2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Bobby Conroy of Benu
22 Hawthorne St
San Francisco, CA 94105
Bobby Conroy began his career in hospitality as a server and then captain in his home town of Washington D.C. Inspired by a colleague, he began taking interest in wine and later passed his Court of Master Sommelier Introductory Exam in 2009. He quickly joined the opening team of Jean Georges J & G Steakhouse at the W Hotel in D.C. and began stretching his sommelier wings.
In 2010, Conroy became restaurant manager and assistant sommelier at Plume Restaurant at the Jefferson Hotel, gaining additional responsibilities and experience, while helping the restaurant earn a Mobil Four Star and AAA Four Diamond.
Wanting to expand his culinary viewpoint and further his wine knowledge, Conroy left Plume in June 2011 to join Master Sommelier Yoon Ha, a 2009 StarChefs.com Napa-Sonoma Rising Star, at Benu in San Francisco. In this position Conroy pushes to adapt his pairings to the complicated cuisine of Chef Corey Lee. A few months after Conroy landed on the West Coast he earned his Advanced Sommelier certification with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and he’s currently training for the Master Sommelier exam.
Along with his Rising Stars award, Conroy’s accolades include Wine & Spirits “Best New Sommeliers” of 2012 and a runner-up finish in the Chaine des Rotisseurs Young Sommelier Competition of 2012. Never one to turn down a challenge, Conroy will compete in this year’s Guild of Sommeliers Competition, where he previously placed first in the Western region, for the title of “Top Somm.”
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Interview with 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Chef Bobby Conroy
Katherine Sacks: What got you interested in wine?
Bobby Conroy: I've been in restaurants for a long time now, started that back in 2000, and I've always loved it. I sort of recognized that it could be something I could do long term. After working with someone at Smith & Wollensky who took Court of Master Sommelier test, I realized I could make a somewhat respectable career in wine and drink all the wine I want.
KS: What makes a good pairing?
BC: You have to address the core component of whatever the dish is, if that is inherent sweetness, saltiness, base protein, address the foundation of the dish. Chefs and their teams, work so hard from the thought process, the reduction, the plating, that by the time it's actually on the dining room floor, 9 times out of 10 it is perfectly seasoned, perfectly plated and, it would be wrong to think wine will act as an extra layer of seasoning. In a lot of ways that would dishonor the dish, the effort the kitchen puts forth.
KS: What wines are you currently excited about?
BC: I think there is really a shift happening in the production of California Pinot Noir. On the north coast there are cooler climates, and a shift away from heavy toasted, high oak to more elegant, food-friendly wines. A lot of producers out there have learned over time they want to drink wine with food and they are learning how to do that.
KS: What wine certifications do you have?
BC: So I'm an Advanced Sommelier with Court of Sommeliers. I hope to sit with Court of Master Sommeliers for the first time in 2013. I have a collection of about 4,000 flashcards and growing. There’s also tasting groups. I’m lucky to live in a hot bed of Master Sommeliers here. Working with Yoon [Ha], who just passed his Master Sommelier exam is an invaluable resource to my success.
KS: What is your fondest wine memory?
BC: There’s a lot of really great ones. Probably the one that comes to mind most recently, I was at my friends place in Languedoc, drinking 1985 Banyul and eating cheese. To be hanging out as his home, drinking a wine from his birth home, eating cheese, and sitting around the fireplace, that was great.
KS: What wine would you take to drink on a deserted island? BC: I think I would drink 2007 Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Sainte Catherine Reisling Grand Cru. It’s outstanding, has fresh richness of fruit, and dances with acidity. It does everything you need it to do.
KS: What figure in history would you like to share a glass of wine with?
BC: I think I would have a drink with Martin Luther King because the man has class and grace and style. So whatever we would be drinking, if he chose it, I know it would be excellent, and if I chose it I know he would hold me to the highest standards. The conversations he would hold me to about food, wine, family, social issues, would be so compelling. I have a sneaking suspicion it would be much more than food or wine.
KS: Where will we find you in 5 years?
BC: Hopefully by that point I will have passed my Master Sommelier diploma. I will be close to, if not already opening my own restaurant. The city I tend to think it would be is back in D.C., but I also think the Bay Area could be quite realistic. It would have to be place I love, that could support fine dining.
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