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Chicago Speed Rack Winner Liz Pearce's Recipe For Success

By Paul Leddy in Food on May 8, 2014 4:00PM

Photo courtesy of Speed Rack

When we went to this year’s Speed Rack, we were amazed at how much the women had upped their game since last year. Best times were crushed, drinks made more efficiently and the competition was more fierce.

While everything seemed to be elevated over last year, one thing remained the same: the winner.

Former Gage head bartender, Liz Pearce, had just returned from a distillery trip in Peru when she started her training for Speed Rack. She won the Chicago leg the year before and was able to do well at the finals in New York, so she knew what it took to win in the competition.

She credits working with Olmeca Altos Brand Amabassador Daniel de Oliverira (or, DDO as he is known in the industry) as one of the reasons for her success. “DDO was my coach from last year,” Pearce explains. “He is my Bela Karolyi.”

The finals for Speed Rack are being held in New York today. Pearce and Speed Rack Chicago wildcard winner Julia Momose (from The Aviary/ The Office) are set to compete this afternoon.

We sat down with Liz to find out how she has prepared for the event and what advice she has for bartenders that want to compete in a future Speed Rack.

Chicagoist: You won last year’s Speed Rack Chicago, how did you approach it differently this year?

Liz Pearce: I went about it the same way as last year. Just shake as fast as you can and be careful not to knock over a shaker, or else your day is over. The judges are super tough, so I put more effort this year into double-straining and garnishes, which I wouldn’t normally do in speed events like this.

C: How do you mentally prepare before each round?

LP: There is no way to mentally prepare for it. I took off my glasses so I couldn’t see the crowd. It helps me calm down a bit with hundreds of people watching.

C: How do you prepare for the Speed Rack Finals?

LP: I’ll do some more practice rounds, but honestly, it’s tough competition, and you just have to stay sharp, focused and sober; which can be tough at these events!

C: You won two years in a row. What is your secret?

LP: I don’t know what the secret is. I think any of those girls are just as fast. I guess it just comes down to zoning in and ignoring all the distractions.

C: How do you like your chances for the finals?

LP: Last year I made it into the top four, which was great, as it was just California and NYC in there with me. It felt cool to hear I was the fastest in the Midwest! This year, I’d like to at least make it to the finals, and win. If I can get a chance to compete against Lacy Hawkins (from New York’s Nomad and Clover Club), that’d be awesome. She’s so incredibly fast.

C: Are you looking forward to competing next year? What advice to do you have for new Speed Rack contestants?

LP: I think this is my last year, I love to do it, but it’s time to let others have some fun with it. Maybe I could coach next year! As for advice, I would say don’t spill and go fast.

The Season 3 Speed Rack Finals will be held at Stage 48 in New York tonight from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.