Once upon a Time... (Apologia pro curriculo meo)
Let's revisit a significant phrase from that second sentence: "...only been my main source of income..." Nobody's skills and knowledge are limited to their field of employment, and I have been cooking, hosting, drinking and even teaching all my adult life. My journey to my current, happy career has taken longer than many people's, but I can trace a clear path that has led me here. Just as a canal has its towpath, so my former career in social care has a parallel path that I have walked in hospitality.
My school had recently transitioned from secondary modern to comprehensive when I started. Somewhat radically for the time, the headteacher had taken the decision that all pupils would study all subjects. Thus my female peers joined us for woodwork and metalwork, and we boys were taught to cook, sew and manage a home. What I learnt in those lessons forms the solid foundation of my cooking, and I think those women who taught me (take a bow Marie Hitchen and Veronica Scott) gave me everything I needed to build on to become the creative cook I am.
Armed with Mum's love of hospitality, Mrs Hitchen's obsessive concern for theory and technique and my Uncle John's lessons in tasting, I started university, just as the British market was discovering wines beyond France and Italy. Hungarian cabernet sauvignon elbowed out Chianti as my drink of choice. Liverpool has always been full of restaurants, and I spent far too much time and money visiting them. I started to realise that by analysing food as I would wine, I could identify the key ingredients and techniques used, so that I could replicate them in the kitchen of my hall of residence. On one occasion, I even fed fifteen people a 5-course Greek dinner, cooked on two 2-ring Baby Bellings! Becoming a dinner-host, I discovered what it was that my Mum got out of hospitality.
As a language student, I spent a year living in France. I think this has been the single most transformative experience of my life. We are told that travelling broadens one's horizons. It does - this and more. Among the many things I learnt about myself, about life and about France, I learnt how to balance a menu, how to discuss food around the table. I learnt a whole new culinary vocabulary that has served me very well for thirty-odd years, and - the most significant lesson - I fell in love with the wines of Burgundy. I have made it my life's project to drink good, red Burgundy whenever I can afford it and have grown to love in particular the foods that go well with it.
Not so long ago I passed, with merit, my WSET Level 3 exam in wines, which includes elements of blind-tasting. Uncle John, I hope, would be very proud of what he has achieved in me! What I had not expected was that my writing and my presence on social media have been getting me noticed. I was approached by the owner of an influential kitchen with the offer of a dream job. He knew me only as "The Aperitif Guy" and had to ask my name when we met. Such is the power of online content. I will never dismiss Instagram and Twitter as trivial: they have brought me into contact with knowledge and expertise beyond my imagining and provided opportunities to grow as a host, cook and sommelier. The new job offers space for me to learn from incredible cooks and vintners. I shall have access to beautiful wines and other drinks, and the owner is giving me the freedom to become even more than I am. My Grandma wouldn't understand what I do and why people pay for my services, but there is a single thread of learning and growing that reaches from her love of feeding her family to my work as sommelier.
|That's Burgundy, of course!