The top sommeliers of tomorrow

More than ever gastronomy is present in all our lives, you cannot turn on TV or you see a food related show. A part of gastronomy that seems to get a bit less attention is the beverage part… or so I thought!

As you might know next to the ‘senior’ competition for Best Belgian Sommelier the Gild of Sommeliers yearly organizes (already since the 70’s) Best Belgian Junior & Junior Commis sommelier. The junior competition is actually for students from the 6th and 7th year of high school (chef school) who do a specialization ‘beverage knowledge’. I was surprised about the turn-out of young students (accompanied by their teacher). What I also didn’t know is that Top sommeliers are like rock stars for the students 🙂 Really they wanted to go on the picture with some of the judging top sommeliers and get some tips and tricks 🙂 🙂 WHO KNEW…

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Wanting to participate in a competition like this is already an accomplishment on its own. I mean it takes a lot of courage to stand in front of a whole group of people (fellow students and judges) and execute/answer your questions , especially knowing that most of the contestants don’t have lots experience yet… especially if you compare it with the participants of the ‘senior’ competition who have years of experience of working in general, but also from visiting lots of vineyards, etc…

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Nevertheless the level of knowledge and know-how is very high amongst the students and it’s a stiff competition!! This year’s event was also for me the first time to be present for the finals as previous years I wasn’t able to make it. Something also nice to know that I found out while browsing through last year’s pictures is that last year’s participants of the 6th year were participating this year in their 7th year 🙂

Finalists 6th year 2015

Finalists 6th year 2015

Finalists 7th year 2016

What I did notice was that 5 of the 6 finalists were of the Ter Groene Poorte chef school… I don’t want to say that one school is better over the other, but it looks like the preparation at Ter Groene Poorte was done really well. Another thing that was remarkable was that 90% of contestants were women!! This means that women are finally catching up. It would also be great if more women would participate for the ‘Senior’ competition, but it seems in a few years they will.

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The competition for the ‘Junior Commis’ exists out of 3 ‘tests’ with as special topic Languedoc and for the ‘Junior’ out of 5 ‘tests’ with special topic Portugal.

6th year students had following questions:

  • Decant a white wine wine and serve this
  • Tell as much as possible about 2 wines and if participant knows he/she can say which one it is
  • Pair wines with a 4 course menu (+ appetizers) of 55EUR
    • Appetizers
    • Spring role + smoked mackerel + lemon herb + rucola
    • Asian style sole rolls + gnocchi
    • Lamb filet in filo pastry + green asparagus + gravy with sage

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7th year had following questions:

  • Serve champagne in accordance with good practices rules
  • Pair wines with a specific 4 course menu (+ appetizers)
    • appetizers
    • Terrine of rye wing + watercress coulis
    • ‘Moscovite’ patato + sour cream
    • ‘Black Angus’ filet + early vegetables + marrowbone
    • Pineapple + coconut + sesamy
  • Decant a red wine
  • Describe 2 wines as good as possible and say which wine it is.
  • Recognize 3 alcoholic drinks

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What makes a good sommelier a top sommelier, for me, is his/her presence and his/her knowledge about wine and the ‘Fingerspitzengefühl ‘…Nothing irritates me more then when I’m at a restaurant and you ask a sommelier for advice about which wine to take with a specific dish/meal that you can feel they’re just playing darts. Not that I need a sommelier to speak an hour about a wine he’s serving, but a little word on why he’s serving that wine doesn’t hurt anybody. Another important feature is daring to make the non-safe choice of wine and surprise your customer…instead of serving the classic option maybe go for something more funky or unknown (and still budget friendly). When I say this I always have to think of Dirk Niepoort that said some of his wines aren’t drinkable on their own, but work perfect with some dishes.

It wasn’t easy for the judges to quote the finalists, but they managed. The winners were:

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6th year Elise De Waele

7th year: Yannih Paton (who insisted his school to subscribe him and came alone to the competition. Talking about willpower )

I’m looking forward to next year’s game!!

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