Being 29-years-old and the head sommelier of one of Toronto's top restaurants is a daunting task. But William Predhomme – who makes the calls when it comes to wine at Oliver and Bonacini's famed Toronto restaurant Canoe – handles the weighty position with class and care. We caught up with Will to find out more about his work and life today on Notable.
When did you first become interested in the world of wine?
Professionally at 20. I moved to Lake Louise Alberta to take a job as a server in a fine dining room. I had worked in restaurants for the previous five years in my native Windsor, though the experiences in a tourism based area and in fine dining were alien to me. I noticed a woman reading giant books and nosing a number of glasses of wine at the restaurant I was about to begin working in, and I inquired as to what she was doing. She explained to me what a sommelier was and I was immediately intrigued. I had always been involved in the food aspects of restaurants, though using wine as a career was a new idea.
What was the inspiration for you to work towards becoming a sommelier?
I noticed the most respected people in the dining room by both the staff and guests were the ones with the most wine knowledge. I learned that the courses were exponentially difficult as you went on, which was the challenge that I had been looking for. All the aspects being taught were of deep interest to me – history, geology, geography, culture – and were then related to food and drink.
What is the biggest misconception you find people have about wine?
That wine is an overwhelmingly complex subject. True, there are complexities associated with wine, though to begin all you need to do is try a few wines and find one that you like. The market is now gearing towards attracting new wine drinkers with approachable, price-conscious selections as well as education geared towards the enjoyment. The wine business as it is today is completely different than it was 10 years ago, and a lifetime away from what it was before that.
What's it like to be head sommelier of a restaurant with such respect and reputation at such a young age?
It weighs heavily on me. There is a reason the restaurant and the company are respected the way they are: You have to perform at your best 100 per cent of the time, continuing to reflect upon what is going on inside the restaurant and in the community. I've been fortunate to have worked in this position for over three years, and there is no sign of slowing down.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The environment, the people you get to work with, and the guests that visit the restaurants. I'm very fortunate to work with like-minded people who are involved in a hospitality career. The people are intelligent, proud of their work, and are held to the same standards that I am. It makes for a positive environment that the guests feed off as well.
What's the biggest challenge you have to face as a sommelier?
Misconceptions of who or what a sommelier is and the duties involved. This is still a very new job category in Canada and those who are in the community are still working to define what a sommelier's job is. You not only are purchasing, listing, and selling wine, you're accounting for it while managing other aspects of the business. It can be challenging to balance out your work week.
What advice would you give to young professionals like yourself?
Those getting into the profession of sommelier should expose themselves to other aspects of management as well; despite all the perceived fun in tasting wine all the time. I would not have had the opportunity to be where I'm at now if I hadn't started as a server, worked for the LCBO as a product consultant effectively stocking shelves, managing a buffet and then a fine dining room at a unionized casino to gain management experience. This diversity of experience along with the wine courses prepared me for success in the business of hospitality.
What does success look like to you?
Measured growth and engagement in what you do. As the career of sommelier is still so new here, I have the opportunity to help shape how it develops and gains recognition as a genuine career choice. To be constantly exploring new avenues and bringing positive recognition to the profession is greatly rewarding. If I am able to look back 10 years from now and see this profession as a viable position in the hospitality sector due to the work the wine community is doing now I will be extremely happy.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Just recently I took and passed the Advanced portion of the Master Sommelier (MS) program, which is the world's gold standard for the profession. There are three Master Sommeliers in Canada, and the Advanced portion is the final step before the final examination. I had put my professional wine studies on hold for about four years so I could gain the valuable work experience I needed to make my interest in being a sommelier a career. The Advanced exam took about eight months of straight study along with balancing my hectic work schedule. The exam itself is after a grueling three-day lecture on what you should know, and is of the highest level of knowledge. Twenty-nine candidates traveled to England to take the exam, and nine of us passed, and there are around 400 people in the world who have passed this test. I had held this examination as a hurdle that was almost unreachable, but I put my fear aside and challenged myself to do my best. The feeling of passing this exam enforced my drive and gave me the confidence to continue pushing myself to do the things I think or have been told I cannot do.
What's notable to you?
Integrity is Notable. A great foundation is built from integrity.
What's one wine you would recommend anyone – wine lover or not – try?
The wines actually grown in your own backyard. There are fascinating, delicious wines being grown in both Ontario and British Columbia, not to mention some very interesting sparkling wine in Nova Scotia, and beer and fruit wine in Quebec. Go visit these places and try the stuff the producers are most proud of. You're bound to be pleasantly surprised.