Morris Park resident and Tosca’s bartender Luigi Tarantino’s parents wanted him to become an attorney. His passion was in slinging cocktails. Now, at just 23 years old, Tarantino has reached the top of his profession.
On Wednesday, July 27, Tarantino was announced as the grand-prize winner of the Cointreau & Saveur 2011 Bar Star Mix-off Competition. He beat out over 250 other contest entrants from around the country to take the crown.
“I don’t want to say I was shocked, because in my head I knew I was gonna win the whole time,” Tarantino said. “I’m cocky, but I was just overwhelmed with joy.”
Tarantino’s original cocktail submission, that earned him the status of being one of 16 semifinalists, was two ounces ginger beer, one and a half ounces of Aperol (an Italian aperitif), one ounce fresh lemon juice, 3⁄4 ounces Cointreau (the brand of triple sec that sponsored the competition) and perhaps the most unique ingredient, a raw egg white.
The drink, called an Aperol Incognito, is served in a chilled cocktail with a flamed orange peel garnish. Tarantino said coming up with new types of mixes with unorthodox ingredients is his favorite part of tending bar.
“I like to introduce people to new things,” he said. “You can get a Jack and Coke anywhere, but have you ever had a cocktail with rosemary?”
He regularly comes up with new cocktails right on the spot, at Tosca.
“I like when somebody challenges me,” he said. “Instead of asking a customer what they do like and what they don’t like. So if somebody doesn’t like gin, I’ll just create a cocktail with gin that’ll fit their taste buds.”
After an online voting period among the semifinalists’ cocktails in June, Tarantino and three other finalists were flown to New Orleans for a four-day mix off, which began on Friday, July 22.
The four mixologists, all professionals, were given surprise ingredients (Tarantino’s was Yuzu, a Japanese citrus) and had to make the best cocktails they could for a panel of judges while being timed.
“It was nerve-wracking,” he said. “I had a lot of anxiety, but anxiety produces good results.”
His grand prize is a four-day trip to France in October to tour distilleries.
Tarantino has his parents to thank for getting him into bartending. As he tells it, they forced him to get a job at age 15, and he wound up busing tables at a cousin’s restaurant in Pelham Manor.
At 17, he was bar backing at a restaurant in Rye and at 18, he was officially a bartender. He started at Tosca’s in October 2010 because it was walking distance from his home, and it gave him the chance to follow his passion.
“When somebody loves to do something it comes across better,” he said.