Peppercorn mixed up by Amy D’Addesi of Vesuvio. That drink combined the two title ingredients plus mint leaves and simple syrup. She also liked the layered look of Zanzibar Blue’s Violet Frost, a mix of Cointreau, Chambord and Blue Cura�ao created by Kyle Grier. We both agreed, however, on That 70′s Drink, created for 32 Degrees by Peter Zoog. Made of Blue Cura�ao, sour mix and club soda, with a splash of orange juice, it was the only drink to include banana liqueur, which added a depth to the drink’s flavor without overwhelming the other tastes. Perhaps the most surprising mixture of the evening was an astoundingly simple one. Daniel Lawrie and Brian Howard of the Marmont Steak House & Bar combined the vodka with Grape Propel Fitness Water, served in a glass rimmed with grape Kool-Aid crystals and garnished with a frozen grape. The result was unexpectedly light and refreshing, slightly sweet without being sugary. As the vodka flowed and guests mingled, Max & Me Catering, the exclusive caterer of the National Constitution Center, made certain that there was enough food to balance the evening’s alcohol content. A table at the far end of the center’s Grand Hall Overlook boasted an arrangement of exotic cheeses, fruits, crackers, and garnishments of ivy, grapes and flowers, mixed with a wide variety of baby and seasonal vegetables served with various dips. Servers passed appetizers all evening, including peppered Peking duck with scallions, cucumber and hoisin sauce, and smoked salmon Napoleons with a sweet onion cream and fried capers. While the evening belonged to the cocktails, dinner was wisely not overlooked. In one corner of the room, chefs served up Carnoroli Risotto, a risotto concoction heated to order as guests watched. Each guest had a choice of duck confit with wild mushrooms and white truffle oil; shrimp with garlic and parsley; and asparagus, shiitake mushroom and baby spinach “prima vera,” which was then tossed with the risotto and poured onto plates. Rounding out the meal was an arugula salad with Reggianno cheese, sultana raisins, toasted pine nuts and balsamic vinaigrette, and grilled focaccia. At the end of the evening, the honors were announced. The People’s Choice Award, which guests could vote on throughout the event, went to Zanzibar Blue’s Violet Frost, by Grier. Capital Grille and Miller’s C�roc M�lange won third runner-up, and That 70′s Drink from Zoog at 32 Degrees took second runner-up. Tequila’s C�roc Metro, an orange and pineapple juice mixture with sweet and sour schnapps mixed by Vincent Martinez, claimed the first runner-up spot. The grand prize and the coveted “Signature Cocktail” title went to Bridget Foy’s pomegranate, sweet and sour, and Grand Marnier mixture, the Bridgetini. For those guests who, like the Oscar-night revelers, didn’t want the party to end, the evening continued at the official after-party at 32 Degrees. For those of us who preferred to save it for another night, recipes for all the evening’s cocktails were thoughtfully included in the gift bags guests received as they went home.

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