Sommelier & Chef Interaction Will Make Your Restaurant Excel

By Juan Carlos Flores Executive Sommelier, Pueblo Bonito Hotels Resorts & Spas | October 28, 2008

How often have you gone to a restaurant and though the setting was beautiful, the total experience was merely adequate? And how often have you thought how rare it is to find a restaurant where the entire experience was perfect?

Proper ambiance, good service, good food and a good selection of wine among other beverages are all important for the success of a restaurant. But more is required to make your restaurants a standout. It takes perfect communication and interaction between the kitchen and the service, the chef and the sommelier, to create the perfect fusion in everything your guests will taste.

I find the origin of the word "restaurant" fascinating and extremely pertinent to the subject of this discussion. It stems from the same root as the verb "to restore," in this case pertaining to restoring bodily energy and health. In much earlier times, travelers either walked or used far more primitive means of transportation than we have today. After days of walking they needed to stop at hospitable homes to be fed and restore their energies. Today, we not only have sophisticated forms of rapid transportation, but also an enormous variety of available restaurants. When diners choose a restaurant that counts a sommelier among their other important services, they are not patronizing that restaurant simply to restore their physical energies. They go to restore mind and spirit and with the expectation of a beyond-the-ordinary experience that gives pleasure to all five of their senses. Fulfilling that expectation before the final check is delivered should be the goal of the restaurant.

We all know that in addition to the setting, a restaurant is judged by its chef. In every very good restaurant we have a good chef and also a good restaurant manager. In an excellent restaurant we have a very good chef, a very good manager and a very good sommelier. But the formula for a magnificent fine dining restaurant requires all these people working together in perfect communication, sharing the same passion and working toward the same objective.

Each one of these elements is of vital importance. The chef is in charge of his team, which produces the food. The restaurant manager is in charge of the ma^itre d' hotel, the wait-staff and the details of the dining room, and must provide perfect service. The chief sommelier is in charge of other sommeliers who propose the perfect beverages in accordance with the food and the clients' preferences.

Originally, in Europe a sommelier was a "taster," the person who sampled the food and drink of the king to verify that they were palatable and not poisoned. Over time, the sommelier's role expanded to recommending the manner and the order in which the king should eat each dish in order to enjoy the utmost flavor and aid digestion. This is why the French prefer eating salads at the end of the meal. They believe that salads clean and refresh the mouth and stomach after the main courses. As an aperitif they also prefer a glass of champagne or a dry martini with an olive, because the champagne has great acidity and the martini enough bitterness to enhance the appetite. Liquors and creams taken before a meal can depress the appetite and distract from the flavors of a meal.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.