By Jessica Yadegaran
Friday, November 20th, 2009 at 2:23 pm in Corkheads.
For my story on female sommeliers this week, I gleaned much from Sarah Valor, the maitre’d, sommelier and front-of-the-house manager at Oakland’s Commis. Unfortunately, my notes didn’t make it into the story, so I’m devoting this blog post to that interview.
Commis recently received its first Michelin star – they were in during the restaurant’s first week of business, I’m told – and after talking with Valor, 28, it’s easy to see how quickly Commis has garnered the reputation it has. They opened in June.
A little on Valor: She started her food business career during school at UC Berkeley, where she studied rhetoric. In 2001, she picked up jobs to help pay the bills and fell in love with wine and how it related to her interests in art, history, and languages. She was in.
She worked at Lalime and Albany’s Fonda, where she learned the ropes in spirits and wine and their relationship with foood. Like the rest of us, she became a sponge. As assistant to the wine buyer at Oliveto in 2004. she tasted as much as she could and picked wine brains galore. She had and still has no formal education in wine, but rather absorbed everything she could, reading and listening and tasting.
She says she sees wine as a shadow to Commis chef James Syhabout’s food. Her wine program is about finding wines that dance around the food but not interrupt it.
For her, being a good sommelier is “about how much confidence you come to the table with.” Since she wears so many hats, there’s been more than one time where someone thought she was “a wonderful receptionist.” But the customer’s mistake isn’t worth Valor asserting her role to the customer, she says.
“Ultimately it’s about the whole experience. You read every table. Some have an interest in being adventurous. But no matter what, we’re guiding, not selling.”