All hail (the Canadian) Caesar

[attach]7139[/attach]The first Caesar was born in Calgary. Not the salad, the drink.

In 1969, Walter Chell, chef at the Westin Hotel’s new Italian restaurant, decided a significant new drink was needed to toast its opening. An Italian himself, he decided a liquid version of vongole sauce, a rich tomato laced with clams, would be appropriate. So he blended clam nectar with tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce and vodka to make a drink that is uniquely Canadian.

And it remains stubbornly so.

Ask any American bartender for a Bloody Caesar (Chell’s own name for it) and he or she will look askance. What’s that? Yet the key ingredient that differentiates it from a Bloody Mary is an American product: Clamato juice.

Coincidentally, Mott’s developed Clamato in that same year, a serendipitous circumstance that has resulted in the company selling more than 70 percent of its product in Canada.

The Caesar gained notoriety as a hangover cure, though its efficacy is probably questionable. And a study attributed to the University of Toronto showed that drinking a Caesar when taking aspirin can help protect the stomach from the harsh effects of the drug.

There has even been a notable effort to brand the Bloody Caesar as Canada’s national drink. Alas, to no avail!

Now, it might have been born in western Canada, but a Toronto hot spot is determined to take the Caesar to the next level. No longer satisfied with a simple blend of four main ingredients, James Cushinan, food and beverage director at the new Eaton Chelsea Hotel in Toronto, has created four signature versions besides the classic.

“The idea was to develop a great Canadian cocktail for a great Canadian hotel,” he says.

The Eaton Chelsea’s versions of the Caesar all start with homemade clam and tomato juice, developed by executive chef Brian MacAskil and executive sous chef Gaurav Kapoor. The pair tried 50 different techniques for creating the necessary nectar before hitting on a recipe they felt provides the best combination of taste and texture.

Then it was Cushinan’s turn. He took the juice blend and created his four additional cocktails, employing alcohol infusions made in-house.

The first is called the Wasabi. Wasabi-infused vodka, fresh ginger and edamame beans are blended with their proprietary juice and served in a glass rimmed in Teriyaki sauce and crushed cashews, then garnished with edamame and pickled ginger.

The Tea Garden uses red and green bell pepper-infused gin with Frank’s Red Hot, Worcestershire sauce, cucumber, rosemary and a rim of sea salt and cracked black pepper. It’s garnished with cucumber, red and green peppers, a cocktail onion and a cherry tomato.

The Latin Dancer muddles cilantro, basil and mint into fresh lemon and lime juice, then blended with Tabasco and lime-infused tequila. Lime-infused salt and chili flakes surround the rim. The garnish is a pickled green bean and tortilla chips.

The most popular after the classic is named Checkout. It features freshly grated horseradish (as does the classic) with bacon-infused vodka and Franks Red Hot, served in a glass rimmed with Barberian steak spice and garnished with bacon strips, pickle spear, a half hard-boiled egg and a cherry tomato. It’s a meal in a glass!

The five Caesars can be found in the hotel’s T/Bar, but watch for new additions.

“We’re constantly creating new versions,” says Cushinan, “And we’ve challenged our guests to help us make new ones.

“The fun part is tasting our trial recipes!”

Cushinan is open to suggestions, so take your bloody good ideas to T/Bar. You don’t have to wait until the Ides of March to kill a Caesar.