I was ready… or so I thought.
Most people would want enough time to be trained, to get themselves used to a new environment, to learn and absorb all of the essentials.
Most people would be in for a shock.
Myself? I guess you could say I was a bit ruffled.
Rather than having anyone specifically train me, I was pretty much thrown into the fray to see whether I would sink or swim.
I soon learned that it was not just wines that I had to know.
I was given a floor plan with table numbers to memorise, for a venue that could seat over 200 people. Thankfully it was generally quite logically sequenced, so that wasn’t much of an issue.
Then there was a sequence of service, outlining how guests should be treated, from the instant they walk in to the moment they leave.
Finally, there is the menu – each individual food item was followed with a detailed list of ingredients, with some also including its place of origin.
I suppose I wasn’t expected to memorise everything in one day, however you could feel the pressure to improve and build upon your knowledge constantly. Every day, just prior to lunch and dinner service, all the floor staff would gather for a quick briefing, taking notes on important reservations and new additions to the menu.
Occasionally we would be questioned about random food items: Where are the oysters from? Is the fish of the day farmed or wild? Tell me three things about the meat cut of the day? All this was done in the name of improving the level of service for guests.
It was a little intimidating, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this drastically different, high-pressure environment. But it was a new world to me, and I found it fascinating.
Time passed, and every day things became a little less complicated.
Through observation, experience and conversations with my new workmates, I became more accustomed with everything, from the food menu items to the sequence of service.
The wine list, a 1000+ bottle behemoth, became more familiar, and I grew more confident in my ability to recommend suitable wines and locate them in our massive cellar.
A lot can be said for formal training, but at the end of the day experience is the best teacher. To use a well-worn metaphor, you could read multiple books on how to swim, but until you jump into the water you will never actually know.
I have also come to appreciate that the sommelier is in a privileged position. While most have had to “work their way up” to become a sommelier, from running food to waiting tables and managing sections, before finally being entrusted with an establishment’s wine collection, I myself had essentially “jumped the queue”, becoming a sommelier without having to “start from the bottom”.
Thankfully most of my new workmates didn’t see me as an intruder, but as a team member who could contribute in my own way. I understood wine, they understood hospitality, and I was willing to learn from them and share my own knowledge with them.
This Is Only The Beginning
It’s been about six months since I’ve started truly working as a sommelier, and while I’m grateful that I’ve learned a lot in this time, I can see that I still have a long way to go.
It’s always a pleasure to hear from a guest that they enjoyed a wine that you selected for them. It’s stimulating to be able to converse with a guest in greater depth about the finer points of wine, whether it be from the perspective of cultivation, production, marketing or tasting.
More time will pass, and with that shall come more experience. And it is my pleasure to share my experiences with you, right here.
Read more: The Essentials