Orlando’s Greg Richie has emerged the winner of the Dining with the Duke competition, a food and cocktail pairing contest sponsored by Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon and the Tasting Panel magazine and held in Las Vegas this week. The whiskey is named for John Wayne, the renowned star of Hollywood westerns, whose nickname was the Duke.
According to Richie, he was the only chef among the finalists, the others were all bartenders and mixologists. The other finalists were: Dane Nakamura, beverage director, Bryan Voltaggio Restaurant Group, Washington; Mackenzie Cavanagh, The Hawthorne, Boston; Kurtis Williams, In Good Spirits, Phoenix; Will Benedetto, William Colliers, Nashville; and Jeremy Hahn, The Gilroy, New York. "The main focus of the competition was pairing the bourbon with food. So while I could never presume to compete with these talented guys on a straight up Mixology competition, my familiarity with combining flavors is what gave me a leg to stand on."
The two-day event, which included a trip to a gun-shooting range (because John Wayne), culminated with a pairing event at Moonen’s restaurant Boiler Room at the Mandalay Bay hotel. The contestants were tasked with pairing food prepared by Moonen to go with red and white wines, and then to create cocktails in the theme. Speaking from his hotel room Thursday morning, Richie said that he had not won the Tuesday afternoon cocktail competition but that his Wednesday evening creations must have been good enough to give him the edge.
The event at the shooting range did not include cocktails, so there’s that.
Judges for the final were: Francesco Lafranconi, Southern Wine and Spirits mixologist; master sommelier Fred Dame; and James Beard Award-winning chef Rick Moonen (rm seafood).
Richie is a chef and partner in the Thornton Park Restaurant Group (Soco, Baoery).