definition of Sommelier

Alexis Beltrami: First off, congratulations on passing the Master Sommelier exam in April and becoming the youngest MS in the world.

Ken Fredrickson: Thank you.

AB: Early in your career, you worked for Charlie Trotter for 18 months in Las Vegas and Chicago. Did you start as a waiter?

KF: Yes, I was a waiter on the floor, then I worked my way into being assistant sommelier and got to be sommelier on the floor one day a week. My days off I’d spend in the kitchen, learning foodstuffs, trying not to get in the way but taking notes, and if I had a chance to prep a little I’d prep. The head chef, Guillermo Tellez, was one of those people who had an open door–as much you wanted, you could take. Charlie set the tone for that attitude. He’ll hire a person or offer an internship to somebody with virtually no experience; it’s all about how badly you want to do it. You can take someone and bring them on the fastest learning curve, versus trying to break somebody of the habits they learned in a previous place. Working with Charlie’s staff was an invaluable part of my education–Steven Geddes and Joe Spellman, both Master Sommeliers, were terrific.

AB: What was it like to work for Trotter?

KF: His style is very different from say, Wolfgang Puck’s. There is little bit of a militant style to him, but I think it’s fabulous because he’s so passionate. He’s first one in the restaurant every day and the last to leave, and it’s really hard for you not to respect that. That constant pursuit of perfection rubs off on you. I think I bring some of Charlie’s philosophy into my business. I like to have people come in and try to learn a different job, or be willing to hang out in the kitchen and learn more about the food. I’ve had several servers come in and learn how to make coq au vin, and they can describe it at the table like nobody’s business.

AB: You also took the Sterling [School of Hospitality] Course?

KF: Yes, I went out to Napa for a week and that’s when I decided I was going to get serious about my profession. Evan Goldstein is a tribute to the sommelier profession–he’s a fabulous teacher and a great speaker, and after spending a week with Evan I was totally psyched; I knew it was what I wanted to do. It’s a great way to make a living, and something I love, and I knew it was going to take a lot of hard work but I’d get there.

AB: And now, a few years later, you own two restaurants and a wine shop. Restaurant Terroir has received some very good critical notices in the short time it has been open.

KF: Bryan Miller [of The New York Times] did a whole review of Jackson and we were the only place about which he didn’t have anything negative to say. For me, it’s bittersweet. I think it’s great that we came out in a positive light, but on the other hand, you’re only as good as the people around you. We promote wine education, we do tastings every Friday, and we encourage staff members from other restaurants to come in to the Jackson Hole Wine Company and join our tastings. We want Jackson to be a destination where people are proud to say they came here and ate great food–like Aspen, a mountain community with great food. I’ve recommended some of my favorite wines to be on the lists of my competitor restaurants, because I think they’re good restaurants and I want them to have strong wine programs.

AB: You mentioned the tastings on Fridays; what else do you do to train your staff?

KF: Basically, my philosophy is that you just keep telling them the same thing. It could be a little redundant, but we try to keep it fresh. We have a half-hour to 45-minute pre-service meeting every day, on the floor. The chef will put up a dish, and we do a wine match with that dish. Sometimes we’ll just pick a staff member and let them pick something, and either it’s positive or negative or neutral. I want my staff to be able to recommend wines with food and be comfortable and confident with it, and it takes half an hour every single day. We also have a little program that’s probably different from most restaurants. We have specialists–servers who are specialists in one region–on the floor, so that if a server has a question he or she can’t answer, he can go to someone else who maybe knows more about Chassagne-Montrachet or the village of Meursault.

AB: Are you on the floor most of the time?

KF: I am, although obviously with two places I’m spread a little thinner. I like to be at Terroir because it’s my favorite place to work. I love the atmosphere. I can afford to spend more time and get more personal with the guests and take them on a food and wine degustation. At Koshu, they’re in and out much quicker.

AB: Can you talk a bit about how you choose wines for the list at Terroir?

KF: We’re rustic country French. We’re not trying to be something that we’re not. With that kind of classic influence (although we put a contemporary twist on things) I don’t try to go too far out of bounds. Red Burgundy has an affinity with the food, lighter white grapes from France are great, wines from the Loire Valley are great, Aligoté is a fabulous grape and well-priced. I have great, big, well-made, firm California Cabs on the list because there’s a ton of people who love to drink those, and I’m definitely not going to break trail with those people either. They also bring depth to the list. But if you want to look for wines that have an affinity with the food, they’re all over the place. I taste all the wines, of course. I was fortunate because when I started Terroir I’d just left a position as Wine Director at Spago in Vegas, where I was tasting 100 wines per week. Everyone wants to be on Spago’s list, so I was lucky enough to be very selective, and I think through tasting and taking good notes and possessing somewhat of an organoleptic memory, I’ve developed my ability to match stuff up.

AB: How would you describe the clientele at Restaurant Terroir?

KF: I’d say it’s about 60/40 local people to tourists. It’s really hard in a resort town like this to be considered a dining destination, but you’d be surprised; I mean, people are calling up and planning well in advance to make a stop at Terroir. We have great recommendations from the high-end resorts and lodges that are in the valley; Amangani [resort] sends us people every single day.

AB: Where do the second homeowners fit in?

KF: They’re kind of their own little group. Typically, they come a couple of times in the winter, for two weeks at a time, maybe, and then in the summer they’re here for a month and a half or two months, because it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet in the summertime. The second homeowners are also important to my retail business, Jackson Hole Wine Company, because a lot of them are high-end wine buyers, either building cellars or already with cellars, and they like to collect. It’s a hobby that they’re allowed to pursue when they have free time, and they come to Jackson to have free time, so it works out well.

AB: Are all of the wines on the list at Terroir also available at the store?

KF: No, most of the wines at Terroir are not available at Jackson Hole Wine Company, because the list changes so frequently at Terroir, and because it’s a little more exclusive. With only 48 seats, we can touch every person who comes into the restaurant, and recommend particular wines to match the food, whereas at the store we serve a broader clientele. But all of the wines in the store are available to be consumed at Koshu Wine Bar, next door, at retail prices.

AB: Fantastic!

KF: We do charge a small corkage fee, on a scale that kind of encourages people to spend a little more on a bottle of wine. It’s a fabulous deal for wine lovers, because you can drink a $50 bottle for $65 at the wine bar.

AB: Tell me a little about Koshu. I understand you just opened it about a week ago.

KF: It’s a restaurant, but we’ve tagged it as a wine bar. The food is Asian-concept, with several different influences, Pacific Rim and so forth. We’d love to encourage people in Jackson to broaden their wine knowledge. We offer 15 wines by the glass, everything from Austrian whites to German Riesling and odd varieties from California–things people aren’t easily going to buy a bottle of but will try a glass, and if they like it they may go out into the shop and pick up three to four bottles of it on the way home. We have 30 seats and last night we served about 85 people, and at least ten asked me to come back into the shop with them and show them where that wine was that they had, because they wanted to take a bottle with them. So it’s definitely working. If someone is grinning from ear to ear over a Grüner Veltliner, you know they’re willing to give it a try.

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