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- Sunday, 11 January 2015 13:40 | Written by Tristan Olphe-Galliard
Written by Tristan Olphe-Galliard Photo by Joerg Lehmann
Enrico Bernardo drinking a Chamomile (photo Joerg Lehmann)
Enrico, in 2004 at only 27 years old, you became the youngest sommelier to win the Meilleur Sommelier du Monde award. One can only imagine that this love for wine came quite early to you.
It happened when I was a 17 year old chef’s apprentice. The vocabulary used by the wine waiters intrigued me. Indeed, I myself couldn't express with such precision the dishes we were making at school, so I started to follow tasting courses. I was instantly hooked by their magic. I visited my first vineyards and met my first winemakers and quickly understood that wine and I would have a lifelong story together, even though I didn't know yet that this new passion for wine would one day become my job. At that time, it was more like something to complement cooking.
You did, in fact, start as a chef. You were even awarded the Best European Young Chef in 1993. What made you decide to dedicate your professional career to wine instead of sticking with the kitchen?
I actually had the same passion for cooking as I had for wine. For a short period, I really didn't know what direction I was going to take. Then, destiny chose for me when I won the Sommelier Italian Championship (in 1996 and 1997). Then, I became Meilleur Sommelier d'Europe in 2002 and Meilleur Sommelier du Monde in 2004. As years passed and I was perfecting my wine skills, I gradually stepped aside from the kitchen to become a wine waiter. I still have the same passion for cooking. That is why I always like to exchange views with chefs in my restaurants. I love to eat.
The first time we met, I noticed that you and your chef, Jose Manuel Miguel, had great chemistry.
Yes, absolutely. We get on very well and love to work together. Of course, I give him entire freedom regarding his cuisine because I think it’s vital for a chef. He keeps making me taste his new creations, and I find him the wines to match. It works very well. We have a great relationship.
With chef Jose Manuel Miguel at Goust (photo Joerg Lehmann)
Let's talk about your two restaurants in Paris. You opened Il Vino in 2007 and Goust in 2011. What is interesting about them is that the wine and food are of equal importance. Can you explain why you took this approach?
At Il Vino, you can choose a glass of wine, and we will serve you a dish that complements your wine. The idea is that the cuisine is inspired by the wine. At Goust, the process is the opposite: you choose your dish first and then we serve you a wine to match. Other than that they are similar. The menus have been designed by the same chef, the prices are in the same range, and both restaurants have one Michelin Star.
On the food and wine topic, what are your favorite food and wine pairings?
My answer might surprise you, but I like simple things. I think that an oyster and a glass of Champagne blanc de blanc is fantastic. Or even a foie gras toast with some Riesling from Alsace. I like clear-cut flavors; flavors without makeup.
I think that too often, people try to impress in cuisine when in fact it's in simplicity itself that you find the most honesty. For instance, when I go out to a restaurant, I’m not a big fan of in your face demonstrations when the wine waiter gives me sake and beer and natural wine. You can do that for your personal knowledge perhaps, but it is out of place when you're having a meal, if you want my opinion. I'd rather drink water.
It is the same with 10 course menus, where each dish is paired with a different wine. There are too many different tastes and too many different textures. It can be confusing. There is no logic for me. For a dinner, you can taste four glasses of wine – maybe five – and that's enough.
You opened a wine shop, created a tasting school, and developed a wine consultancy business. How do you see the French attitude toward wine? We tend to have an image of them being quite classical and conservative. Is it still true?
I think it was true, but not anymore. I think the French are more open-minded now, especially in a city like Paris. Many people want to have new experiences. I think that the wine culture has evolved a lot in the last 10 years. The old habits are starting to disappear. For example, the 30 year olds, and even more the younger crowds, who are discovering wine right now are more open-minded. They travel more than their parents used to and have the opportunity to try different wines in different countries. They also make an effort to learn about wine. Generally speaking, they don't want to do like their parents, who most times swear by Bourgogne and Bordeaux. They want to discover other things, even if they know their classics.
And what about people in other countries?
As a general rule, it is where there is no wine that people know the most about it. If you go to Norway, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, or the United Kingdom, you will see that people are more connoisseurs than in France, Italy, and Spain, which are producing countries. There are reasons for that. They are more willing to learn about wine in part because they don't have a complex when it comes to wine. They taste whatever is presented to them, without preset ideas and without ranking wines in any kind of hierarchy.
In producing countries, on the other hand, there is – or there was – a parochial tendency. For instance, an Italian could very well never have tasted a French wine in his life. He might only like to drink Piedmont or Abruzzo wine. In the same manner, you can see people from Bordeaux ignoring Bourgogne. Having wine within easy reach can foster too much familiarity, which results in a lack of curiosity.
At Goust (photo Joerg Lehmann)
Do you enjoy drinking "small wines?"
Of course! I don't always drink Grand crus. On the contrary, I very much enjoy drinking a Costières de Nîmes, a Canon-Fronsac, a Muscadet…
There is a wine for every moment. It’s the same with food. You don't eat caviar, truffles, lobster, or veal fillet every day. Sometimes what you need is a piece of bread with ham and a Gamay from Morgon. That's what will make you happiest.
Do you know that I am a great defender of Beaujolais Nouveau? I buy some every year because this wine is a landmark of a period of the year. We drink it after work with the staff served with charcuterie and country terrine. Of course, if you admit it to people, some might say that Beaujolais Nouveau is a small wine and that it doesn't taste great, but that is a cliché. When was the last time they had the curiosity to actually taste it?
What do you believe makes a good wine?
What makes a good wine in general is that you want to drink a second glass. I think this principle works for everybody, connoisseur or not.
What is your favorite dish?
My mother’s pasta! She makes them with a little ragout from southern Italy with a lot of tomatoes and very little meat. They are a kind of macaroni made with durum wheat flour and little egg. It has a nice texture, and you can easily eat two or three plates. It's a childhood dish. It makes me happy each time I eat it.
Fantastic MacSween haggis dish at Juveniles Restaurant (photo Joerg Lehmann)
To which Parisian restaurants do you like to go?
I really like Juveniles* near the Palais Royal. I love the people there. They really put their heart into what they do, and they make you feel at home. In the same gastropub style (bistro-restaurant), I also like le Grand Pan in the 15th arrondissement and le Timbre in the 6th. When it comes to gastro restaurants, I like when they are owned by the chef. I'm not really into palace restaurants – I find them a bit standardized sometimes. Among my favorites, there is Frédéric Simonin in the 17th arrondissement. I also really like l'Arôme in the 8th. They make good food, and you can feel the chef's touch in it.
About Enrico Bernardo:
- Website: http://www.enricobernardo.com
- Il Vino, 13 Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg, 75007 Paris, 01 44 11 72 00
- Goust, 10 Rue Volney, 75002 Paris, 01 40 15 20 30
- Champagnes & Vins wine shop, 3 rue St. Sulpice 75006 Paris, 01 53 100 100
Enrico’s dining suggestions:
- Juveniles, 7 Rue de Richelieu, 75001 Paris, 01 42 97 46 49
- Le Grand Pan, 20 Rue Rosenwald, 75015 Paris, 01 42 50 02 50
- Le Timbre, 3 Rue Sainte-Beuve, 75006 Paris, 01 45 49 10 40
- Restaurant Frédéric Simonin, 25 Rue Bayen, 75017 Paris, 01 45 74 74 74
- L’Arôme, 3 Rue Saint-Philippe du Roule, 75008 Paris, 01 42 25 55 98
* It happens that I’ve also been to Juveniles, and I wholeheartedly share Enrico’s enthusiasm about this wine bar / restaurant founded in 1987 by Scottish wine lover Tim Johnston. Not only is the food very good – ranging from the best haggis in town, according to Albion chef Matt Ong, to an excellent magret de canard with sweet potatoes – but the people (Tim, his daughter Margaux, and her boyfriend Romain) are also the nicest you can meet. The wine list has been carefully selected by Tim, who has been visiting vineyards for nearly 40 years. Needless to say, the man knows his job!