Tobin Ellis Shakes Up His Sweet Revenge

Photo by Anthony Mair

Photo by Anthony Mair

Revenge is a cocktail best served cold …and with a sprig of fresh basil. Nearly a decade after his initial defeat, we invited two-time Throwdown! With Bobby Flay competitor Tobin Ellis to redeem his 2006 effort against the celebrity chef with an update to his competition cocktail that went awry.

Season 1, Episode 9 of Throwdown! (“Mixology”) aired on August 11, 2006. The competition seemed tight, but it wasn’t altogether fair. Through the magic of television, the show’s producers made it look as though Ellis, a Las Vegas-based beverage consultant, threw caution to the wind, abandoning his two award-winning cocktails and “pulling the trigger” on a new creation made with South African cane spirit. Meanwhile, Flay presented a cocktail he’d spent time developing with others—including his majesty, Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff!—in a test kitchen.

Unbeknownst to the panel of judges—yours truly and six-time World Championship bartender Ken Hall—Ellis had been hobbled at the last second. Straying from the show’s premise that Flay would try to beat his competition at their own game, Ellis says he was barred from preparing any of his signature drinks, and was compelled to present an untested cocktail he had only thrown together for his demo reel. Predictably, disaster struck when a last-minute volume miscalculation turned his Serengeti cocktail into a puckering glass of lemonade that ultimately cost Ellis the match. Winner: Flay.

Fast-forward nine years: In creating Revenge of the Serengeti for our cameras, Ellis sought to temper prevailing acidity with depth of flavor, this time layering lemon verbena, Meyer lemon juice, yuzu, a Meyer zest oleo saccharum (sugar saturated with citrus oils) and basil-infused Chartreuse for a silky, artful cross between a pisco sour and a daiquiri, garnished with basil.

So, does Ellis hold any animosity toward Flay? “Just the opposite,” he says. “He’s always been gracious and a gentleman. They let me come back on and whip his ass in the [2008] rematch. I’ve seen him out in public, and he remembers me. He’s always been really cordial, and, frankly, I think he’s got more balls than a lot of celebrity chefs out there, because he is going on TV and losing a lot of the time and doing it graciously.”

Revenge can also be amicable.


Revenge of the Serengeti
Created by Tobin Ellis

In a cocktail shaker, combine 1½ ounce Mainstay brand South African cane spirit, ⅛ ounce basil-infused yellow Chartreuse, 1½ ounce lemon verbena sour (¾ ounce local Meyer lemon juice and ¾ ounce lemon verbena syrup made from Meyer lemon oleo saccharum), 1 barspoon salted yuzu honey and 1 egg white. Cover and dry shake (no ice) for 10 seconds, then add ice, cover and shake for about 15 seconds. Double strain into a coup glass, garnish with a sprig of fresh basil and spritz bitters over a stencil for a desired logo or design.


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