How I got to where I am now:
My grandfather gave me my first glass of wine when I was about 10 - it was a 1929 Mouton Rothschild and we'd opened the bottle for my grandmother's birthday. I hated the taste then, but my grandfather's fascination with wine was infectious and he was such a great wine lover that I ended up in the business because of him.
I went to wine school in Bordeaux and graduated in 1995. Straight after I returned to my hometown of Sarlat to work for a couple of months to repay my student loan and started the search for a job as a sommelier. It was harder than I thought and I just couldn't find a job, but I knew the sister-in-law of sommelier Yves Sauboua and she told me to send my CV to him in London, so I did. He passed it on to the head sommelier for Marco Pierre White who called me and offered me a job, so I went the next day.
As with every Frenchman who comes to London, I had intended to only stay for six months, but I ended up spending the whole of my twenties here, then met my wife and started a family and have never left.
My career in London started as a commis with Marco Pierre White at the Hyde Park Hotel (now the Mandarin Oriental) but he closed the restaurant soon after and moved to the Oak Room at Piccadilly. Fortunately I moved with him and then worked my way up to assistant sommelier.
When Marco decided to re-open Mirabelle he transferred his entire sommelier team there because the wine was going to be such an important part of the experience. It was '97 and there was lots of money around. I probably opened every vintage imaginable while I was there.
I worked for Marco Pierre White for about five years before moving to the High Holborn restaurant for six months then going to China House where I was in charge of wine for the whole operation. It was an interesting challenge matching wine to Chinese dishes and it was a busy restaurant, so I enjoyed it, but then came 9/11 and the restaurant emptied in a matter of weeks. No-one was travelling and our clientele just didn't come, so I was looking for a new job.
It was then that I was invited to an interview at Sketch, a new restaurant that was opening and I have been here ever since.
My greatest achievement:
Being part of the success at Sketch. Everyone said Sketch would go bankrupt in six months when it opened, but it is still going strong today and I'm so proud of being part of the team that has made it such as success.
I had a very small team when I started - there were just two of us, but it has grown in that time and I have been instrumental in making wine a focus at the restaurant. I worked for three years as manager of the Lecture Room which I enjoyed, but I decided that my passion was wine and I didn't want to lose it, so I asked to return to my old position, which thankfully I was allowed to do and here I am now.
My biggest challenge:
When I started at Sketch there was nothing, we didn't start with wine in the cellar and I had a minimal budget to buy wine, so everything I have got here today I have had to work hard for. We have now got over a thousand bins and a wine list that reflects how eclectic London is. I think it is important for a wine list to reflect the town it is in, which is why I created 'Le jardin des cepages: The varietal garden' to provide a wine list from as many different varieties as possible, and as many different locations.
Tips for being a sommelier:
Wine has to be your passion as well as your job. I think if you have the passion and can work hard you will succeed.
The role of a sommelier has changed. They are no longer the undertaker of the restaurant who walked around the room in a black uniform who everyone wanted to avoid for fear of being talked into buying an expensive bottle of wine. Now they are much more approachable and friendly, they have to be, because now we're out of the boom time when people would not worry about spending several thousand pounds on a bottle of wine. Who can afford that now?
A good sommelier should be able to choose someone the right wine for their budget - they should be able to read people well and not force someone into spending more than they want.