After GRH I took a year off and worked in Thailand for a salvage company diving on WWII wrecks picking off copper and brass. I just wanted to do something different. It was a lot of fun and I do it in the UK as much as I can now.
HDV is a dynamic group, and our chief executive Robert Cook is very innovative. He’s currently trialling an iPad wine list at our Birmingham site, and if it works well we’ll roll it out.
Bistro du Vin is a great opportunity for us to move into London. Danielle, the winner of the sommelier scholarship on Michel Roux’s Service, will help launch the first one in April.
I was worried how Danielle would react to having a full-time service job when she came to us in Winchester, but although her basic wine skills were low she had a good palate and has this naturally gregarious personality. She built up a following with our regulars who knew nothing of the TV show straight away.
We should encourage more British sommeliers to come into the industry. I’ve always said that if I come from Scarborough and I can do it, then anyone can. It takes pursuing the right people, talking to the right people, showing them you’re enthusiastic and that you wont let them down.
I think in general service standards need improving. Professionally the quality of hospitality staff is quite low in this country but that’s just because of the attitude of the servers. A lot of the time the customers don’t help with that because sometimes they treat the waiters as if they’re very servile.
When I first wanted to be a sommelier I was working as an assistant restaurant manager, and had picked up a copy of Restaurant magazine that had an article about Gerard Basset in it from when he was at Chewton Glen. So I wrote to Gerard to find out as much as I could about being a sommelier. He put me in touch with the right people and that was that.
The thing I love the most about being a sommelier is the product itself. You have to be absolutely besotted with wine and curious to find out why it has a particular taste or smell. I have a logic mind which is why wine suited me quite well.
The UK is one of the best places to be a sommelier. If you’re from Rioja or Bordeaux you’ll only be used to wines from that region, but if you come to London and walk into a local supermarket you’ve got wines from 50 different countries. As far as variety there’s no better place to be. So home-grown British sommeliers should be the best in the world because we are exposed to this on daily basis. Unfortunately we don’t have that same culture of food and wine that they have on the continent.
I think there should be more wine on TV. People are worried that the wine thing is either snotty or boring with low viewing figures, or that it involves some Jamie Oliver-type in a Hawaiian t-shirt with a surfboard talking about what wine he’ll have with his BBQ.
The idea that people aren’t interested in learning much about wine is a fallacy. People tend to choose what they’re comfortable with because they don’t know any better but if they watch a couple of TV shows about wine and find out how to tell the difference between Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, I’m sure they’ll diversify their wine drinking habits.