Congratulations, Veronica Saye! You’re the female bartender with the best rack in Canada.
We say that literally and figuratively. “Boobies” – in all their splendid, bouncy glory – were the big winners of the first annual SpeedRack Canada contest, which raised $5,000 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, BC/Yukon Region.
But it was Saye, who tends the wood at Food & Liquor, a modest, little-known Toronto dive, who reigned supreme as the first SpeedRack Queen of Canada at the international competition’s inaugural event, held on Saturday at the EAT! Vancouver Food + Cooking Festival.
Spirited, talented and amply endowed in more ways than one (or two?), Saye slayed her competitors with some serious stirring and shaking in timed heats before a frenzied crowd and panel of hard-ass judges that included Dale DeGroff (world-renowned cocktail historian and writer), Jennifer English (James Beard award-winning founder of Food & Wine Radio Network), Wendy McGuinness (Bar Manager, Chambar Restaurant) and David Wolowidnyk (Bar Manager, West Restaurant and CinCin Ristorante).
Earlier that day, 18 finalists from across the country were culled down to eight contestants in timed trials. Almost eerily, the preliminaries eliminated everyone from outside Vancouver and Toronto, and all matches in the quarterfinals pitted East versus West.
By the semifinals, there was only one Vancouverite, Kaitlyn Stewart, left standing against three Torontonians: Evelyn Chick, Juliana Wolkowski and Veronica Saye. Stewart lost to Saye in one of the closest rounds of the day by a mere five seconds. In the finals, she teetered against Juliana Wolkowski (Bar Raval) on the rim of a Brandy Crusta.
Yes, it was intense. And sometimes the winners won by the sliver (or lack) of an ice cube and the interpretation of garnish. (Is an orange peel really that essential to a Rob Roy? Apparently, yes.)
When it came to judging, accuracy trumped style. Before game day, all the contestants were given a list of 50 accepted industry-standard classic recipes from which the judges would choose by surprise. Ever heard of a Red Lion? No, us neither. Some cocktails were crazily obscure. How about a Seelbach? It’s supposed to be served in a flute, but so unlikely were the chances of this antiquated cocktail making the cut, the bar backs didn’t even bother stocking them. (Of course it was then chosen, but a tall Collins glass was grudgingly permitted to substitute.)
Glassware was about the only wiggle room available in a contest that came down to split-second accuracy. The final scores were based on time, minus five, 10 and often 15-second demerits for flaws.
How bad could these otherwise Angels of the Rack drop the white ball? Let us count the ways for future SpeedRack Canada contestants.
An elusive ingredient, to be sure, and often subjective. But if an Airmail was “a tad too sour” or a Cosmopolitan “slightly sweet,” you might as well cut your losses and call a cab.
Just do it. These judges don’t care about your three-fisted bottle pours or finely sliced lime wedges without any trace of pith. God forbid there be the tiniest remnant of lemon pulp in their coup. Goodbye!
When it comes to the Negroni, “orange peel is not an option.” But in another cocktail, too much zest can hit like a “2-by-4.” Wilted mint doesn’t necessarily make a “great first impression.” Yet the lack of orange in a Rob Roy can make it feel “not fully finished.”
Go ahead and screw up on the glassware, but don’t dare forget a straw when necessary (“I’m disappointed,” the judges will tisk) or give them a glass less than half full. (“It’s not finished!”)
Most of the early contestants began by free-pouring their liquor. But the smart ones (go Veronica!) started measuring in the finals. “She knows exactly what she’s doing,” one crowd member commented. “What a bad ass.”
Ass, boobies and a crown? This chick’s got it covered!
Who were you rooting for at the SpeedRack Canada bartending competition? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.