The definition of a Sommelier (SÓ- maul-ē-ay) is a rather tricky topic for me. I’m frequently asked while I’m at tables if I am “The Sommelier”, mainly because I never introduce myself as such. The question makes me think back to when I worked at a steakhouse in Maryland. The menu of this steakhouse had about fourteen items on it. Twelve of these items were a variation of the same item: steak. I started as a server, and out of pity for the owner, I took a position as the lead grill cook. In a kitchen hierarchy, the owner would have been the “Chef” and I would have been the “Sous-Chef.” At the age of 19, I could flip a steak with the best steak flippers around, and you had better believe I called myself a “Chef.”
I flipped steaks for about two years before one day I was sitting at a bar with the “Sous-Chef” of another restaurant in town. He used words like “Braising”, “Hollandaise”, “Tartare”, and “Roux.” I was completely lost. He might as well have been speaking German. Humility set in at that very instant. I was so far from a chef; I didn’t even comprehend the meaning of the word.
Two weeks ago, I sat in a class room tasting wine with 105 aspiring “sommeliers.” The class was led by five “Master Sommeliers.” I would hope that after meeting those five “Master’s”, that no one in that class would call themselves a “Sommelier.” I certainly won’t… not for a very long time.
On the menu at the Blue Star, I introduce myself as the “Wine Guru.” But I don’t really like the word Guru. I draw a mental picture of a skinny, long bearded man in Birkenstocks gingerly strolling through a vast field of tall green grass. What I do like is taking something that can be so pretentious and adding a word that to me is the “Anti-Pretense.” When I tell people I’m the Wine Guru, I want them to feel the trust. Feel the bond. I’m here for them and their pleasure, not to take advantage of what they don’t know.
*I feel like I need a disclaimer here. My next post is going to be Sommelier vs. Server where I will basically compensate for any feelings I may have hurt. Sommeliers, and potential sommeliers, I love you and have tremendous respect for you as you will soon see.
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