Sommelier Vajra Stratigos
Fifth Group Restaurants | Atlanta
Vajra Stratigos is the multi-talented, multi-tasting beverage
director for The Fifth Goup, an Atlanta restaurant group with five
restaurant concepts around the city. Much of Stratigos’ experience
comes from his family of Greco-Italian restaurateurs who put him
to work at age 10; since then he has worked the back and front of
the house at restaurants around Boulder, Colorado, trained with
a pastry chef from Chez Panisse in Berkeley, worked with
Bernard Lefoy of Il Fournil in France and Paolo Marccini
in Avezzano, Italy. The "Daily Bread" bakery concept that
he helped develop while in Boulder was ultimately purchased by While
Foods Market, which led to a tenure as the head of the specialty
department (wine, cheese, and specialty goods) for Whole Foods Market
in Plantation, Florida.
Stratigos approaches wine from a practical, playful, interactive
level. He takes a 360° view of the pairing process, taking every
factor of the situation into account, and throwing fun elements
into the mix – like small wooden coasters for the diner to
take home, stamped with information about the wine that they held.
Stratigos has completed level two of the sommelier certification
program from the International Wine Guild, as well as an intermediate
level wine certificate from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust,
and a Society of Wine Educators CSW certificate. He also designs
the cocktail education programs for all Fifth Group restaurants
and is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
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AB: Did you attend culinary school?
VS: No, but I trained in kitchens
and staged in Italy and France.
AB: Describe your fondest wine memory.
VS: There were two occasions
when I went to visit friends in Provence. Fields of thyme and lavender
flanked the house – really beautiful. They had a cottage with
a wooden table and stone floors. Neighbors would come to dinner
bringing bottles of wine with no labels. I was in my early 20s –
it was such a wonderful, formative experience.
AB: Where have you worked
VS: For four years I was a
consultant with Whole Foods in Florida. I was part of the opening
of Nobu in Vail, and also worked with Real Restaurants
in Vail. A few of the directors from Real Restaurants broke away
and I worked with them on a few projects in Colorado, one in particular
where I was hired to consult on a pastry menu then ended up running
the restaurant – 15 Degrees.
AB: What courses have you
VS: I finished Levels 1 and
2 with the International Wine Guild and earned the intermediate
level wine certificate from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
I earned my Society of Wine educators CSW certification in 2006.
AB: What is your philosophy
on wine and food?
VS: I try not to take anything
too seriously. I want wines to be accessible. I think about how
your surroundings can affect your sensory perception of a wine,
like who you are dining with and your environment.
AB: Do you favor Old World or New World wines?
VS: Old World wines – they have great subtlety, underpinnings, and nuances.
AB: Favorite wines?
VS: I love wines from Austria, Alsace and Northern Rhone. Also the wines of Michel Chapoutier.
AB: Favorite wine resource book?
VS: James E. Wilson’s
Terroir; Oz Clark’s Wine Atlas
AB: Tell me about a perfect wine and food match that you discovered.
VS: Sauterne with bread pudding and medium-rare roast beef.
AB: What wines do you collect?
VS: Northern Rhones.
AB: What languages do you speak?
VS: A little bit of French
AB: With which person in history would you most like to share a bottle of wine? What would you pour?
VS: Alan Watts, the contemporary
theologian. We’d have magnums of Josko Gravner’s Bregg.
AB: What are your ultimate career goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
VS: I’d like to be on board with a company or group that is developing solid concepts and giving people pleasure and enjoyment.
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