"There's always someone cooler than you"
I confess. As much as I am an elitist about media, and the utter disdain I hold for reality TV, I can not steer away from reality TV involving any sort of Food Premise. “Iron Chef America”, “Hell’s Kitchen”, “Cooking Under Fire”, I devour them all. On a personal note, I was edited the fool on “Faking It” several years ago as they took a beer champion and trained him to be a Sommelier- real heady stuff. Maybe that’s the bitter bile I taste. My latest interest is the Bravo series “Top Chef”. The show consists of a group of chefs of underwhelming talent, inspiration and tact. Hey everyone has a guilty pleasure.
The reason I bring this up, is one of the contestants, Stephen, is a sommelier from Nob Hill in Las Vegas. If I ever catch this SOB in a dark alley, it will be, to quote the great Ben Folds, “Stephen’s last night in town”. I’m not a violent person, but I can give a tongue lashing that can send a recipient into years of therapy. This guy represents everything that Americans hate about wine, and wine snobs. He is pretentious to the nth degree. His double wide double windsor, and his cockiness are as wrong as his attempt at working a Brut Champagne into a dessert. I lost count, but in the first episode alone, he identified himself as sommelier at least a half-dozen times. I will not criticize his, or anyone’s attempt at cooking, as creativity is a highly personal thing. This guy also has a very impressive resume. I can, however, address what this clown represents. Being a sommelier is not about being the most sophisticated person at a party, nor is it about being the most suave and snooty. It’s about being an educator, and a conduit by which to turn people on to wine, and as an extension, wine and food. The late, great Michael Bonaccorsi, M.S., one of my heroes, used to downplay his fame and education. It was clearly passion and love that drove him, not lifestyle. It's jerks like Stephen that make Americans afraid to ask a “stupid question”. This is the type of guy that would corner you until you rattled off the Grand Crus of Burgundy.
I also identify myself as a sommelier, and I feel like I’ve earned it as well. But I often struggle within myself about what this title means. I don’t ever want to give the impression that I know everything about wine, but I am proud of what I’ve learned. I always try to remember the etymology of the word sommelier, which is French for “Wine Mule”. When a sommelier makes themselves the most important part of the equation, the other parts: The Restaurant, The Wine, and especially The Guest are immediately marginalized. The great sommeliers watch each customer intently, and thrive upon the moment when know that they’ve guided them towards inexplicably beautiful and memorable evening. Stephen, go sell pretentious somewhere else, we’re all full here.