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Award-winning barkeep brings passion to lilikoi

By Betty Shimabukuro

LAST UPDATED: 09:13 p.m. HST, Dec 18, 2013

When Tim Rita was but a beginner — a budding bartender, a mixologist in the making — he was told to smile, often and widely.

"It's contagious and it's free," Rita says.

This is advice you can see in action every time Rita picks up his cocktail shaker and starts pumping. That smile pretty much lights up the bar. Then he pours out the drink and lights up you.

Rita tends bar at Monkeypod Kitchen and Aulani, both at Ko Olina, and Manifest in Chinatown. That's three jobs — his fourth is entering mixology contests.

His recent big score is the local championship for Bombay Sapphire's Search for the Most Imaginative Bartender. He won the competition held at Pearl Ultralounge last month and goes onto the nationals in Las Vegas in September. A win there would take him to the worlds.

Last weekend he competed in the World's Best Mai Tai competition in Kona, placing fourth, his third top-10 finish in three years. He has won the Corzo Tequila Throwdown in Waikiki and was a finalist in the Shake It Up "Spirit of America" Cocktail Challenge in Las Vegas in March.

These contests can have cash prizes of several thousand dollars, but Rita says he enters for the challenge. "It keeps me sharp. It pushes me."

Rita, a 1994 Wai­anae High School graduate, was working in sales and support for Louis Vuitton when he decided on a career change and answered an ad for a bartender at the Hale­ku­lani. He learned from Dale De­Groff, the resort's director of beverage arts and an internationally known mixology expert.

Rita's winning recipe using Bombay gin is called the Suhali Shandy, based on the traditional shandy, a mix of beer and a soft drink or fruit juice. The recipe is far too complicated for mere mortals to accomplish at home, requiring first the making of a syrup of lemongrass, pomegranate and cardamom, then another syrup of ginger beer.

So I asked him for something simpler and summery, using a tropical fruit. He suggested lili­koi. "Lili­koi is amazing. I love that fruit," he says. "It's part citrus, part sweet. It has basically anything you need in there."

He says he'd use it in gimlets, martinis or margaritas. For an easy at-home margarita, Rita suggests using canned lili­koi juice, tequila, fresh lime juice, Triple Sec or Grand Marnier and a pinch of chili pepper.

For those who would like to aim higher, Rita offers his Lost Passion cocktail, developed while he was at the Hale­ku­lani for the wrap party for the TV show "Lost." It's a good time for this drink: Lili­koi is in season and backyard vines are in overdrive. For those not lucky enough to have free fresh-fruit access, try farmers markets or Chinatown.

If you have no shot glass or other way to measure an ounce of liquid, 1 ounce equals 2 tablespoons.


Pulp from 2 lilikoi (passion fruit)
1 ounce lilikoi-honey syrup (see note)
1 ounce gin
3/4 ounce Canton (a ginger-flavored liqueur available in liquor stores)
Juice from 3 calamansi limes (about 1 ounce)
2 ounces sparkling wine

Wet the rim of a martini glass and dip in sugar.

Combine all ingredients except wine in a cocktail shaker or jar with lid. Shake vigorously to break up pulp. Strain into martini glass. Top with sparkling wine. Serves 1.

Nutritional information unavailable.

Note: To make lilikoi-honey syrup, combine lili­koi juice with honey at a 3-2 ratio (roughly 1 tablespoon lili­koi juice and 2 teaspoons honey to make just enough for 1 serving). Strain the pulp of 1 or 2 lili­koi to get the juice. Or use 1 ounce of canned lili­koi juice and eliminate the honey.

Write "By Request," Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813. Email bshimabukuro@staradvertiser.com.

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