The Return of Cocktails & Culture

Blending the artistry and alchemy of cocktails and cuisine

There's nothing like the Chef & Shaker Challenge, the Grand Tasting Event of the New Mexico Cocktails & Culture Culinary Festival. Chefs from the city's finest restaurants stand ready at their tables at the Drury Plaza Hotel, meticulously putting the finishing touches to each plate of a culinary masterpiece designed to match a cocktail. Each restaurant's cocktail is created with one of the festival's celebrated liquor brands. Ultimately, festival-goers will choose the best culinary and cocktail pairing to win the “People's Choice”award, while a panel of culinary pros select the “Judge's Pick.”

Whose cocktail and cuisine pairing will reign supreme on Saturday, June 1, when the challenge goes down from 7 to 10 pm? To show you how tough the competition can be, past winners include the acclaimed Anasazi Restaurant, Bar & Lounge and Terra at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado. These two winners will meet again this year: Terra's paired with Heyman’s London Dry Gin and the Anasazi's matched with Milagro Tequila. Other worthy competitors include Eloisa with Silver Coin Tequila, La Plazuela at La Fonda with Maker’s 46 Bourbon and Social Kitchen + Bar with Woodford Double Oaked Bourbon.

The challenge is good for the winners, but it also benefits the community in big ways. Each winning team gets a $250 donation made on its behalf. The People’s Choice winner's donation goes to Santa Fe Youth Shelters and Family Services and for the winner of the Judges Pick, the donation is awarded to Cooking With Kids. On top of that, 20% of the ticket sales is divided between those two organizations. The event also features a live auction that raises money for the Helen David Relief Fund, benefitting bartenders facing breast cancer. When you consider that the Chef & Shaker Challenge has raised more than $10,000 in charitable donations in the past three years, there's really no reason to miss this amazing event.

And yet the Chef & Shaker Challenge is merely one of many delectable events on tap during the Cocktails & Culture Culinary Festival, which celebrates its fifth year this May 31-June 2. To honor the occasion, festival founder Natalie Bovis, aka the Liquid Muse, has added NMCC Culinary Week June 2-9, an extra week of cooking classes, a photo workshop, special menus at participating restaurants and more.

“This fifth year is a real turning point for the New Mexico Cocktails & Culture Culinary Festival," Natalie says. "We have double the restaurants involved, double the attendees... it will be bustling with food, live music, art, cocktails, chefs, mixologists from around the country. It is truly something unique and special. I’m so proud, and so grateful. And, I really hope everyone who wants tickets hurries up and gets them before everything is sold out!! It’s a wild ride. Join us and start summer right!”

Blending the artistry and alchemy of food, the festival is designed for hospitality professionals as well as people who simply enjoy delicious food and great cocktails. Natalie—who's written three cocktail books, been named “One of Four Women Leading the Spirits Industry” by Bustle.com, and is a co-founder and CMO of multi-medal-winning OM Liqueurs—saw that Santa Fe was ripe for such a festival. And her instincts were spot on, as each year, events sell out and the festival receives critical acclaim.

The festival isn't all about sipping and snacking, though. Saturday, for instance, starts with Rooftop Yoga from 10 to 11 am. The session includes live music by a cellist and complimentary cocktails and smoothies. (The event is free if you have a New Mexico Servers License.) The rest of the day is  devoted to seminars, a fun way to expand your knowledge and hone your mixology skills, while, yes, sipping samples. For instance, if you've been drinking Pisco and Cachaca lately, don't miss “500 Years Old: How South America’s Oldest Spirits Are Carving a Path in Modern American Cocktail Culture.” Haven't you always wanted to know “How To Tiki?” This seminar will delve into one of mixology's hottest trends, exploring the history of tiki, modern tiki cocktails and how to make them.

Whiskey fans should check out “Great Whiskey Cocktails,” a hands-on workshop that covers the julep to the Old Fashioned, with Master Mixologist Bobby G Gleason of Beam Suntory. Vodka lovers will enjoy the “The Worlds Most Popular Spirit” seminar, led by Tony Abou Ganim. The French are famous for their wines, but did know their brandies are a big deal, too? In “Know Your French Brandies,” French Native and Spirits Expert Audrey Fort will introduce you to current cocktail trends featuring French brandies.

To impress your friends and bar patrons, attend the “T.A.D.A. Technique, Application, Dilution, Aeration” seminar with Jason Asher. You'll hear all about how ice and air affect a cocktail, and learn about various dilution methods such as shaking, stirring, throwing, blending, spindle mixing and frozen drink machines.

On Sunday, take part in a 30-mile fundraising bike ride for the Helen David Relief Fund supporting bartenders facing breast cancer. The ride begins at 10 am and participants receive free admission to the festival's Bartender of the Year Live Competition, which takes place from 1 to 4 pm. Sample cocktails and culinary creations and vote for the finalists in the festival's closing party, which last year was won by Eloisa's Andrea Duran. This Sunday Funday Fiesta includes an art show where you can view and purchase works from Santa Fe artists.

All events take place at the Drury Hotel. To purchase tickets and see the full schedule of events for the New Mexico Cocktails & Culture Culinary Festival, click here.

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