Hosted once again by Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer, the 4th Annual StarChefs.com Somm Slam took 12 competitors into the uncharted waters of a real-time, mano-a-mano pairing competition, supplemented with high-pressure blind tastings and a game-show style Q&A for the detail-oriented (detail-obsessed) sommelier.
Somm Slam Competitors
The Little Wine Bistro – Monterrey, Mexico
Social Restaurant + Wine Bar – Charleston, SC
Le Du's Wines – New York, NY
Atera – New York, NY
L'Espalier – Boston, MA
Wit & Wisdom – Baltimore, MD
The Georgian Room at The Cloister at Sea Island – Saint Simons, GA
Corkbuzz Wine Studio – New York, NY
Zahav – Philadelphia, PA
Blue Hill at Stone Barn
Eleven Madison Park – New York, NY
Musket Room – New York, NY
Ever seen a sommelier sweat? Round I threw out all (okay, most) of the rules of front-of-house decorum in exchange for the intensity of the game show format, complete with ticking clock and a live (sommelier) studio audience. Dexheimer assumed the host role and lead the way as our somms were challenged with blind tastings, trivia, and a dish pairing showdown. The prize wasn't cash—but the right to move on to Day 2.
Only six competitors emerged from the Round I romp, but those who did earned the right to pair a select cabinet of wines with surprise dishes. It's the craft of the sommelier under a microscope—and on a timer. This year, due to a virtual dead heat among the top scorers, three (rather than the usual two) savvy somms won spots in Round III, plus an iPad from Uptown Networks.
Round III featured the trio of pairing perfectionists. They went bottle to bottle in blind tasting and mystery challenge. Guest Chef Justin Warner and George McNeese of Brooklyn's Do or Dine prepared dishes to challenge their palates.
An all-expenses paid trip to Portugal's best wine regions, presented by Wines of Portugal
Somm Slam Judging
Judges were selected by our committee of non-competing sommeliers and wine experts. Each Somm was judged by an audience of approximately 40 sommeliers and wine professionals, who drank in their peers pairings and tasted dishes from some of the country's best chefs. All the judges enjoyed a free three-day pass to the ICC.
Ludovic Anacleto Cru, The Little Wine Bistro – Monterrey, Mexico
Ludovic Anacleto was born in Paris, but grew up among his family vineyards in Champagne. After completing a degree at culinary school, he continued his wine studies as an apprentice at Lucas Carton under chef Alain Senderens. Anacleto also had the opportunity to work in Spain with Ferran Adriá, which helped develop his understanding of the importance of texture in wine and food pairings. He further profited from his time in the Iberian peninsula by spending nine months at Quinta do Noval, where he developed a deep understanding of Port.
Brad Ball Social Restaurant + Wine Bar– Charleston, SC
Brad Ball learned hospitality early, starting as a delivery boy at his family’s Charleston restaurant, Poogan’s Porch. Working in every position on his way up to general manager after college, including a semester in France, he then took the opportunity to expand the restaurant’s wine program (inspired by his time abroad).
NYC native Yannick Benjamin is a sommelier at the University Club and lead lecturer for Saturday seminars at Le Du’s Wines in the West Village. A visit to Bordeaux at age 13 inspired Yannick to get involved with wine, and he went on to work at Le Cirque, Oceana, Jean Georges and Atlas prior to becoming a sommelier at Felidia and Atelier at the Ritz Carlton. He is currently an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and has worked on the retail side of the wine world at Le Du’s Wines for over seven years.
Lauren Collins is a graduate of Bowdoin College, where she majored in Romance Languages and minored in Art History. Prior to joining the team at L'Espalier, Collins spent six years at Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton, Massachussetts where she tasted thousands of wines and traveled to wine regions in France, Spain and the United States.
After a 12-year career in biotech, Julie Dalton decided to listen to her inner passion and begin a second career in wine. She began importing in 2010, but eventually realized hospitality was her true passion. After achieving her Advanced Sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, she helped Michael Mina and Raj Parr open Wit & Wisdom, a tavern in the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland.
A North Carolina native, Jacob Gragg grew up in restaurants and took his first job in the kitchen at the age of 16. While the kitchen was very fulfilling, Gragg found the front of the house to be the most satisfying part of the business, especially wine and beverage service. In 2009, he set the goal of passing the Master Sommelier exam, and garnered experience as beverage director for Re-cess Southern Gastro Pub in Gainesville, Georgia, sommelier at Aria Restaurant in Atlanta, and currently as sommelier in The Georgian Room at The Cloister in Sea Island, Georgia.
Harris competed at a national level for the Guild of Sommeliers’ TopNewSomm (a competition for wine professionals) and the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs’ Jeunes Sommeliers competitions. In 2011, he was a winner at the Ruinart Champagne Challenge, and he spent the fall working as a harvest assistant at Waters Winery in Walla Walla, Washington. Soon after he joined the team at Corkbuzz. In 2012, Morgan passed his Advanced exam with the C Court of Master Sommeliers and was also named one of Wine & Spirits magazine's Best New Sommeliers of 2012.
A California native, Elizabeth Huettinger has worked as a sommelier at Cavaillon in San Diego, and at Aubergine at L’Auberge in Carmel, and with Master Sommelier Christopher Miller at Spago in Bevery Hills, California. “Being adventurous should never be done for the sake of being interesting, and is only beneficial if at the end of the day, it works.” This no-nonsense approach is the sign of a seasoned sommelier, one who knows that in end, the guest might be impressed, but must be satisfied.
Brian Kane’s introduction to the world of hospitality was working as a back waiter as he attended Loyola University Chicago. Kane moved to the beverage side of the business at X/O under the tutelage of Sommelier Amy Lewis. He then moved to Avenues at the Peninsula Hotel, where he expanded his skill set but soon grew weary of the fine-dining scene. Taking a chance on Philadelphia, Kane signed on to become a server at Michael Solomonov’s Zahav. He soon rose through the front-of-house ranks to become manager and beverage director.
Jonathan Ross is a New Jersey native, who’s worked on both sides of the Hudson for years. He grew up in a farm town in central New Jersey, and originally went to school for sports medicine. Ross caught the hospitality bug early on, and decided to study restaurant management at a local junior college while bartending. After spending a few years in some of the Garden State’s top restaurants, he moved to Manhattan, working on the management teams of Anthos, Mia Dona and Oceana. He also opened Uproot, in northern New Jersey with an old friend/chef from his earlier days of working in New Brunswick.
A native of the blossoming wine region of Virginia, Erin Scala’s first experience with wine was working the harvests in the 1980’s and 90’s. But the musician inside kept her travelling around the world playing drums for a decade, supplementing her musician's income with restaurant jobs.
Scott Cameron's passion for wine has taken him to california, Chile, Spain, France, New Zealand, and Australia. Along the way, he has workedin restaurants, including Gordon Ramsay and Osteria Mozza in Losa Angeles and Babbo and Alto in New York City. Cameron served as opening sommelier and assistany buyer for Andrew Carmellini's The Dutch.
StarChefs.com Somm Slam Official Terms & Conditions
The Somm Slam is open to wine professionals including sommeliers and beverage directors. StarChefs.com is no longer accepting competitor applications. Applicants submitted a completed application to be considered. Selection is determined by StarChefs.com and will be based on work experience, pairing philosophy, and examples of specific wine pairings. Those chosen to judge will receive a complimentary pass to all three days of the 7th Annual StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress ($795 value). Each judge and competitor will be responsible for any and all travel and lodging expenses.
The competition will take place on all three days of the Congress:
Sunday, September 29
Monday, October 30
Tuesday, October 1
Competitors must be available all three days and will be asked to judge when not competing.
During the event, 12 competitors will compete on Day 1. The top six competitors from Day 1 will advance to Day 2, and the top two competitors will move on to Day 3 of the competition. Judges will be responsible for tasting a sample of the dish and wine pairings chosen by each contestant. Judges will list their feedback on a ballot provided by StarChefs.com, and cast their votes for the most successful pairing.