By Carly DeFilippo

In ICE’s Culinary Management program, students learn key aspects of the bar business, including how to prevent bar theft or how overly generous bartenders affect your bottom line. Yet many students have never actually worked behind the bar. Each year, the annual Calvados cocktail competition gives these enterprising students an opportunity to train in mixology and challenge their palates. Competing alongside New York’s top bartenders, students have the chance to test drinks from the best in the business. Better yet, the winner of the New York student contest is given the chance to compete in the brand’s international cocktail competition in France. We sat down with this year’s winner, Ilyse Fishman, to learn what inspired her culinary career path and what crafting cocktails first-hand has taught her about the business.

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What motivated your decision to enroll at ICE?

Before I enrolled at ICE, I was actually a corporate lawyer at a large Manhattan law firm. I’ve always been interested in food and restaurants and, whenever I could, I focused my papers in law school about food and restaurant legislation. I would take breaks by reading every food-related blog or book I could get my hands on. So after interning for a restaurateur in North Carolina (just nominated an Outstanding Restaurateur finalist by the James Beard Foundation!) while earning a Law and Entrepreneurship degree, I realized that I just might be able to make this passion a full time career. I began to work at Per Se, where I currently spend my time while not in class at ICE.

As far as why I chose ICE, the Culinary Management program was the best program offered in New York City for my particular interests and needs. After completing the program, I feel confident I will have the background I need in order to reach my culinary goal: opening a restaurant of my own in Washington, D.C. 

What were you hoping to learn by participating in the Calvados competition?

I’ve always appreciated the craftsmanship that goes into craft cocktails and thought that the Calvados competition could be a great chance to learn a few pointers in order to make better drinks myself. I figured that I had nothing to lose by submitting a recipe to the competition! For all of us who participated, ICE Instructor Anthony Caporale has been a fantastic mentor and did an excellent job preparing us for the competition. He ran two group sessions to help us buff up our technical skills and improve our presentations. He also took the time to answer all our questions and was there every step of the way through the competition.

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What was the inspiration for your drink?

Barney Stinson, the character played by Neil Patrick Harris on the television show How I Met Your Mother. Our instructions were to identify someone you think embodies the masculine or feminine ideal and then create a drink inspired by that person. I wanted to have fun with this project and thought that Barney could be a great example of a masculine ideal. At first impression, Barney appears to be a simple, one-dimensional guy who enjoys suits, cigars, laser tag, womanizing, magic and accepting challenges from his friends. As the show progresses, however, Barney reveals a bit more complexity and demonstrates that he has a softer side. The “Wait For It” similarly reveals its complexity the longer you sit with the drink and allow it to open up. Initially, you are likely to identify orange and floral notes from the orange twist and Grand Marnier. As the drink sits, however, the apple from the Calvados comes through. Then, the baking spices from the Carpano Antica, whiskey barrel bitters and clove garnish become apparent. This drink is ultimately a variation on a Manhattan, which felt appropriate as New York City plays a prominent role in How I Met Your Mother.

How was competing in France different than in New York? 

The competition in France literally took place on a much bigger stage, complete with two hosts who interviewed the participants, bright lights, several cameramen, a large audience and a photo shoot of our cocktails.Traveling to the competition with so many ingredients also created logistical challenges, but gave me the chance to improvise and improve with Anthony’s help. We also had a practical exam as part of the competition in France, which tested our knowledge about Calvados. Then there was the language barrier to account for, as many of the organizers and participants spoke exclusively French.

Additionally, I loved the tour of the Calvados distillery and all of the opportunities that we had to interact with Calvados producers and representatives. The ability to conduct a side-by-side taste comparison of a wide array of Calvados gave me a much better understanding of how age and terroir affect its flavor profile, and the opportunity to direct my questions toward the very people who produced that Calvados gave me unique insight into what each brand seeks to achieve.

More generally, I was surprised to learn that the European palate tends to prefer cocktails that are much sweeter than those to which we are accustomed. In the US, we use bitters and acidic fruit juices to create what we consider a more “balanced” flavor profile. In France, many of the winning cocktails in the competition were exceptionally sweet by our standards. So, ironically, while Americans may eat sweeter foods than our European counterparts, our cocktails are decidedly more bitter.

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Ilyse and Anthony Caporale with renowned New York bartender Pamela Wiznitzer.

What has this competition experience, in combination with your ICE education, taught you in regards to your future career?

There are so many wonderfully talented and passionate people in this industry to learn from. You never know who you will meet and what unique experience or perspective they will offer. As a future restaurant owner and operator, both ICE and the competition experience have also taught me the importance of being flexible, expecting the unexpected—and above all else, to have fun with it! Every challenge presented is a potential opportunity.

Wait For It…

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Calvados
  • 1/2 oz Carpano Antica
  • 1/4 oz Dolin Blanc
  • 1/4 Grand Marnier
  • 2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters
  • 1 orange twist
  • 1 orange twist studded with 3 Cloves
  • Ice

Instructions:

  1. Fill shaker 2/3 full with ice.
  2. Pour the Calvados, Carpano Antica, Dolin Blanc, Grand Marnier and Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters into the shaker.
  3. Stir.
  4. Strain into a rocks glass.
  5. Rim the glass with an orange twist.
  6. Garnish with a 3 clove studded orange twist.

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