Interview: Imagining life after with Aurélien Gil-Artagnan
Aurélien Gil-Artagnan — Head sommelier, La Réserve, Paris
« OUR TWO-STAR MICHELIN CHEF, JÉRÔME BANCTEL, HAS INTRODUCED TAKE-AWAY MEALS AND I HAVE PUT TOGETHER A WINE LIST TO GO WITH THEM »
How have you maintained links with your work during lockdown?
I have kept in contact through regular calls with my team of sommeliers. I devised questionnaires for them on various wine-related themes - grape varieties, vintages, winemaking techniques and legislation – so that they understand what an extensive topic wine is and keep their finger on the pulse of their profession. There would be nothing worse than returning to work with no preparation. The aim is to engage with each other over different issues and I encourage them to do research, which also helps to maintain our relationship. We introduced this for wine, but also for the restaurant side. Our front-of-house manager put together questionnaires about food. The people who work with us are passionate, they like to learn and this is the ideal time to do so. From the beginning of May, I'm going to set up blind tastings by having a bottle delivered to everyone so that they can get their tasting skills back up to speed. They will have to send me their blind tasting commentary by video. No cheating allowed!
How will you reunite after the end of lockdown?
Unfortunately, we will not be able to visit vineyards, but as soon as lockdown is over, we aim to meet up over a bottle of wine.
Did you use the time to do some re-organising?
It gave us the opportunity to do some ‘spring cleaning’ and restore some order. We have drawn up a precise inventory that will give us greater clarity. We have used the time to cleanse our customer database, remove wine listings we no longer have and update everything - this requires a lot of attention. It feels like we are opening a new establishment, even though there are still uncertainties. I worry about opening up in a hurry, so I'm making sure we’re all-set to go.
What are other ways of planning for re-opening, despite the current climate?
We now have to reinvent ourselves. Many establishments are focusing on take-away sales, as we are. In the first week of May, Jérôme Banctel, our two-star Michelin chef, is introducing simplified take-away meals, one meat-based, the other with fish. They will be affordable (starter/main course/dessert for under 50 euros) so that a broader audience can enjoy his cuisine and discover his style. I have put together a small take-away wine list with wines from our owner, Michel Reybier*.
How will you reunite with your customers?
Our loyal patrons will support us and be the first to return. When you enter a high-end restaurant, it offers reassurance because the level of service means that health safety can be guaranteed, even though some people may be put off by the unusual equipment. It will allow new ideas to emerge.
* Michel Reybier most notably owns Château Cos d’Estournel (Saint-Estèphe).