How did this all begin?! What made you begin your journey with the Court of Master Sommeliers?
I was repping wine in San Francisco and had been told that I wasn’t a sommelier or part of the community since I was just selling wine. This was literally two days before the Introductory Exam in 2003 at the CIA Greystone, so I showed up without registering and luckily someone had cancelled. I was able to take the exam, only missed one question, and ended up receiving the top score which was kind of cool. I ended up calling Master Somm legend Fred Dame and asking him, “what’s next?” He told me I didn’t have experience, but that he would help me progress - I passed the Advanced on the first time and the following year sat for the Master and got my ass kicked really bad. It all worked out when I passed in 2008, and it really is a great community of people that I am continuously involved with in mentoring new talent across the country.
Incredible! And you also have a long history in the music industry. Tell us about that?
I grew up in a predominately black community in Portland and rap music was just starting to get noticed in the 80’s. I would enter into DJ competitions and would always be known as the “white kid” which was almost a hindrance. I paid my dues and began doing club appearances, parties, etc.— as a junior in high school. Touched on grunge for a little bit which was huge at the time and opened for Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain’s first bands on visits to Portland. I still have the distinction of being the first solo white rapper on a record label when I got signed to Profile records in 1986 and am I was even mentioned in the hip hop history as one of the pioneers of rap in the early 80’s.
Next up can you tell us about how you were inspired to launch your fried chicken business?
I was in New Orleans eating at Dooky Chase and was able to meet nonagenarian owner Leah Chase who brought out a huge plate of fried chicken and collard greens. I had this crazy epiphanic moment like the scene out of Ratatouille where Ego, the food critic, has a flashback about his mother cooking for him when he tastes Remy’s ratatouille. I have goosebumps talking about it. Leah’s food is purely soulful and inspired me to honor my own grandma’s recipe from Greenville, SC. So much love and goodness was put into this food, and I not only wanted to figure it out, I wanted to be the best at recreating that love and soulfulness. I started making fried chicken all the time and experimenting with the different techniques: how long to leave it in buttermilk, how long to fry, what temperature, etc., until it became good enough to proudly serve. Now I have pop-ups and collaborations with some of the best restaurants in the country!
And we have to ask, what’s the best pairing for fried chicken?
Champagne! I love the high brow with the low brow. We always do a big Champagne list and I walk around in my Pac-Man suit with my name plate gold chains from back in the day just greeting people and selling Champagne. You gotta do something to be remembered by. I’ve now become the ‘chicken boy,’ but it’s fun.
We agree. What are guilty pleasure drinks that you like to indulge in? This is a no judgement zone!
When I was in my early twenties, I read in some issue of Esquire that if you want to be cool you order ‘bourbon on the rocks.’ There wasn’t much more than Makers Mark around then, so that was my drink. Oh, and espresso martinis for sure. Embarrassing to order but f*****g delicious.
Tell us about how you choose the wines that you’re drinking and/or choosing to put on the wines lists that you’re curating.
Most recently I built the wine list for Albatross Restaurant in Danville. My idea for this was built on the idea of “Peace in the Middle East” and this list includes the wines from Bethlehem, Palestine, Israel Lebanon, Morocco, etc. Definitely more unfamiliar wines for the neighborhood and waitstaff, so I approach wine education as “storytelling.” I have the staff pick a wine on the list, ideally something they’ve never heard of, and I just tell the stories of these wines. A few of the waiters have actually become teary-eyed with some of these passion stories, and they can then approach their table and share the personal history of a winery with their guests instead of just talking about fruit and oak descriptors. I try to find wines with “soul” - that when you taste them they have something that’s alive, different, and interesting.
What music are you listening to right now?
I get annoyed at some of the new stuff right now, but some artists are still pretty cool. The other day I was dropping off my son at school and we were listening to old school Michael Jackson in the car. Some of the 80’s stuff is super in vogue right now, so it’s been rad to share that with my kid. That along with old school Minnie Riperton, Stevie Wonder, and A Tribe Called Quest are always good. Some of the new “kids” like Post Malone, Kodak Black, Two Chainz, and Fetty Wap are pretty cool.
Best music & wine pairing?
Sometimes I really just like a stinky, earthy, funky ass red Rhone wine that hits the spot. I would probably do a Sang de Cailloux Vacqueyras with ‘Fopp’ or ‘Players Ball’ by Ohio Players or some old James Brown or Funkadelic. Funky as all hell. Super obscure but earthy and dirty and nasty.
What are you in charge of bringing to a house party?
The mixes! I’m always making playlists on Spotify and my actual work is on SoundCloud (soundcloud.com/djvitamix). Everybody is always fighting for the music at the end, so I always come prepared to get the party going.
What was the wine that gave you that ah-ha moment?
I have both low-brow and high-brow answers for this. The simple wine - that also happens to be in every grocery store- is the Sangre de Toro by Miguel Torres. It was the best thing that I could afford when I was learning about wine, and was the first wine that got me excited and made me want to start doing research on what the hell this weird Spanish wine was all about.
The other wine would be the 1971 Krug that I tasted at the namesake tasting at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival when it was called “The Masters” something like 15 years ago. I was late to the tasting and two older ladies were still sitting there enjoying the wine and they offered me a taste of what they had left. It was so good that we looked at each other silently and began pouring the left over wine from the other tables into our glasses!