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Chef Laura: Derby daze in Denver

Saturday is the Kentucky Derby, the first race of the famed Triple Crown, followed by the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

I’ve been watching the ponies since I was a kid.  June’s Belmont Stakes inevitably fell on my Gemini sister’s birthday party.  My father always thought it would be fun to suspend my sister’s party – mid pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey - for the mandatory viewing of the race. The gaggle of 8-year old girls obliged the old man because he promised us it was the “most exciting two minutes in sports!”

All hopped up on buttercream frosting, the pint-sized party goers would cheer, not for the name of the horse, but for the color of the “pretty outfit”.  “Go pink!  Go lime green!  Go black-and-red checks!”

When it came to horse racing, that was our tradition.  But the Kentucky Derby comes with its own traditions.  I guess when you’ve been doing something for 139 years, rituals are bound to be passed down the generations.  From a fashion perspective, it’s all about the hats – the bigger, the better.  But as a chef who has worn her fair share of ridiculously tall hats, I want to talk about something far more important.  Notably, booze.

The mint julep is the classic Derby cocktail.  And since old-timey cocktails are trending, what better time to partake the quintessential Derby-watching refreshment.  No Derby?  No Problem!  This adult beverage will get you through the summer.  Just imagine lazily rocking on a porch swing and fanning yourself in the most civilized Southern manner with a strong, yet sweet, mint julep in hand. Positively delightful!

For the true mint julep experience, serving it in a silver cup is customary.  Some bars opt for copper mugs.  These are intended for Pimm’s cups or Moscow Mules, but shall suffice if you can’t get a hold of Paul Revere in time for Saturday. Copper is an excellent conductor of heat (and thus cold), and keeps this bourbon-y concoction the perfect chilly temperature.  Regardless of the metal alloy you choose, freshness of the mint is key.

Don’t have the desire to make your own?  Row 14, Corridor 44, and Steuben’s mixologists all tip their hat to this Kentucky cocktail with style.  And if you want the full Derby experience without the flight to Louisville, check out Denver’s own Derby Party 2014.  Dress in your Churchill Downs finest and hobnob on the DPAC lawn. And did I mention that our very own ColoradoBiz is a proud sponsor of this charitable event?

Even if your pony doesn’t place or show, you can bet sipping a mint julep this Saturday—at home, at a bar, or amongst two 60 foot tall aliens (aka Borosky’s Dancers)—is a winning idea.  Off to the races!

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Laura Cook Newman

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

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