The former cellar master/sommelier at Saison moved down the street in September to run the food and wine show at Les Clos, the French-inspired wine bar–cafe–retail shop by fellow Saison vet Mark Bright.
What can one expect from Les Clos?
We want guests to come with their laptops for espresso and canelés de Bordeaux in the morning, return for Chablis and oysters at lunch, and then, after work or with a date, enjoy sweetbreads and Burgundy in the evening. It’s a space where they can come in at any time of day and feel at home.
Favorite wine to work with?
Champagne—it’s hugely diverse. From levels of sweetness to ranges of development, it’s easy to pair because it’s produced in many styles.
Tricks of the trade?
Count in your head while pouring wine to ensure all guests’ glasses are level, and calibrate the count to the ounce. This way, you’ll never empty a bottle before the last guest is served.
Dream soundtrack while working?
The Lost in Translation soundtrack is romantic, calming, and at times fun and energetic. It really sets a fantastic, relaxed, sexy, wine-drinking tone.
Most overrated wine?
Huge, point-pushing, fire-breathing red wines from Napa Valley. After a while, they all start tasting the same. Don’t get me wrong, I love Napa wines. But the homogenization of anything gets a little boring.
What do you make for yourself to eat at home?
I tend to stick to five ingredients: avocados, heirloom tomatoes, arugula, mozzarella, and olive oil.
What motivates you?
Making people fat, drunk, and happy.
Wine trend you’re on board with?
Bringing back the classics to the new generation of wine drinkers. The obscure and esoteric is fun and affordable, but there is nothing better than turning someone on to a glass of Côte-Rôtie.
Wine trend that needs to die?
The inaccessible wine list—either because it honestly doesn’t have anything close to resembling a classic style, or one that is so expensive that a normal wine drinker would prefer a cocktail because it’s cheaper. But, a more recent bane of sommeliers are the wine writers who are making money, or at least page-views, by decimating the credibility of new, innovative, and creative wine lists and those who curate them. That form of Yelp-style wine writing is completely tired and passé, and seems like one last sad grasp for relevance.
Which living culinary person do you most admire?
Alpana Singh in Chicago. She was the youngest female to pass her master sommelier exam, and the wine director of Chicago's best restaurant groups, now she's taken all of that experience to build her own restaurant group including The Boarding House and Seven Lions. She is a huge role model for me.
Favorite food as a kid?
My Polish mom would always make me egg noodles with cottage cheese and black pepper.
Greatest professional moment?
Being a partner in opening the first Les Clos.
What exactly is a cellar master?
A cellar master controls inventory and storage of a wine cellar, including purchasing and ensures the restaurant's needs are met. He or she also drinks a lot.
When did you first know you wanted to be a sommelier?
When I got into the restaurant industry, I seemed to have a knack for the beverage side. As a server in a restaurant with no sommelier and a large wine list, it was on us to educate ourselves in order to make sales, and in turn, make larger tips. I took that responsibility very seriously because I wanted not only to be able to bring up check averages, but to really understand what I was selling. While studying, I found my passion, and specializing in wine helped set me apart from other servers on the floor. Eventually, my thirst for excelling in wine gave me a leg up and I was able to climb the ranks until I eventually earned my place as a buyer and sommelier.
What would you request for your last meal?
A repeat of a lunch I had in the Charlie Trotter studio kitchen, which included a breathtaking Iberico pork shoulder paired with an old vine garnatxa.
What most influences your job?
My passion to make my staff happy. It's providing the best jobs and having people want to come work for me.
Favorite midnight snack?
Really good cheese.
Where do you go for a good drink and what do you order?
I go to Trick Dog for a good Aperol spritz.
What Bay Area restaurants are on your list to try?
Aged gouda and barolo.
Favorite don't-tell-anyone junk food?
Cinnamon toast crunch.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten?
Veal brains at Longman & Eagle. It tasted like silken tofu.
Culinary habit you’d most like to kick?
Not cooking enough.
If you weren't a sommelier, you'd be...?
A crooked Chicago cop.
Any dietary restrictions?
Like everyone else, I try to stay away from wheat, but I am allergic to citrus.
Happiest food moment?
My first meal when I flew into Italy was in the home of the Giovanni Rosso family of Barolo, where they made us fresh pasta and sausage and shaved white truffles all over the table.
Customer pet peeves?
When guests try to dictate to me what kind of restaurant they're in rather than enjoy the experiences being offered.
Favorite culinary journey?
Probably the 10 days I spent traveling from Champagne to Madrid. Every city we went to was a new culinary discovery.
Describe your work persona in one word.
Favorite hidden gems?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be sommelier Christie Dufault when I grow up.
How far would you travel for a killer meal? Where to?
I would go to Peru to try Central.
Strangest customer request?
I did once have a guest ask me to de-shell their soft shell crab.
Most treasured possession?
Does my boyfriend count? If not, then definitely my passport.
Greatest professional moment?
Being a partner and opening the first Les Clos.
Hopefully more Les Clos, and I've always dreamed of having a beer and shot dive bar called Cara's.
Follow Cara: @carapatriciasf
This article was published in 7x7's November 2014 issue. Click here to subscribe.