The SOMM Journal

February / March 2017

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Page 67 of 116

{ } 67 You went from server to Wine Director in under four years at USHG. That's pretty fast, right? Normally you don't get to be the wine buyer for a Danny Meyer restaurant with basically no experience. People really believed in me and gave me opportunities and invested a lot of time. Who are some of your mentors and professional heroes? Kevin Richer [Director of Operations at North End Grill and Blue Smoke] has taught me everything that I know about lead - ership and management, and I've learned a tremendous amount about wine buying from John Ragan [USHG's Director of Wine]. They're the reason I'm here. I also credit Andrew Rastello, my long- time study partner and now husband. He is the person who makes me want to try and be the best person I can be—which feeds into how I am as a manager and as a mentor for people coming up underneath me. You've quadrupled the size of the wine list. How do you help the staff keep up with those changes. We do a weekly education packet that has some sort of focus— like special occasion wines or producer spotlights, or the last 20 vintages in Napa. There is also a core list of wines that we always have in quantity, and those are also wines that are really approach - able. Those are the wines that the service team is expected to be able to talk about tableside. It always smells so amazing in here. You have enclosed charcoal grills and an open flame wood fire grill. How does that affect some of your beverage buying decisions? Some component of every dish hits one of those two grills. A big part of our decision to invest in single malt Scotch in the way that we have is based on that. There is so much breadth and depth in Scotch. We're thinking about the smokiness of everything that's coming off of the grill, plus the smokiness of the whisky. We love this idea of having a spirit that paints this complete palette that also is going to work with whatever is coming out of the kitchen. You also have one of the best collections of old California wines that I've seen. What was the inspira - tion for that? Bef ore I was buying for the program, John Ragan brought over this case of 1985 Philip Togni Tanbark Hill, which was a mind-blowing wine for me. It was so fantastic and really beautiful and basically tasted like Bordeaux, and it was on the list for around 160 bucks. The old California thing is, conceptually, right in our wheelhouse. It's also a category our guests are incredibly comfortable with, and there is so much incredible value out there in back-vintage California. Have there been any surprises? We've discovered that older Zinfandel is a great category for us. The Zins have been very surprising. When stored well and about 25 years old, Zinfandel is so expressive and savory. It's this super-delicious thing that nobody considers, because the prevailing wisdom is that Zinfandel isn't supposed to age. You've earned a reputation for great service, but you're also known as an intellectual. What advice to you have for other "theory nerds" who want to be better at taking care of people? Kevin Richer always says, "You don't pull out your geek card until the guest pulls out theirs." That's not the way to connect with most people. I always find that you can use the story aspects, the warm and fuzzy things that your average guest can relate to. I also think you can always talk about region, especially if the region is striking in some way—like the steepness of the slopes in the Mosel or the crazy black volcanic ash of Santorini. That's the way to use the theoretical knowledge to sell the wine. For me, the job of selling is to find out what the guest likes or cares about in wine, then find the wine on the list that makes sense for them and make them feel good about buying it. To be successful, you must become the best all-around service professional you can be—and then you study on top of that, and it is through the work that you do every day on the floor that you get to the next level. Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: Mia Van de Water of NYC's North End Grill with Southern Glazer's Kathryn Morgan, MS. "You don't pull out your geek card until the guest pulls out theirs."

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