Paula de Pano has been working with me at The Fearrington House Restaurant since 2010. When she started she had just graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York (the other CIA), and I could tell that she had a serious passion for wine. In the beginning the majority of her experience was in the back of the house (restaurant speak for the kitchen), at first she was timid, shy, but always driven to get better. She was always full of questions, and as soon as she got an answer another question was ready right away.
It was at this same time that she took her Introductory Course from the Court of Master Sommeliers, and passed. Over her first year Paula became a great member of the team, and also passed her Certified Sommelier Exam through the Court of Master Sommelier, a great accomplishment. Paula is a student’s student, she observes and picks up everything (before I forget, did I mention she is from the Philipines and English is her second language, and you would never know unless she told you?) — she aspires for greatness.
As many of you know becoming a Master Sommelier has been a huge goal in my life, as I had written about not too long ago. Before sitting the Master’s exam, one of the best feelings I had ever had in this wine business was when I passed the Advanced Exam from the Court in 2009. I had dedicated so much energy and time and study to that exam, and to pass it validated all of that hard work. Over the past two years, I saw Paula put in the hours, day after day, of studying, tasting, working hard on service skills. She sat the test for the first time last year, and came so close, but did not pass. She did not let that get her down though, and she studied harder than ever this year, while being a huge help to me as I worked towards the MS, Paula has given her everything toward this, in a way that only us who have done these exams can understand. If you have not had the opportunity I highly recommend watching the documentary SOMM, it is the story of four Sommeliers working towards the Master Sommelier Exam and gives a good idea of what the pressure is like not only at the Master’s level, but also at the Advanced Level.
I am happy to report that Paula passed last Friday at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida. Words cannot begin to describe how proud I am of her, and how much I can relate to how good it feels to pass. Now she has the journey that I have been on for four years now, the quest for the “Red Pin,” a journey that has been filled with highs and lows, but has made me better at what I do, more in love with what I do, and more humble. I wish Paula great luck on this next leg of the MS journey, I look forward to working with her to make more guests excited about the world of wine, beers and spirits, and I look forward to the day that we are both Master Sommeliers. Raise a glass for Paula tonight, she deserves it, and she appreciates it.