I’ve just passed the one-year mark since formally beginning to work as a sommelier (although it’s only been a few months since I’ve been recognised as a Certified Sommelier). The past twelve months have been a very intense learning experience – the sterilised, bland and stagnant environment of the office is far removed from the dynamic and vibrant world of hospitality, and as such the process of adapting from one to another was initially quite challenging.
Rather than going out and getting drunk off of my face to celebrate, I am more the sort of person who prefers to think back and reflect on the events and decisions got me to this point. In the process, one can also see how they are different from themselves, hopefully for the better.
There is nothing noble about being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self. – Ernest Hemingway.
The Nature Of Change
Change is a strange thing when it comes to people. By observing other people and analysing their behaviour we see that, for the most part, they are set in their ways. “Bruce is always so nice” or “Jack is always a grump” become common phrases exchanged amongst friend and colleagues.
On a subconscious level we probably apply this to ourselves, thinking “I haven’t changed at all” because today seems so similar to yesterday. At the same time we may be trying to convince ourselves that our lives are too busy to think about such things, wilfully diverting our attention away from the question of whether we are maturing or not. Finally, the lie that “I don’t need to change, I’m fine just the way I am” may be repeated enough like a mantra until it becomes an internalised belief.
The world is an ever-changing place, and a man cannot allow himself to stagnate. Adapting to the environment is better, but one must be careful that this is not merely change without progress.
That is probably the main reason I quit that office job after so long; I was stagnating, and there was nothing for me to gain by staying in the same place.
What Has Changed
So by violently disconnecting myself from the cubicle farm and jumping into the fray of the restaurant floor, what has changed for me?
I’ve learned more about food. While I enjoy a delicious, home-cooked meal as much as anyone else, I basically viewed food as fuel. Now, while I haven’t become a foodie by any means, by working in a restaurant environment I’ve developed a greater awareness and respect for cooking, food and its presentation.
I might work weekends, but that just means my days off are moved to the middle of the week. My time is much more flexible, so that I am more able to pursue other interests like languages.
I’ve met much more interesting people. My colleagues in the restaurant come from all walks of life and various countries. I’ve met with sommeliers from other venues and winemakers from across the country and the world.
I’ve learned how to carry lots of wine glasses at the same time.
And, importantly for my job, I’ve seen and tasted more interesting and exotic wines in the last year that the preceding three combined. A year ago my practical knowledge was mostly limited to Australian wines. Now I am much more confident in recommending something more exotic.
The other night a couple asked for a wine to go with their shared lamb shoulder, and I suggested one particular Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Later in the night I observed the manager conversing with the couple and briefly wondered if there was a problem. Eventually the manager took me aside and informed me that they had just flown in from Asia, decided to come in for a nice dinner… and were absolutely delighted with the wine that I chose for them.
To know that you helped to transform a good night into a great one is rewarding. And I strive to create as many such moments as possible every day.
Read more: The Story Of The Vine