Chelsea Carrier is originally from Houston, Texas. She started her career in hospitality working for restaurants such as Zahav and Lacroix in the Rittenhouse. Her love of wine came from her time working at Eleven Madison Park and NoMad NYC.
Which producer or area do you believe in that most people in the industry disagree with you on?
I think that the area of wine that most people in the industry disagree with me on is Italian white wine. Obviously, there are iconic producers that my peers support, but overall, I think that Italian white wines are overshadowed by the reds. I’m a firm believer that these wines can stand up to most luxury white wines from around the world.
My favorite Italian white wines come from more native or unknown grapes such as Greco di Tufo, Fiano, Falaghina, Friulano, and Carricante. Given the grapes, these wine are typically from lesser known appellations, which allows me to “nerd out” with my guests. Producers such as Marisa Cuomo, Quintodecimo, Benanti, and i Clivi are just a few that have elevated the image of these grapes. Personally, I love to decant these wines, so they are ready to be crushed as quickly as possible.
What are the components of an incredible omakase experience with wine?
The main component of an incredible omakase experience with wine is to think outside of the box. I would definitely not turn down drinking old Riesling and any Champagne with Japanese food, but in my opinion, it is not my favorite. From working with Japanese cuisine, I have realized that the structure of the food is different than any other. Acid, bitter, and body truly affect wine in an interesting way.
From this conclusion, I have fallen in love with white Rhône varieties with an omakase. The moderated acid, sense of minerality, and the body express themselves similarly to sake. Sake is the classic pairing. Finding wines that can be exchanged for sake is a wonderful challenge.
What are the challenges of running a multi-concept hotel wine program and how do you put your team in a position to succeed?
Stepping into the role of running a multi-concept hotel beverage program was challenging to say the least. The organization of inventory alone could be a full-time job, and my learning curve was steep. The challenges that a single-concept program faces are the same as a multi-concept. The struggle with storage, organization, education, implementation, service, and development of employees is just multiplied by the number of restaurants that are overseen.
The way that I try to face these challenges is by always thinking of what is best for my team. If my team is happy, fulfilled, and supported, it will reflect onto our guests. This being said, my first initiative was to consistently hold week education classes, bi-weekly R&D for cocktail development, bi-annual beverage goal setting, and creating a spreadsheet for beverage employee development. The more that I included the team, the more they wanted to help with organization, service improvements, and implementation. They feel attached to the programs, which is wildly rewarding to me.
Which trend or trends do you wish would go away?
The trend that I wish would go away would be the pretentious Sommelier. The original reason for the Sommelier was not only to be knowledgeable about wine, but to heighten the experience of the guest. I feel as though the old school idea was lost for a period of time with the glitz and glamour of the ‘Sommelier.’ I think that there are many emerging Sommeliers (ex: Jonathan Lopez of the Milling Room, Jhonel Faelnar of Atomix, Sarah Plath of NoMad, and Luke Boland of CrownShy) that are trying to shake this idea, but do think that we have some way to go.
“ ...I have fallen in love with white Rhône varieties with an omakase. The moderated acid, sense of minerality, and the body express themselves similarly to sake.
What is your philosophy on educating and motivating a large staff?
Being the daughter of a teacher, education has always been near to my heart. Also, it has always been tied directly to my motivation at work. This is why Cushman Concepts immediately felt like home when I found that their motto is ‘Forever the Student’. I try to encourage this motto through my philosophy on educating a large staff.
Essentially, my philosophy boils down to inclusion. I cannot teach at every line-up, education class, or every staff member with a team of over 50 dining room employees in 3 restaurants. Also, to my dismay, I am not an expert on every beverage topic, and not everyone learns from my teaching style. I need help from the beverage team. I ask that every member of the beverage team hosts one of our weekly education class or daily pre-shift. Due to the vast and varied knowledge of the team, we get to deep dive into every aspect of beverage (i.e. Sake, Coffee, Tea, Wine, Cocktails, Spirits, Beer, and Non-Alcoholic).
This inclusion of knowledge encourages varying teaching-styles as well. People learn in different ways. The higher quantity of people that teach, the wider net we cast. This education inclusion is the easiest way to invest in an employee. It will encourage their motivation and attachment to the guest’s experience, the restaurant’s success, and the beverage program’s elevation.
You recently passed the Advanced level court of Master Sommelier exam – if you had to do it again, what would you change in your full process (study through exam)?
This is an insightful question because I have deeply contemplated this idea as I prepare for my Master’s track. It is a challenging topic for me because I was successful in my first attempt at the exam. I think to myself, ‘Must have done something right to succeed on the first try’, but the other thought that I have is, ‘Was my journey enjoyable or was it too in-balancing to my work/life/study balance?’.
The conclusion that I have made is that I wouldn’t change a thing. I will study, taste, and practice in the same methods during my Master’s journey. The one idea that I have decided to focus more heavily is the balance of life. I want to enjoy this last step, and be proud of how I passed. So, I have decided to take my time, and accept that this journey will take many years.
Note*: All answers are edited for spelling, punctuation and posted without cuts.