I was presented with a summer rum challenge last week that I just couldn’t cast aside. The test was to create a new twist on the ever so classic Piña Colada frozen cocktail. I can’t imagine that there is anyone unfamiliar with this iconic tropical island blender drink, but just in case here is a little refresher. The Piña Colada is a drink that was created in 1954 in San Juan, Puerto Rico at a Hilton resort. The traditional cocktail consists of fresh pineapple juice, cream of coconut, and rum. All the ingredients are collected in a blender with some ice and mixed until there is a beautifully smooth texture.
Now, there is no one that loves a frozen blender fruity whip more than me when I am on an island somewhere in 1,000 degree heat, but it is not typically something that you will find on any of my menus at The Punch Room or at the K Lounge (the lobby lounge) at The Ritz-Carlton here in Charlotte, North Carolina. In fact, not only are blender drinks not in my wheelhouse, I find the roar of blender at an upscale bar to be a bit unnerving, to say the least. So in order to guarantee a tranquil experience for my guests, I can’t and won’t use a blender.
Now the challenge just took on a whole other level! All of a sudden I’m not just putting a twist on one of the most iconic summer rum drinks, but I have to do it without a blender. How in the world am I going to pull this one off? After no answers came to me immediately, I found myself wandering aimlessly around the Ritz Carlton racking my brain to find some sort of solution to this quandary. I ran into Crystal Broadbent who is the Head of the pastry department at The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte. We were exchanging pleasantries when I spotted the ice cream machine behind her. Thats it! I asked her if she would help me make some coconut ice cream and she assured me she would but to delight she already had some coconut gelato prepared and in the freezer. I tasted it and it was pure island bliss.
Fireworks started going off in my brain! I told Crystal that the coconut gelato was perfect. All I had to do was juice some fresh pineapple, add rum to it, and my blender-less pina colada twist was complete! This is when it gets funny. Crystal said if I needed pineapple juice she had some roasted pineapple soaking in dark rum in the refrigerator for the past 3 weeks! What? How could this dismal situation turn around to a perfect solution so quickly?
With a giant cheshire grin on my face, I gathered all the materials up and went into the lab. I blended the rum-infused roasted pineapple, strained, and pressed all the pulp out. Rum, roasted pineapple juice done! I added the juice to several scoops of the homemade coconut gelato, and I started looking for some rum to put the final touch on this magical concoction.
For those of you that know me, I love my North Carolina sprits, so I reached for some Muddy Rivers Coconut Rum, which is made from all natural coconut and pure cane sugar. This was the perfect way to top off my twisted creation. The taste verdict: Stunning! Loads of bright distinct flavors, ice cold, creamy, boozy, and the perfect balance of sweetness.
So what is the moral of this story you ask? Keep your mind open, talk aloud about your ideas, & don’t be afraid of collaborating with your village. Thankfully, I am surrounded by the incredibly talented team at the Ritz Carlton and we all love creating sans ego. What a luxury! I realize now that if I was too proud to ask Chef Crystal Broadbent for help, then my cocktail twist wouldn’t have turned out so delicious. When you are stuck you have to look for inspiration and be open to collaboration. You can’t always do everything by yourself and who wants to when you have such amazing peers? As the well known saying goes…”It takes a village to raise a child” and Now I know, for sure, that no man is a (tropical) island.
2 oz of Muddy River Coconut Rum
2 oz of roasted pineapple infused rum syrup
3 to 4 small scoops of Crystals coconut gelato
serve with a spoon and a tiny umbrella
Photo credit: Justin Driscoll