And so it begins! This is the first official post in a new series profiling the best female sommeliers in the country and how they got their start, what they wear, how they work and what they drink.
“I think my style could be described as California punk mixed with old-school hip-hop shout outs (gold chains and shell-tops), as well as the occasional I-mean-business biker boots.“
How did you become a sommelier?
I came to NYC to attend NYU for acting. I was previously working as a bartender at Hearth in the East Village, and learning a good deal from Paul Grieco and his crew. I was there part time, then got hired as a bartender at the then yet-to-be-opened Breslin. Right before we opened, Ken Friedman, the owner, pulled me aside, told me to grab a pint, and sit down for a minute. He said, ‘So I hear you’re studying wine…’ I had no idea how he knew; then he asked me if I’d like to take over the wine program. My heart raced, I knew I had to say yes, even though I had no idea what the hell I was doing, and I tried to play it cool. Long story short: sink or swim. I’m a big proponent of that. Ask questions, refuse to let your insecurity rule you, and do the work. It all falls into place eventually.
Everything you see in these photos is my daily work gear. Usually jeans of some sort, shell toe Adidas with fat florescent pink laces, and a shirt that is more often than not somewhat lacy or see-through. It’s not a conscious choice! And my staff teases me for it, but I think I end up in a pretty rough-and-tumble kitchen/floor atmosphere, where I need to be in work-friendly pants and shoes, so I need a little femininity up top. And always fun jewelry. I adore ridiculous costume jewelry, fake jewels and thick gold chains, lots of silver rings and always a Hawaiian heirloom bracelet, silver with bamboo etching, that reads RZESZEWSKI in calligraphy. My serviette and my wine key are in my back pockets.
Planner (yes, I have an old school written planner). Phone. Glasses.
Never wear scent, even it is divine. Save it for the day off. And never do? Gosh, be an a%*hole is a good one, I guess, right? And by that I mean don’t berate any guest’s choice of drink or food; we are here to educate, not to create a condescending environment for the staff toward our guests.
I guess it’s extremely important to me, in my restaurants with my staff, many of whom are new to wine in general (and therefore oftentimes intimidated), to never ever tell them that something they shout out in class is wrong. When I ask what’s in the glass and my host says lilies, my barback says popcorn, and one of my top servers says printer toner, I enthusiastically thank them for participating with me. It’s all in. Who am I to say their nose is off? That’s the way you kill a spirit. And one of my most favorite things about my job is inviting them into my excitement with me, so we can all play with it together. You can always gracefully bring the class back to actual facts, but if you create an environment where imagination is not celebrated, then I am no longer interested in being present either.
I’m sitting here with my shift drink- Barbadillo ‘Obispo Gascon’ Palo Cortado. Sherry for a shift drink every day. It’s good for the soul.