Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Good Advice, Well-Traveled

Fair warning: I feel a long-winded post coming on.

I just read a page of advice for aspiring Sommeliers that I found very energizing. It came to my screen in a kind of a cool way too.

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Chicago's Ms. Jane Lopez of Lush and The Violette Hour (just started there) at my bar. She was the best kind of guest, curious and completely open to new drinks. As I am planning a trip out her way this Fall, we traded emails which led to trading blogs. Today she posted a note given to her by my friend Christie Dufault, Somm. at Quince here in San Francisco.

I giggled to myself as I read it. Jane and her friend (sorry, I cannot remember your name, but thanks for all the Tea!) had just come from Quince when I met them so I kind of felt like I was a part of meeting in a tenuous way. As you can see, the advice is straight forward and general so I kind of whipped through the first time and went on with my morning emailing. I couldn't get it out my head though so I went back to it.

With just a little translation, these simple 5 points are the absolute best advice for aspiring bartenders I could ever hope to give.

Below is a copy of the note wherein I have swapped the words Bartender for Sommelier and Cocktails or Spirits for Wine (except at the very end where I feel it did not quite fit).

Jane ended her post by saying. 'Thanks, Christie.' I will do the same.

Not Necessarily Invited (but well-meaning) Advice for Aspiring Bartenders

1. Be certain you love SERVICE.
Being a sommelier is above all about service- and not just serving cocktails. A bartender must be able to perform every job in the front of the house and jump into all aspects of service when the team needs it. Remember, being a bartender means working in the restaurant/hospitality industry. It does not mean working solely in the cocktail industry.

2. Study Study Study. Taste Taste Taste.
Be sure that you have the desire to train your palate and to learn to be a fastidious taster.
Tasting spirits analytically is not always fun at 9 o’clock in the morning. Tasting wine professionally is obviously not the same as drinking wine. In addition, be prepared to taste and to study spirits laws & regions of spirits that you may not even like.

3. Be an Assistant Bartender.
You could be on the fast track to a great bartending career if you assist an accomplished bar director. Be a sponge- learn everything you can about wines, service, purchasing, public relations and more. Work your butt off for your boss. Always make her look good.

4a. Get serious about food.
Eat. A lot. Know food. Cook-when you have time. Love food as much, no- more, than you love wine. Converse with chefs & cooks. Go to the farmers market. Smell everything. Taste everything you can. Try as many different foods as possible: be open-minded. Think about which Cocktails or Spirits would pair well with the foods you are tasting/cooking/receiving. This will teach you MORE about Cocktails than you could ever imagine. I promise.

4b. Dine out a whole lot.
Spend your rent money at restaurants you really cannot afford. (Okay- don’t do that regularly, but once a year is acceptable.) Rather, dine out a lot, even at restaurants you can afford. Observe service. Study the menu. Study the wine list.
Ask questions. Recognize what you appreciate in service and food & wine pairing.

5. Be a cocktail ambassador to everyone.
Never be a cocktail snob- but you knew that. Rather, be a cocktail ambassador. Encourage people to try new spirits, to make discoveries. Always remember that wine in moderation is healthful, so embody that. A glass of wine at lunch? Naturally. The world might just be a more peaceful place if people drank more wine and drank more wine together.

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