The Cheesecake Factory: The Place to Be


Although I’m a big fan of the drink, I usually defer coverage of this category to Jordan Mackay. But when I was asked to judge a sparkling Shiraz cocktail competition last week, sponsored by Hardy’s and hosted by Rye (because Jordan was busy moving), I decided, What the hell—I know what tastes good.

So I found myself on a Monday night (Rye hosts these events every first Monday of the month), tucked into a dark corner table of Rye, writing my comments by candlelight, along with two fine judges (Chuck Hayward of the Jug Shop, a man that knows his Aussie wines inside and out and happens to be a huge—no, seriously huge—fan of sparkling Shiraz, like a walking infomercial, and Rebecca Chapa, a cheery and rosy-cheeked wine consultant and long-time educator) taking sips of 12 different cocktails made by some of the best bartenders around town.

Bartenders are definitely leaning towards the obscure, old-fashioned spirits such as Velvet Falernum and violette liqueur, and eagerly used every chance to slide them in. And although the cocktails were actually all quite good, there was one that stood out from the crowd: The Aussie Rose. Served in a beautiful Champagne glass, it was elegant, sophisticated and very drinkable, yet had a slightly haunting (and I hate to use that word to describe food or drink, but it really suits it in this case) something-something to it that I couldn’t quite pinpoint (which turned out to be a hint of cinnamon).

The judges, Chuck Hayward and Rebecca Chapa,
with the winning drink: The Aussie Rose.

We declared the winner and when the bartender’s name and affiliation was announced, I couldn’t hear it above the din of all the people clapping. I asked someone who had won and they said the winner was from The Cheesecake Factory. “The Cheesecake Factory?!” I said, trying to not to sound too incredulous, lest I reveal my not-so-inner snob. Someone else said, “He’s from Bourbon & Branch.” Aha, I thought. I knew it.

I hunted down the bartender, whose name is Yanni Kehagiaras, to congratulate him on his truly outstanding drink. He was grinning ear to ear. I relayed the conflicting story to him. It turns out that Yanni works at both Bourbon & Branch and The Cheesecake Factory. (In fact, he told me that he’d been hired by the Cheesecake Factory after he’d won another big cocktail competition.)

The moral to this story? Well, there are two.
1. Don't be a snob.
2. If you can’t get a reservation to get into Bourbon & Branch (and request it there), you know where to call. Just ask for Yanni.

Here's the recipe (well, the ingredients) for the winning cocktail recipe. I've got an email into Yanni for further details.

The Aussie Rose

3 black cherries
3/4 ounce St. Germain
1 ounce Grapefruit juice
Pinch  of cinnamon
Top with sparkling Shiraz

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