7 May 2019

Sommelier Series: Shirley & Penelope of Chefs Warehouse

What is your fundamental philosophy on food and wine?

It’s got to be made out of the best ingredients you can get, or you’re not going to get the best results.

Have you seen the local food and wine culture evolve? What in particular stands out for you?

There is a growing trend, that I think is peaking now, of small plates, where you can have little bits of everything instead of focusing on one flavour throughout your meal. I particularly enjoy a variegated meal, where you’re not confined to a particular country or type of food…

What key factors make a great sommelier?

A broad wine/ drinks knowledge, and consideration for what the customer enjoys. It’s no use giving the customer a red wine with their steak when they hate red wine and only drink white… the “red with red meat and white with white meat” rule is confining and outdated.

How do you go about developing the wine list at Chefs Warehouse?

The Chefs Warehouse in Bree Street is a collaborative effort; it’s a response to an ever-changing menu and a love of wine between the two of us. I particularly love it when someone comes in and gives us Carte Blanche when choosing their wines with their food.

Which dish, currently on the menu at Chefs Warehouse would you pair with the Bellingham Bernard Series Pinotage?

Yesterday there was an entrecôte dish served with a pink peppercorn jus, chimichurri, potato hash and pancetta that I would think would go really well. Also, I automatically want to pair venison and fruit with the Bernard Pinotage.

What makes the wine list at Chefs Warehouse stand out?

The Chefs Warehouse wine list stands out for me because it’s diverse, I would happily drink anything on the list in any mood, with any food, so I really feel it caters to a lot of different tastes. Moreover, it’s constantly evolving in response to the popularity and the changing tastes of our clientele.

How has the role of the sommelier changed in the last 5 years?

I think sommeliers are the next rockstars of the industry, after the chefs’ renaissance where celebrity chefs coming out of the woodwork, I think sommeliers are set to become the new rockstars. They’re also now expected to be more all round, not just spouting off about old world wines, but the newer smaller producers that might be changing the wine world as we know it.

What do you predict for the next 5 years in the South African wine industry?

The next five years in the industry are going to be interesting, with global warming, the water crisis that we as consumers are avoiding, the South African wine industry is going to need to make some changes that I don’t think the consumer is ready for. We’re already seeing hiked prices in response to the rise in costs. Hopefully, the industry survives, and we keep drinking wine.

Is there enough diversity in the sommelier world?

There is some, but not enough. We still go to tastings and are part of a small group of females in the room.

Why do you think there are so few women sommeliers?

There is also a lack of black females in the industry, there are scholarships available to develop black females, but they are rare and hard to find. Then when you do you need to stand on your head, dance the jig and play “God save the queen” though a penny whistle.

Is being a Sommelier as glamorous as it looks on social media?

Nope, it’s not nearly as glamorous; they don’t show the morning after hangovers after a night exploring the deep rabbit hole that can be a particular region or grape. They don’t show the customers that think because you have the badge, they are obligated to test you with obscure questions. So nope, hard to believe, social media isn’t real life.

What does a typical day for a Sommelier at Chefs Warehouse look like?

A typical day for me would arrive at work at 11:30, make sure the menus have been printed, and the drink list is clean and ready for service. The service starts at 12:00, and then it’s literally up to the customers… what are they looking for..what they enjoy and what they want to drink off the list with their food.  We try and satisfy them with as much or as little flair for the dramatic as possible.