A lifelong interest in fine food and drink, a large amount of creativity and a little initiative has paid off for Dassy Pawlik, a culinary instructor at Emerson High School.
Pawlik, of North Buffalo, a culinary instructor in the banquet division at the Emerson School of Hospitality, bested more than 600 applicants and two head-to-head competitors to win a national cocktail contest sponsored by Food & Wine magazine and Mionetto Prosecco.
Her cocktail, Pompelmo Spruzzo, or Grapefruit Splash, won Pawlik a winter break in Venice, along with a shopping stipend. The cocktail is made with Campari, vodka, fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice and Mionetto Prosecco, a sparkling wine from the Veneto region of Italy, north of Venice. Mionetto has been producing Prosecco wines for more than 120 years.
Pawlik's road to Venice began in May, when she came across an ad for the Mionetto Prosecco Cocktail Challenge while paging through Food & Wine. She had already created and was serving a version of the cocktail she submitted, so the most difficult part was measuring the ingredients and writing the recipe.
"I kind of tweaked my recipe to make it more cocktail-y and to get the right measurements, because I never really measure anything," said Pawlik. "I'm not a baker, I'm more of a cook, so I always just throw stuff in. But to send a recipe I had to have measurements."
She sent in the recipe "and never gave it another thought" until six months later, when she got an email from Food & Wine telling her that her concoction had been chosen. The email invited her to compete in a judged mix-off in Manhattan on Nov. 14.
Pawlik, a realist, called to double-check the details and to find out how many people she would be competing against. "The woman on the phone said, 'This is so great, congratulations! You are one of three finalists!' "
"I thought, three finalists? Maybe I can do this!" said Pawlik. Suzie Kukaj, senior public relations manager for Mionetto USA, confirmed that the contest had drawn more than 600 entries.
The Cocktail Competition Mix-Off was held in the Food & Wine test kitchen on Nov. 14. Pawlik faced off against Dana Alsen of Palatine, Ill., and Lisa Keys of Kennett Square, Pa.
"It was a little unnerving," Pawlik said. "I'm not a shy person, but as soon as I got in that environment, I thought, 'I'm a little nervous right now!'"
Each of the women was set up at a station, with a nameplate and all the ingredients for making her cocktail. Each competitor made a drink for each of three judges, and a fourth to be photographed.
The judges were Enore Ceola, CEO and Managing Director of Mionetto Prosecco USA; Nilou Motamed, editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine; and Justin Noel, described as Mionetto Master Mixologist.
The competition, which was filmed, "was fun, it was just like being on one of those TV shows," said Pawlik. "The judges were fascinating people, and super-nice. I was starstruck, though, because I've read the magazine for so many years and I recognized the editor. I had a really nice conversation with her."
"All of the cocktails were judged based on five factors: taste, balance, aroma, appearance and originality," said Kukaj. "Of the consumer finalists, Dassy’s cocktail had the highest combined rating within each category."
Three professional bartenders also competed in a separate mix-off. The winner was Patti Scarff of Kalamazoo, who crafted a Cucumber Fizz.
The pink grapefruit juice Pawlik used in her Pompelmo Spruzzo gives the drink, which is served on the rocks, a sweet look, but its flavor is complex. "It's made with Campari, which is a very old Italian liqueur, a very acquired taste because it's a bitter liqueur," said Pawlik. "I think some of the entries were a little sweeter, and may not have been as appealing to people who have a sophisticated palate."
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. vodka
Juice of 1/2 pink grapefruit
Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut
Grapefruit slice and mint sprig for garnish
Combine first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake and pour over ice in a stemless wine glass.
Top off with Mionetto Prosecco.
Garnish with a section of pink grapefruit and a sprig of mint
After the mix-off, the group went out to dinner, Pawlik said. "It was a super-nice event. We had a lot of fun, it was great, and it was even more fun to come out on the winning end of things."