Meet Miss Speed Rack California, Southeast and Texas
Speed Rack Season Six continues, crowning regional speed queens in California, Texas and the Southeast. Here’s a peek into what makes these three bartenders tick, and how they won in the race against the clock.
Helen Diaz, Miss Speed Rack California
Helen Diaz, 29, of Bloodhound and Churchill in San Francisco, started working in hospitality at the counter of a deli near her high school at 15 and was behind the bar by 24.
“It just kind of clicked,” she says. “I really enjoyed the restaurant business. I helped open the Last Supper Club (now Beretta) in San Francisco as a server … After a few years on the floor I asked if I could come in on Sundays and just kind of hang out behind the bar. I just really wanted to learn,” says Diaz. “I came to do brunch and was taught the basics of building cocktails. When it got busy the guy I was working with was like, okay, go do it.”
When the restaurant group expanded and opened, Diaz moved over as part of the opening bar team.
She went on to work the bar Novella and Local Dish where she worked all the way through her pregnancy in 2015. “My water literally broke behind the bar,” she says.
This is her third year competing in Speed Rack — she went to the Top 8 in 2014 and the semifinals in 2016 – and says this year she trained for two hours a week. “I wanted to focus on feeling confident,” she says.
Her go-to cocktail recommendations are mezcal margaritas and daiquiris. “If you’ve never had a good daiquiri, you just have to.” When she’s out her drink of choice is a sour beer or a cider.
Being a mom, a bartender, and working on organizing events like Speed Rack doesn’t leave her with a lot of free time, but Diaz says running keeps her stable.
“I’m really lucky,” she says. “I love my son. I’d never want anyone to think I’m this crazy busy mom with no life. My family’s amazing and my life is really balanced out, because I live near them and they’re incredibly supportive.”
Jenny Feldt, Miss Speed Rack Southeast
Jenny Feldt, 25, of DC’s Le Diplomate, is a recovering physical therapist.
“I went to school for it, and when I got a job in the field after college I absolutely hated it,” she says. “I had a bar job on the side and I fell in love with creating and being behind the bar. I was so much happier once I committed full time.”
Like many, Feldt wet her toes in the industry as a server in high school and went on to bartend at a Pittsburgh nightclub before coming to DC. This season’s Speed Rack was her first bartending competition.
“What I really learned in this whole competition, I was nervous going in, but really believe in yourself,” she says. “I had some doubt, but I practiced really, really hard and believed in what I could do, and it was wonderful. I got the results.”
Feldt most often recommends the classics – a Last Word for guests seeking something citrusy and a Boulevardier for something more spirit forward. “Both are just so well balanced,” she says. Right now, if she’s out, Feldt is on a Scotch kick.
When she’s not at work she does her homework: “I love to explore new restaurants and the bar scene,” she says. Traveling is also a top priority: she returned not long ago from Ireland and Croatia, and Amsterdam is next on her list.
Elyse Blechman, Miss Speed Rack Texas
Elyse Blechman, 28, of Houston’s Tongue-Cut Sparrow worked as a cocktail waitress for two years before starting her bartending career in 2009 at San Antonio’s Fox and Hound (now closed).
“I knew the best and easiest way to make money in college was to cocktail [waitress],” Blechman says. “But then some crazy person let me step behind the bar at Fox and Hound.”
Blechman, who was pursuing a degree in fine art, found right away that bartending filled the same creative space that painting did for her. “I fell in love with it,” she says. “The more I learned the more I wanted to make cocktails.”
She moved back to Houston, her hometown, to more deeply immerse herself in the cocktail scene, landing first at Bad News Bar and then moving to Tongue-Cut Sparrow.
This is Blechman’s second year competing in Speed Rack. She made the Top 8 in Season Five and won the Wildcard vote. At Nationals she moved to the Top 8 and lost her next round to Lacy Hawkins, last year’s Miss Speed Rack USA.
“She was a good person to lose to. I just watched her crush it all the way,” Blechman says.
“You can also have so much fun with garnishes,” she says. “It’s the fajita effect — you see that plate go by and that’s what you want. Same thing with a super pretty drink.”
When she’s not behind the bar hard at work prepping, she enjoys playing with her Boston Terrier, Chutney, and trying to sneak in some R&R. “In the work we do, it’s so easy to socially beat yourself up. I lie around and be alone whenever possible.”