2018 Chicago Rising Star Sommelier Leslie Lamont of The Publican

2018 Chicago Rising Star Sommelier Leslie Lamont of The Publican
May 2018

Leslie Lamont began working in restaurants and bars to help pay her way through school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she earned a degree in communications and indulged in the finest of box wines. Straight out of college, she made a hard turn south to Palm Beach and The Breakers Resort, where she worked with three Master Sommeliers. Mandatory wine classes sparked her interest, and her mentors encouraged her to go for her Sommelier Certification, which she passed in 2009.

After interning during the fall harvest at Petrolo Winery in Tuscany, Italy, Lamont moved to Chicago and became a wine steward at Rising Stars alum Chris Pandel’s Balena. Still within the realm of Italian dining, she moved on to work as a floor sommelier and manager at Formento’s and spent formative time there with mentor Steve Morgan.
Lamont hopped across Randolph Street to undertake her first beverage program and a whole new cuisine at Rick Bayless’ Leña Brava. Working with legendary Frontera and Topolobampo Wine Director Jill Gubesch, she brought wines of Baja to the table, along with killer pairing instincts. Lamont recently departed Leña Brava for a post at The Publican, where she’ll no doubt create an essential wine experience at one of Chicago’s landmark restaurants.

Interview with 2018 Chicago Rising Star Sommelier Leslie LaRue Lamont

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?

Leslie LaRue Lamont: Drinking boxed wine in college. No…I worked in restaurants and bars when I went to college in Madison, Wisconsin. I needed money and worked my way through school. After graduation, I moved to south Florida for a job at The Breakers in Palm Beach. They have a very serious wine program and I worked under three master sommeliers. I kind of got bitten by the wine bug, so I started studying and took the wine classes mandatory for working at the Breakers. I enjoyed it and had an aptitude for it, and a master sommelier encouraged me to stick with it. That’s where it all began in 2009. 

CH: Who’s your mentor?

LLL: I have several. From my time at The Breakers, there’s Virginia Philip, Juan Gomez, and Andrew McNamara. They were all incredibly encouraging. When I moved to Chicago, I worked under Aaron Philips at my first restaurant job. He was the GM there at the time. Patti Robison was the sommelier. They taught me the tricks to hospitality and Italian wine. Next, I worked for Steve Morgan at Formento’s; he’s incredible. Now, Jill Gubesch. 

CH: How are you involved in the Chicago wine community?

LLL: When I moved here, I was in tasting groups and met all the wine professionals in the city. I confess I haven’t been in a tasting group since we opened [Leña Brava]. I was a crazy whirlwind. But there is an incredible community of people here; a lot of my interactions are as simple as BYO lunches on a Monday every month. Everyone brings a bottle and we geek out. It’s an aggressive drinking group. 

CH: What do you think are the most underrated varietals?

LLL: Any Italian white like Kerner, Falanghina, Vermentino, Verdicchio, Trebbiano—there are so many delicious and inexpensive options! Most are easy drinking, savory, high acid, and delicious!

CH: What do you drink on your nights off?

LLL: Bubbles! Some fun ones I love include Red Tail Ridge Riesling Pet Nat from Finger Lakes in New York, Bichi ‘Pet Mex’ Pet Nat from Tecate in Baja, and Pierre Paillard Bereche et Fils Champagne.

CH: What other wine lists do you admire?

LLL: Cherry Circle Room, Parachute, and Table Donkey Stick in Chicago and A10 in San Francisco.

CH: What region are you most excited about right now?

LLL: Valle de Guadalupe [in Baja, Mexico]. It’s a no-brainer.

CH: What’s your five-year plan?

LLL: I don’t know. I have friends who ask, “When are you going to jump to distribution?” That’s the expected path: work the floor for 10 years, and then go into distribution. I don’t think I’m ready for that. I’m a glutton for punishment. I love working in restaurants; I love the vibrant atmosphere, and there’s so much more to accomplish. I want to keep being a part of it.