Time to put the finalists for Best sommelier of Belgium in the spotlight: Stéphane Dardenne
Last but not least we have look into the world of the 3rd finalist for the title of Best Sommelier Of Belgium 2016 Stephane Dardenne. Stephane is sommelier of the Michelin starred restaurant La table de Maxime where I was already fortunate enough to have passed a wonderful evening!! Unfortunately back then Stéphane was not yet working there, but if he was I’m sure my meal would have been even more mythical!!
Just like Gianluca for Stephane it is the first time in the finals of Best Sommelier of Belgium. Not that I want to discourage them, but until now not too many people or non for as far as I remember have won Best Sommelier of Belgium at their first participation… so maybe it is up to Stephane or Gianluca to write history :-)
Stephane is, although he has done 2 years of hotel management school in Namur, a man of the practice. He has learned by doing… so autodidact in a way. Before starting to work for the Michelin starred restaurant La table de Maxime he has gained lots of experience and knowledge at the Michelin starred restaurant Zur Post in the little town of Saint – Vith.
Just like with all the other sommeliers here are the answers to the 10 questions I asked him:
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
I always prefer saying that I give preference working with a particular wine estate rather than with a region. Every region has its artists that try every day to transcend their terroir. Estates that take all measures needed to make a wonderful end product, that prefer focusing on quality instead of quantity, who experiment in terms of winemaking and participate in the variety of wine. A great wine is in my opinion nothing without the hand of man.
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
It is a job that is very complete. It requires both an incredible amount of knowledge but also a lot of physical and organizational skills. The sommelier is somehow an extension of the culinary art in the restaurant and is always first in line to learn about the feelings/comments of customers towards their meal. He must also show a lot of psychology while remaining discrete and humble. He must constantly put in question his own knowledge and to learn and be informed about changes, evolutions in the world of wines.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
I think a bit of both. In the kind of restaurant I work at, a sommelier is sometimes overestimated by customers that forget that the pleasure and experience of a restaurant is the work of a whole team not only 1 individual. On the other hand he is underestimated by chefs on their ‘”intellectual” and artistic approach. Only very few customers dare to trust them fully and be carried away in the ‘adventure’ that is offered to them
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
I’ve always been looking for the good and the beautiful.The wine somehow presented itself as it always should have been there… I remember when I was a child, a friend of mine’s dad had a very beautiful cellar where I always loved to go to admire the bottles .
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
In terms of wine, I am self-taught. I always considered things with my own sensibility. However, I appreciate the humility of Serge Dubs and approach to wine-food pairings Alain Senderens.
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
This is without any doubt the most difficult question! First I mostly take into account the preparation rather than the product as such. Only after having understood its preparation I try to associate it with wine. I try to give the least possible importance to the ideas and ‘obligations’ proposed in textbooks but rather respecting as much as possible the customer’s taste. That’s always why I take the trend of « nature » wines in consideration from the distance. A detail I love to work with is the visual aspect ! Its importance of the visual aspect of a wine or the label are often diminished.
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
I’m of the opinion that every wine region has its treasures, heritage and is worth visiting. One that I’m thinking of in particular is Wachau. It is a small Austian valle somewhere along the Danube and is a UNESCO world heritage site. In this region they produce some of the best white wines in the world and the region is rich in heritage and architecture. At the summer solstice, all residents light up the hills with thousands of torches and ride on boats to party while each village takes fireworks. Magical!!
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste? In that case I’ll have to make lots of sacrifices:-) At this moment I’d love to taste old vintages both red and white from Clos Rougeard.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?
I only did 2 years of hotel management school in Namur … so I don’t have too many souvenirs. I did appreciate the courses on cigars that I had with a few friends, we all always used to chip in to be able to taste the « big models » on evenings at boarding school.
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?
The current offer is so big that it is impossible for me to remember a particular experience. This is probably what makes the richness of the wine and gastronomy. I just want to say that I’m open for new experiences, knowledge and diversity. Also always keep a cool head and avoid following “fashion” to much.