The SOMM Journal

August/September 2014

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26 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 { career path } LOOKING TO GIVE YOUR CAREER A boost? It might be time to enter the com- petitive arena. Call it the post–Iron Chef world, in which every aspect of the restaurant uni- verse can be amped up into a spectator sport. A growing number of wine- and spirits-oriented competitions give somms and bartenders an opportunity to strut their stuff before an audience—and par - ticipating in these contests can lead to career advancement, pros say. For example, the recent Calvados Nouvelle Vogue International Trophies—a cocktail-focused competition held in Normandy, France—brought in beverage pros from all over Europe and the United States. All went head-to-head with their original Calvados brandy drink recipes to take home a title—and a silver cocktail shaker. The stakes are high: Winning a high-profile competition can mean a pro - motion at work or publicity that can lead to future career opportunities. "If you win Best Somm in the World, you're pretty much set for life," says Fred Dexenheimer, Master Sommelier and Partner at Straw Valley Food and Drink/ The Black House Dining (Durham, NC). Dexenheimer helped revamp and now emcees the high-energy Somm Slam, which uses three rounds of theory, tast - ings and pairing exercises to select its champ during the International Chefs Conference hosted by StarChefs. Particularly for those who set their sights beyond the dining room, somm competi - tions have become de rigueur, he notes. "You'll get international clients you'd never even think possible," Dexenheimer continues. "Sponsorships and tastings around the world, offers to be a modera - tor or a panelist. There's a huge deal with winning, and you can leverage that for your game." For Mariya Kovacheva, Head Sommelier at Café Boulud Palm Beach in West Palm Beach, FL, wins have included TOP|SOMM USA (Guild of Sommeliers, 2012), Somm Slam (StarChefs, 2012) and the Ruinart Challenge (Ruinart Champagne & Guild of the Sommeliers, 2013). The key takeaway isn't necessarily the trophy itself, she says, but the profes - sional experiences and key contacts that result from participating. "It's an opportunity to hone your skills and meet people to enlarge your net- work," she insists. "For me, I work in a small wine community. So I needed this exposure, all the experiences I can bring back to my team." Somms who aspire to a holistic bever - age director role may find it useful to par- ticipate in these cocktail/spirits-focused events as well as more traditional wine- oriented contests, but be prepared to flex different skills: Theory questions or blind tastings are rare in a bartending compe - tition, while showmanship and recipe development/execution are must-haves. Even those who don't take home a medal stand to benefit from involve - ment in these competitions. In particular, somms often use them to train for the Master Somm exam, Dexenheimer notes. "They use it to shake their nervous - ness," he explains. "The more you practice doing service, tasting, pushing your knowl- edge in front of judges as far as you can go—that helps build muscle to get to that pin." And to many somms, that title is the ultimate win. Ready, Set, Pour SOMM COMPETITIONS CAN BE A CAREER GAME-CHANGER by Kara Newman In a secluded room, a panel of judges evaluates the merits of the individual drinks. PHOTO: VIRGINIE MEIGNE After winning a title in the U.S., bar- tender Steven Dragun (Bar Manager at Lexington's, NYC) travelled to Normandy, France to compete in the Calvados Nouvelle Vogue International Trophies. Fred Dexenheimer, MS says that competi- tions have become de rigueur. PHOTO: PHILIPPE DELVAL

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