11th Iron Sommelier at Avenues Bistro
The battle of the palates strikes again at Avenues Bistro.
January 31st marks the 11th installment of Brookside restaurant Avenues Bistro’s Iron Sommelier. This battle of who can come up with the better tasting wine for the succulent dinner pairing was the idea of Lucille Windsor, a wine distributor from Glazers. With the help of Avenues’ Wine Director, Timothy O’Neal, the Iron Sommelier battles have been a raging success.
O’Neal came to Avenues four and a half years ago. “They were hiring off the street during construction,” says O’Neal. After throwing many wine dinners, Windsor had the idea of doing an Iron Sommelier and it worked. “She knew my playful antics and thought we could pull it off,” says O’Neal.
The Iron Sommelier competition resembles the popular Food Network show, Iron Chef, minus the secret ingredient, but plenty of trash talking. The current sommeliers up for battle are Joshua Judy and Josh Mott. O’Neal says, “Their trash talking is in full swing.”
This battle of the palates begins weeks before the public sets eyes on the flyers advertising the battle. O’Neal describes the planning:
First, the chefs devise a five-course menu. Then, two competing sommeliers sit down together and taste the offerings weeks before battle posing questions to the chefs and taking notes. A bottle average budget is then given to the contestants.
They then source wines for each course they believe will be the ultimate pairing. So, when the guest sits down and the first course is delivered, two undisclosed wines are also presented. The guest, not knowing what the wine is or whom it’s from, tastes the dish and both offerings. Vote cards are at each table for each course and the guest votes for their favorite (either A or B).
The battle takes place over the first four courses. The fifth course is a collaborative effort from the two Sommeliers as they put their brains together and select one ideal choice for the fifth course. After two courses are complete, competitors reveal to the crowd their choices and divulge their thinking. After courses three and four, we reveal again and announce a winner. In the event a 2-2 course tie results, a total vote tally then determines a winner. In the second ever IRON, it did indeed come down to one singular vote!
Some sommeliers preparing for battle may choose their wine the moment they taste the meal, others take a slower approach and decide the day of the event to pair the perfect wine with its counterpart.
Choosing the sommeliers is more an up-in-the-air decision. “Some ask to compete. We might ask someone to compete,” says O’Neal. “Generally we try to pit people together that would make for a good matchup. An ability to ‘work’ a room does help for the entertaining factor.”
Once a sommelier has defeated their opponent they have not secured a victory. “Most don’t know, but the bigger dining event with the prize only happens when you win three dinners from a single person,” says O’Neal. The battle between Josh Mott and Joshua Judy is an important meeting for Judy. He needs to secure a win in order to have one win under his belt. He lost to Rich Zellich earlier, so a win would be preferable.
According to O’Neal, “The goal is to see some of these matchups through to the point where one person is within striking distance of a third victor for the three out of five.” He is behind Jennifer Cossey 2-0 in the Iron Sommelier competition. If Cossey wins their next battle, she will procure the first-ever Iron Sommelier title. O’Neal is very secretive about this title, so their next battle will be quite the event.
The next Iron Sommelier takes place at the Brookside location at 338 West 63rd Street on Monday, January 31. This is an event not to be missed so reserve a seat soon. Seats cost $89 a person for a five-course meal and wine, of course.