Wine on Starchefs
Michael Scherzberg of The New Orleans Grill on StarChefs
The New Orleans Grill
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.

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.

How has your experience in the kitchen affected your approach as a sommelier, when at the table or maintaining your wine list?

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.

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.

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?

MS: 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.

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 Published: March 2004