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Kelly Liken, Dish restaurants lead stellar field at Taste of Vail's annual 'Bar Chefs' Mix-Off

CREATED: 2007-04-15 10:04 AM


Kelly Liken, Dish restaurants lead stellar field
at Taste of Vail's annual 'Bar Chefs' Mix-Off

'Cilantro Margarita,' Waterita' the top libations
at America's premier wine and culinary festival

VAIL, Colo. (April 16, 2007) - Contestants, participants and experts all would agree the world's greatest margarita cocktails materialized last week at America's premier wine and culinary festival.

The Vail Valley's best cocktail mixers dazzled participants Friday with their finest tequila-inspired creations while competing for prizes, bragging rights and trophies at Billy's Island Grill, in Lionshead, at Taste of Vail's sixth annual cocktail competition, the Battle of the Bar Chefs Margarita Mix-Off.

Taking top honors in the event, sponsored by Wine Spectator magazine, were Vail's Restaurant Kelly Liken and Dish, in Edwards.

The more than 300 festivalgoers in attendance collectively awarded Restaurant Kelly Liken's Mike Baugh with the People's Choice Trophy for his "Cilantro Margarita," a truly exquisite concoction made with tequila, fresh-squeezed limejuice, ginger-lime-cilantro syrup and club soda.

"It's fantastic and wonderful to be recognized by the people," said Baugh, the defending champion, whose "Cucumber Elixir" won the event last year.

Taking second in the People's Choice competition was Jen Ott of Terra Bistro, with her "Passion Fruit Margarita"; third was Doug Russell of ZaccaZa! with his "Za Rita!"

Meanwhile, after intense scrutiny by a panel of experts, Dish restaurant's Waterita - a luscious libation made with tequila, fresh-squeezed watermelon juice, a house-made sour mix and Grand Marnier, blended, shaken and served in a stem-less glass with a salted rim, poured by Chris Assad - took top honors in the first annual judged competition.

"It's great to get your freak on. That's the whole point," said Assad, telling everyone he served his creation was the "healthiest" of the evening. "The 'Waterita' is made with love; it's the yin and the yang in one glass."

"It was just so smooth, fresh and tasty, for summer," added Tricia Swenson of Vail's TV8, one of the competition's four judges. "I think watermelon is underutilized. It's got such a great, fresh taste."

Second place in the judged competition went to Baugh and his "Cilantro Margarita," followed by "Billy's La Bamba Margarita" by Bob McKow of Billy's Island Grill.

The other judges for the contest were Kendra Wilcox of Western Style and Telluride Style magazines; Laura Levy of WinePeeks.TV/NBC5 Chicago; and Donna Binbek of Pour Magazine Chicago.

A new breed of bartenders, "bar chefs" are "obsessed with using only the freshest and highest quality ingredients," said Don Gatterdam of Wine Spectator, and "their visually exciting and delicious creations are essentially the new first course to a great dining experience."

Taste of Vail's annual Bar Chefs' Mix-Off shifts the spotlight onto bartenders as artists producing cocktails as a form of cuisine that's as much an art form as food served by top chefs. Participating bartenders are supplied with super premium spirits, as well as standard back-bar setups. Additional, specialty ingredients and pre-preparations - exotic juices, fruit purees, infusions and garnishes - were highly encouraged and were supplied by the bartenders themselves.

Taste of Vail celebrates the rich lifestyle, fine dining, prestigious art galleries, fashionable shops and phenomenal skiing that have made the Vail Valley a world-class, year-round resort. The festival was created in 1990 by a group of local restaurateurs as a marketing event to showcase the resort's world-class restaurants. Now the internationally famous destination boasts more than 21 Wine Spectator award-winning restaurants, the most of any resort community in the United States. Many of them are among the nearly three-dozen Vail Valley restaurants that participate in Taste of Vail every year.

Such high standards over the years have led to the Taste of Vail's being ranked as one of the top three arts-and-entertainment events in the United States, in terms of quality, by the 2006 Luxury Brand Status Index events, conducted by the New York-based Luxury Institute (

Taste of Vail is a charitable nonprofit organization. Since its inception, the festival has contributed more than $330,000 to Vail Valley charities; and in 2005, in conjunction with Ritz-Carlton, the Taste of Vail donated $23,000 to the Hurricane Katrina relief fund.

For more information about Taste of Vail, or to buy tickets, visit, e-mail or call 970-926-5665.

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Media contact:
Stephen Lloyd Wood, media liaison
(970) 949-9774

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