300 Gravier Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
Located in the Windsor Court, an Orient-Express Hotel
Telephone: (504) 522-1992
Fax: (504) 596-4649
Interview with Michael Scherzberg
By Jim Clarke
Jim Clark: You seem to
have had a hand in almost every aspect of the restaurant business at
one time or another. Is sommeliering a destination, or a step on a journey?
Michael Scherzberg: A
bit of both – I started out in the back of the house and an accident
in the kitchen moved me into the front of the house. I love all aspects
of it. The biggest thing for me is being in a restaurant, making people
happy doing things most people can’t, whether it’s cooking
a dish that somebody’s going to love or selecting a wine to go
with somebody’s food. My ultimate destination is to someday have
my own restaurant where I’m calling all the shots – choosing
the food and the wine and the décor.
JC: For a sommelier, how does working in a hotel restaurant
differ from other restaurant work?
MS: Things go a lot slower.
It’s not like an independent restaurant where you talk to one
person and make a phone call and things are done. In a hotel there’s
more people that are involved in all the processes. I can’t just
make a change on the spur of the moment. I have to check with people
to see how it’s going to affect other aspects of the hotel.
JC: How has your experience in the kitchen affected your
approach as a sommelier, when at the table or maintaining your wine
MS: It has definitely
helped with creating a palette so that when I look at a menu without
tasting the dishes and I see the description, I know what the different
cooking techniques do to the food and what the different sauces taste
like. I have a much better food memory that I can pull from, so I can
tell what the flavors in the dishes will do with the wines. I think
it's very helpful to know both sides.
JC: You’ve worked in restaurants across the country.
How have your guests’ wine-buying patterns differed regionally?
MS: It all depends. In
the hotel I have guests from all over the world who stay with us, so
I can keep more of an international list going. I have to look to other
cities and see what the trends are there. If I had an independent restaurant
in the city I could focus more on what the city is looking for, but
in a hotel situation I have to look at what everybody in the country
is looking for. Kansas City is a bigger wine town than people think,
and people are very experimental and open to suggestions. In Australia
they certainly drink Australian wine, in part simply because the Australian
Dollar is relatively weak, so importing is extremely expensive. But
a lot of it is just pride; in South Australian you drink South Australian
wine, in Victoria you drink Victorian wine.
JC: Sabring must be the most dramatic piece of wine presentation
one could encounter; how did you learn the art, and how often do you
get the opportunity to do it?
I learned in Kansas City from James Andrews, who is the lead
sommelier at the American Restaurant. In Kansas City there are a few
restaurants, the American and J.J.’s, where they sabre champagne,
and I had James teach me and then just continued doing it. It was probably
about five years ago that I learned. At the Windsor Court we do a Dom
Perignon Brunch every Sunday and I sabre all the bottles in the dining
room. I sabre about a case each week, so I get a lot of practice.