Adam Pawlowski, Head sommelier, Northcote
Name: Adam Pawlowski MS
Place of Work: Northcote Manor
Role: Head sommelier
Bio: Adam Pawlowski is the head sommelier at Michelin-starred restaurant and country house hotel, Northcote, in Lancashire. Adam started his journey towards becoming Master Sommelier just six years ago and has since become the first person from Poland to be given the prestigious title.
What are your top tips for getting into the industry?
First of all I would say do work experience, go somewhere and actually get your hands dirty. Go and see if this is something you really want to do. People think it’s a very exciting thing to do, but before you’ve done it you don’t know. So, go and check if it’s something you like.
Secondly, once you’ve done it and it’s something that appeals to you you’ll need to ask yourself if it is something you could do for a living, or if it’s something you temporarily want to do. It doesn’t really matter what type of establishment you go to work in because you can get the basics from simply serving customers. But it’s good to have a plan for your career and find out if you’re more comfortable in a fine dining or more casual environment, so try to work out which is best for you.
What would you say are the main challenges you face in your role?
Your customers challenge you on a daily basis and they keep you on your toes. You have to be up to speed on your knowledge. You also need knowledge of the food, chef’s dishes are now getting more complex and in terms of wine and food pairing there are a lot of curveballs that chefs throw us.
As a sommelier you are constantly being pushed to better your skills. As a sommelier in a restaurant you probably know more than your customers and it’s easy to become lazy. You need to push yourself everyday and remind yourself that you should be getting better and better. A good sommelier should challenge and push themselves. I always try to analyse if I have reacted in the right way to customers and if my recommendation to them was a really good one. I always analyse if I’ve given good service, we are there to serve and not to show off. I am not there to recommend what I want to drink but to find out what the customers want to drink.
Becoming a sommelier is not a typical career path, is there enough guidance on how to enter your field?
The thing is if you want to become a sommelier and you really want to do it you will find the information. It’s out there, it’s not highly advertised but it’s there. I wouldn’t recommend following the sommelier path to people who don’t have a passion for wine, you have to like wine to start with. You need to be able to commit to it; it’s a full time job. You have to have passion and commit to it properly; otherwise you’ll never succeed in this business. You have to love it.
The exams to become a sommelier are not compulsory, would you encourage people to take them?
Of course, absolutely. For a sommelier there are two serious organisations that I would recommend when looking into qualifications. The first one is the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), which is recognised worldwide. There are different levels to these qualifications, the first two are pretty basic and then you get more advanced for the people who like to commit to more studying. These exams don’t touch on the serving side of the job and so in terms of wine and becoming a sommelier the way to go is the Court of Master Sommeliers.
This organisation is focused on what’s going on around the table and you apply wine, food and serving knowledge around the table. There are four different levels of qualifications here and the highest diploma is the Master Sommelier diploma. I highly recommend doing both sets of qualifications because they compliment each other. The WSET look at it from a different angle to the Court of Master Sommeliers, they look at it from a trade perspective and they look at marketing. Where as the Court of Master Sommeliers is centred around the table.
If someone applied to work with you what would you look for in that person?
First I look for passion and enthusiasm, service skills I can always teach them but if that person has passion then they will study. I don’t really look for qualifications, it’s good when they have them but having done it all myself I can point them in the right direction. I look more at personality, aptitude, passion and enthusiasm.
How long has it taken you to get to where you are now?
It took me five years, but they say that is very quick and I was revising and pushing like crazy. It paid off for me but I think it is very individual and there is no set time. Finding somewhere that is right for you where you deal with wine on a daily basis is a very important thing.