The bar was Backyard, located at 388 Fifth Ave. just across the street from Chip Shop and opened in 2012. The contenders included Alex Murray, the principal bartender at Backyard, along with tender friends Tara Lynne, Davina Thomasula of ForkNPlate.com, and Tom Gebbia.
Each of the bartenders mixed unique and tasty beverages, including Murray’s Señor Salamander, a light cocktail with refreshing cucumber accents, Lynne’s pineapple-infused Svengali, Thomasula’s Salarita, a twist on the margarita, and Gebbia’s Rear Admiral, a twist on the traditional Gimlet using Gin.
While judges Courtney Sheets, Michael Krause and Laura Gaber were enthusiastic about each of the cocktails, it was Thomasula’s spicy strawberry Salarita that came away as champion.
For the drink, she used a Black Pepper Chile Simple Syrup she had mixed herself prior to the competition, cored and hulled strawberries, tequila, fresh lime juice, and Salamander strawberry hot sauce, all garnished with a small Thai chili pepper and a fresh lime wheel.
“Tonight is just about having fun, and putting together some recipes for the website that we can share,” said Tim Kavarnos, founder of Salamander Sauce, a local hot sauce company aimed at adding heat without killing flavor.
Kavarnos said he has always been a fan of spicy food, but he’s not so keen on hot sauces that overpower the flavor profiles of the foods he’s trying to enjoy. That’s why he founded Salamander Sauce in 2012.
“Most of the hot sauces out there are either vinegar-flavored with a little bit of heat, raw heat that also tastes like crap – just burns your mouth and isn’t a nice flavor, just kills the food – or some mixture thereof,” Kavarnos said. “I love hot, spicy food. I want flavor. Make it as hot as you want, I don’t care if I’m dripping sweat, I just want to taste the food.”
Kavarnos explained that he was first inspired to start making his own hot sauce after he saw a cook at Stone Park Café mixing his own sauce in the kitchen.
“One of the cooks at work took some hot peppers, through them in a blender with olive oil, garlic, a little salt and pepper and said, ‘here’s some hot sauce, put it out with our family meal,’ and I went home and started Googling hot sauce recipes,” Kavarnos said.
To date, Kavarnos has run two successful Kickstarter campaigns to fund the bottling and packaging of his sauces for sale at the Union Square farmers market, and during the last campaign that recently concluded, he raised $8,777 from 222 backers with a goal of only $1,000. As a result, he was able to launch a fourth flavor, Whiskey sauce, to join his Original, Tropical and Strawberry sauces.
After the competition, Gebbia said he uses Kavarnos’ sauces regularly because he knows that they’re going to be consistently tasty.
“He’s very specific about all the ingredients he uses,” Gebbia said. “If it doesn’t come out to his specs, then he doesn’t want it, and that’s how it should be. I have about a dozen bottles of Salamander Sauce around my kitchen.”