Scheffer: I approach every night as a new day of filming. It's a
production! The lighting, the music, the servers, the uniforms, the
dining room and the table settings all set the stage for the consumption
of great food and wine. It sets the stage for us to show off our food
and wines. I have always said that the environment greatly affects the
patrons' dining experience and how they feel up until the time they
are seated. When they get to the table a good server will guide the
customer through the evening. The food and wine are icing on the cake.
You're the first sommelier StarChefs has ever featured who is also the
owner of his restaurant. How do you juggle both of these demanding roles?
Something must give.
What usually gives is my home life. I am very dedicated to my restaurant.
Luckily, my daughter Jordan spends a lot of time visiting her dad at
the restaurant. It gives me something to look forward to during challenging
days. I am also smart enough to have surrounded myself with the best
staff that I could find. I am blessed with our Chef Peter Affatato.
He is amazing and he and I are so in sync that we know instinctively
where we want to go on any given evening. All I have to do is trust
him and occasionally throw in my two cents when it comes to presentation.
Our Beverage Manager, Shannon Stevens, has a good handle on liquor ordering
and she keeps her eyes on our percentages. We work together on the list.
We usually meet 3-6 wine distributors a week to sample new wines. Once
I have made any changes, Shannon is the queen of keeping our list up
to date with vintage and appellation changes.
It's obvious to anyone who visits your restaurant that the servers have
had extensive wine training, what steps have you taken to encourage
wine education for your staff?
Our entire staff, including food runners and server assistants, is required
to attend wine classes once a week. These classes are given either by
wine distributors, winemakers, Shannon or myself. We provide printed
material, usually from websites or directly from the vineyard. Everyone
tries the wines and they are randomly quizzed. We also have a book that
we call the "Big Book of Wine". It has every wine on the list
with pages of information about the wines. Each staff member takes the
book home and reviews it, then hands it back signed, so I know they
reviewed it. This has a monthly rotation amongst the staff. We also
encourage the kitchen staff to join us so the pairing of foods to our
wine list is considered when they are creating dishes and sauces.
I understand that your wine list has been greatly influenced by your
travels around the world. Do you have a favorite wine region?
Shockingly enough, I don't have a favorite. Wine is the adventure of
my life. My preferences change all the time. Do I want to be playful?
Do I want to be bold? Do I want to be safe? It all comes into play.
What I'm eating, how I feel, and who I'm with all affect my preferences.
I would say that Italy and California would be my first regions of choice
with Argentina being a close third.
What do you particularly love about the wines from these regions?
I am especially fond of what I would call the best California Cabernet
Sauvignon from South America, Nicolas Catena Zapata Cabernet Sauvignon.
Now that is world-class wine. Get as much as you can of the 1999 vintage.
My prediction is it will be in the top 100 if not the number one wine
in the world this year. I love Italian wines for their individual differences
and the passion the wine has for food. They can't be apart. You can
taste the terroir, the winemaker's hand and of course, nature.
Your wine list also boasts a number of unusual wines from other lesser-known
wine regions. Do you feel that customers are becoming more open to ordering
wines outside of their California comfort zone?
Absolutely. Partially to be cool and partially because more "non
wine geeks" are becoming less afraid of wine and are finding their
own comfort level. They are creating their own "wine geek-ness"
by discovering new and exciting wines that they can then show off. But
I truly feel that we are a great part of that process. The atmosphere
here at the Savoy is one of making wine fun and accessible. My wait
staff builds trust and with that trust I encourage them to have fun
with customers. I encourage opening bottles, within reason, and offering
samples to customers if they are unsure about a wine selection. We always
ask a customer for a price range. We never want a customer to feel forced
into an expensive bottle. There are also great stories about wines from
off the beaten path. A real mystique is created that the customer can
use at their next dining experience and impress their guests.
You have started a program at Savoy where you help people host wine
dinners in their homes. Do you have any tips to share with our readers
on hosting a great wine tasting party?
Be bold and have fun. Don't be stuffy. Be daring. Don't follow the rules.
Seek out chefs and restaurateurs in your area. They love to talk. Ask
for wine suggestions and even menu ideas. Or if you are so inclined,
have them participate. Have the restaurant cater the event and send
a knowledgeable server to be the lead server. They can talk up the wines
while you entertain. Create themes based on countries or seasonal favorites.
Try to include a different wine for each course. And don't forget a
good dessert wine. Most people are very surprised when you have something
scrumptious to drink with a very decadent dessert.
If you could share a bottle of wine with one Hollywood celebrity, dead
or alive, who would it be and what wine would you choose?
I have two picks.
Jack Nicholson. The wine would be 1976 BV Georges de Latour.
Bold, daring, fun, sassy, brash. A wine with no limits or boundaries.
Federico Fellini. The wine would be 1971 Gaja Barbaresco.
Elegant, sophisticated, mature, passionate, complex, thought-provoking.