Perth’s Immigrant – Entrepreneur – Chef – Teacher -The Cooking Professor’s Riki Kaspi

Recently I interviewed Riki Kaspi owner of Perth’s much loved cooking school The Cooking Professor in Mount Hawthorn. Her story is a story of an immigrant who chose to make Australia home. Many have eaten at her former Moroccan restaurant Blake’s in North Perth. Her Spice Journey product range of Harissa, Chermoula, Cous Cous has allowed cooks in Perth to authentically create the flavours of Morocco.

What we don’t know is the love for family that bought Riki to Australia. Arriving in Perth 20 years ago with her young family from Israel, to visit relatives. Riki fell in love with Australia, she loved how the country embraced people from across the globe, the Australian can do attitude. When she became an Australian citizen Riki told me it was one of the happiest moments of her life .

Born in Turkey, Riki is fluent in Spanish, French, Hebrew, English. An actress by profession she use to run her own theatre company. Her husband Heni a talented musician, plays the saxophone and clarinet. While her son Elli runs Shak Shuka bringing the flavours Moroccan street food to visitors who frequent farmers markets and events throughout Perth. Those living near the cooking school now can get Shak Shuka home delivered through Uber Eats and Deliveroo.


Riki’s love of cooking was inspired through her heritage and global travels. She recalls spending two years working in restaurants in Normandy, although her job in the kitchen was repetitive, she told me she just keep an open mind, observing what the kitchen brigade was doing. Her Australian  culinary journey started as a kitchen hand at a catering company, rolling 1000 meatballs. Owners of the company seeing her potential  sponsored her hospitality apprenticeship at TAFE. On completion of her studies, she worked in various restaurants in WA, including The Loose Box. Riki’s dream was to eventually open her own restaurant. Blake’s in North Perth, that bought the flavours of Morocco and the Middle East cooking to Perth. The restaurant opened 7 days, with Friday and Saturdays booked months in advance, yet endless hours running both front and back of house took a toll on her, so the restaurant was sold and the family travelled for 5 months abroad to Israel, Spain and France.

On returning to Perth, Riki decided against opening another restaurant, yet wanted to continue in hospitality, she purchased the The Cooking Professor Cooking School on Walcott St Mount Lawley, eventually out growing the premises due to demand for her cooking classes, necessitated the school to move to larger premises. Her current location at Mount Hawthorn since 2016 is the third incarnation of the school, that provides a large open space for cooking classes to those who enjoy learning different cuisines and of course eating the fruits of there labour’s afterwards. Her theme dinners at the school where she cooks are highly anticipated, with a fan base from former regulars to Blakes and a new generation who enjoy good food. Her cooking class sessions for families are always popular. The Cooking Professor also provides commercial kitchen facilities that the public can hire, whether to prepare for a school fair or those needing premises to prepare items to sell at farmers markets.

I asked her what developments, she’s noticed in her cooking classes. She told me Asian, North African and Middle East classes are in high demand. Her Jerusalem cooking classes and Tagine classes are very popular, often booked out. She told me as more and more Australians travel they’ve discovered that food from the Middle East and North Africa is packed full of flavour, is healthy and quite easy to prepare as long as they have the right ingredients. Riki told me at the beginning people where apprehensive about middle eastern cuisine. The only thing they knew about was hummus. Now they appreciate good hummus and falafel. Her friend’s restaurant The Hummus Club in Northbridge does a modern take on the dish.


Riki’s Spice Journey business origins, came about by necessity, people where missing her cooking from Blake’s, went to her cooking classes, eating her food at farmers markets, wanted to create the flavours of her dishes at home. That’s how products Chermoula and Harissa paste came about. Riki told me all you need is three basic ingredients, to get authenticity with her dishes. Her cous cous is specially sourced, after finding it difficult to find good cous cous in Perth. Turkish rice pudding is simple to make, gluten free dry spice mix Moroccan quinoa kit is flavoured packed. She started selling the range at farmers markets, listening to customers feed back on how to improve her products. She said that through word of mouth, was the best beginning for her Riki’s Spice Journey range. It’s been 3 years of trial and error, that now see the range extended to 12 different products, that is sold in fine food stores and in some supermarkets. They will shortly be available on line.

Riki mentioned her success is due to a supportive family. They all work well together, are very creative, although there are times they may disagree about things, yet her philosophy is never go to sleep angry. She refers to her husband Heni as her saviour. He helps with administration, while at the same time playing in a band, doing a degree. Her son Elli is carving his own identity with Shak Shukar, under a mothers watchful eye, that the food remains authentic, after all it’s her recipe.

Australia is indeed blessed to be able to call Riki one of their own. Her inspirational, generous spirit in teaching many people how to cook food that is healthy and flavoursome is a boon for the city of Perth.


I  will be hosting wine appreciation workshops at The Cooking Professor Perth commencing on July18 and 26 starting with a tasting of classic French grape varieties that, just like migration have made new world countries their home. Some of these grapes now even outshine the grapes from their original birth place.

Visit To book tickets for wine appreciation tasting sessions go to or All bookings will receive a $30.00 voucher to use at any of The Cooking Professor Cooking Classes. https//





Lindemans Wines Now A Shadow Of Itself

Lindemans wines at one time garnered wide respect with Australian wine drinkers. At one point it rivalled Penfolds in the quality stakes.  It was also known to be the company that encouraged wine drinkers to switch from drinking fortified wine in the 1970s to drinking white wine with the introduction of Ben Ean Moselle. At one point, this wine represented one in three bottles of white wine sold..Bottling of wines during the early 20th century once took place under the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney. Now Lindemans is a shadow of its former shelf, just another label in  (TWE ) Treasury Wine Estates extensive portfolio.

There’s even a Lindemans South African Sauvignon Blanc that I saw on shelves at A&E in Dubai. Lindemans once had a cellar release program, where parcels of exceptional wines where held back, then released as a second tranche, sometimes a third time, when the wine was at its peak drinking window. It’s stellar Hunter River Semillons and Shiraz rivalled those of Tyrrells & McWilliams for quality & cellaring longevity. Outstanding long living rieslings came from South Australia, Watervale and Eden Valley fruit. Who can ever forget the legendary 1972 Bin 4295 Watervale riesling andthe superb 1965 Bin 3100 Hunter Shiraz.

Thankfully former winemakers who worked at Lindemans and its stablemate Leo Buring at one time, are lauded as living legends in Australian winemaking. Names like Ray Kidd, Karl Stockhausen, John Vickery, Phillip Laffer.

The annual Sydney Wine Show trophy for best white wine is named in honour of the late Albert L Chan once chief winemaker at Lindemans. Winemakers Steve Webber, Jeffery Grosset, Chris Pfeiffer, Phillip Shaw all still craft exceptional wines, from their family owned estates. Lindemans may be a shadow of its former shelf, yet quality of wines made by these winemakers, who at one time or another in their careers graced the cellars at Lindemans, will no doubt cause Dr Henry John Lindemans to smile from above.


Karl Stockhausen, recently inducted as one of The Hunter Valley wine Legends

New Generation Aussie Winemakers

Interview with Ryan O’Meara of Express Winemakers, one of Australia’s 2017 Young Guns Of Wines, who almost gave up wine making as a career. Thankfully he continued, to now craft some very interesting small batch wines  from exceptional vineyard plots in Margaret River and The Great Southern region in Western Australia.

Maison Alainh: Who is Ryan O’Meara and how did you come about being a wine maker? Why Great Southern and Margaret River ? I understand your originally from Fremantle? What are your interest away from wine making?

Ryan O’Meara: I grew up around Fremantle, and took family holidays to the Great Southern and Margaret River wine regions. I studied winemaking largely because it sounded adventurous and because a lot of coastal wine regions have great surf breaks. I ended up in the Great Southern in 2009 when I was saving money to head back to Spain for another overseas vintage, and fell in love with the beauty of the region and its unique Rieslings. I still try and go surfing as much as possible, but with a busy work and home life it seems to be less and less.

Maison Alainh: How did Express Wine makers come about, the year it was established ? How do you source the fruit for you wines? Where are the wines made? I notice your labels are a touch retro, almost 1950s . How did the labels come about?

Ryan O’Meara: I started Express Winemakers in 2011 while working at West Cape Howe Wines. I promised myself that I would give my own wine business a crack after already walking away from the industry once (in 2006 sick of the stuffiness of the industry I started work brewing at Little Creatures for 2.5 years). The original idea was to give a few of the unique parcels of fruit that I would see coming through at West Cape Howe there chance to Express themselves and there terroir. The labels (along with some of the wines) have been a work in progress, they are an attempt to reflect the handmade nature of the wines, while also being eye catching and recognisable.

Maison Alainh: I understand you travelled around the world looking at different wine regions. What did you learn on your travels that you apply in your wine making?

Ryan O’Meara: I have worked in some beautiful and eye opening regions from Santa Barbara in California, Tuscany, South of France and in several regions across Spain as well as in Australia’s Barossa and Yarra Valleys, Margaret River and of course the Great Southern. In the past I’d found myself working for larger companies overseas, which was great because you are given positions of responsibility and you get paid. But just last year I was able to work for Alfredo Maestro in Spain who makes only a little more wine than I do and in a similar fashion. I was keen to pick up a few tips from another natural winemaker and see how he does things, it was great to see his focus on bio dynamics and staunch anti-additives approach, but his lifestyle is nothing short of loco.

Maison Alainh: How would you describe Express Winemakers wines, to people who taste them for the first time? Tell me about your wine making process, what are you looking at achieving with your wines? How do you decide on what wines to make and will there be core range of varieties available from vintage to vintage? Do all the wines go through skin contact as part of the wine making process and what makes Express Winemakers wines different from orange wines?

Ryan O’Meara: Express Winemakers was born out of wanting single vineyard parcels to show their individuality. Hence, the list of wines is constantly evolving. My winemaking practices have really evolved over the past few vintages to the extent where I am actually doing next to nothing to the grapes. Literally treading on them and leaving them and then pressing them and leaving them. I don’t like to neglect the skins as there is so much flavour in them. The whites generally go through anywhere between 2 and 10 days skin contact and the reds only a little longer. Its been really interesting this year seeing at which point the structure of the wines change from getting a little flavour and tannin from the skins to becoming orange wines (after roughly a week or so, when the structure of the wine changes quite drastically). I’ve got a bit of both this year, so undoubtedly there will be some new wines again.

Maison Alainh: I’ve heard there is something between a beer and wine that you’ve produce?

Ryan O’Meara: That was a fun side project that I did with Jayne from Two Birds Brewing, we used to work together at Little Creatures Brewery. I’d tasted a lot beers that had been made by collaborations between friends of mine and I had a bit of FOMO, so came up with the idea of ‘Chardonnale’ – a Chardonnay fermented with Belgian ale yeast, Jayne added to the idea by throwing in enigma hops grown in Tassie, and then we inoculated it for secondary fermentation in bottle. It was great fun making it and I loved the finished project, but it was a lot of time and effort, hopefully one day we do something similar again.

Maison Alainh: There seem to be a bit of Tempranillo grown in Australia now. Tell me about yours?

Ryan O’Meara: I must have just about sourced my Tempranillo grapes from every Tempranillo vineyard south of Margaret River over the years. Two years ago I found my favourite in one of Plantagenets vineyards, planted in 1999. I feel that my 2016 really showcases the fruit, with earthy characters and briary fruits and the palate is smooth enough for enjoyment but enough edges for interest. It is an example of letting the grapes express themselves, not hiding behind excessive skin extraction or new oak.

Maison Alainh: When I tasted your Malbec there was a hint of funkiness to it, that I don’t mind. It seems apart from South America, one doesn’t seem much Malbec about. Tell me about your Malbec.

Ryan O’Meara: Sometimes when you make wines so hands off and don’t add much SO2 things really take their own path and its out your control, and you just have to roll with it. The 2016 Malbec was an example of this there is still a real prettiness, to the nose with dark jubey fruit like characters as well a hit of reductive funkiness and a certain je ne sais quoi.


Eat and Drink Perth Western Australia


  Cafés – Restaurants – Bars – Hotels in Perth WA

By Alain H Lee © Copyright Maisonalainh June 21 2016

Tiisch Café Bistro – Cnr Hay & Milliagn St, opened early June. Good coffee, surprisingly for Perth cafés, its tea service,is quite smart, vegetarians are looked after,brioche with bacon and egg is good. Fit out is bright and airy by STATE28 interiors

ALEX Hotel 50 James St, Northbridge – Good restaurant attached,interesting wine selection. Interiors rustic warehouse with modern touches.

Petition Wine Bar & Merchants, State Buildings Cnr St. Georges Terrace & Barrack St – Drink in or take home of wine with interest, such as William Downie delicious Pinot Noirs – VIC, Sorrenberg  juicy Gamay Beechworth – VIC, spectacular dry grown riesling by Clos du Tertre, Frankland River WA,that one can drink on premise or take a bottle or two home at prices that won’t put a dent your credit card.

LOT 20 Bar on William St (Entrance James St), Northbridge One of many small bars in Perth, with the advantage of Perth’s oyster king, Jerry Fraser, shucking fresh oysters. Yarn with Jerry on all happenings in Perth, rugby and football, just don’t mention Norwich City. Check when Jerry is in, as he might be shucking at Lot 20s sister venue. One hasn’t eaten oysters until you’ve eaten an oyster opened by Jerry.


Will Ao Yun Be China’s First,First Growth ?



Magnum and 750ml Ao Yun
Magnum and 750ml Ao Yun Cabernet blend. Will this be China’s first, first growth red wine ?

At 2016 Vin Expo Hong Kong, I was invited to Moët Hennessy’s Wine Division, Asian launch of 2013 Ao Yun “ flying above the clouds” cabernet blend, their ambitious plan to produce one of the finest red wines to be made in China. Their Shangri-La winery and vineyard situated in the northern corner of Yunnan, 10 kilometres from the border of the autonomous region of Tibet, 35 km from the border of Burma on the side of Mekong Valley at a high altitude, within sight of the Himalayan Mountains in an extremely dry part of China. Travel a couple of hundred kilometres from the vineyards in Yunnan and the landscape becomes sub tropical making growing Vitis vinifera impossible.

The project began when a team from Moët Hennessy wine division led by Australian Dr Tony Jordan, went around China for three years to see where Cabernet Sauvignon would best thrive, with exposition of sunshine, annual rainfall, measuring difference of temperature day and night.

Grapes for Ao Yun, come from over 300 small blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc vines, planted in 2000/2002 on 28 ha of vineyards. Vineyard operations are conducted using manual labor, from four vineyard sites that grow at attitudes of between 2,220m to 2,600m, making it impossible for any form of mechanisation. Growing period of the grapes is 160 days from time of flowering to picking, compared to Bordeauxs 115 /130 growing days, composition of the soil is similar to the alluvial soil found in the Mayacamas Mountains in Napa. Local farmers from four villages,who have no wine drinking background are taught to maintain the 314 small plots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc vines, with Moët Hennessy wine making team headed by Estate Manager Maxence Dulou, convincing the villagers that wine making necessitates the need to drop fruit, that quality and quantity are two different things when making fine wine. Communication with villagers is conducted in Tibetan using a number of different translators to communicate back and forth from Tibetan, to Mandarin, then English and vice versa in how vines are maintained.

Will Ao Yun will be mentioned in the same breath as top growth Bordeaux in say 20−40 years time ?  Jean-Guillaume Prats CEO of Moët Hennessy Estates & Wine, put it, in the context of Penfolds Grange, he mentioned no one would have predicted that when Grange was first created in the early 1950’s, that it would one day have such a following with wine drinkers and collectors across the globe, he said only time will decide where Ao Yun will sit in the hearts and minds of the world’s wine drinkers. Cost of Ao Yun, is more expensive to produce than LVMH owned Clos de Lambray Burgundy or Château d’Yquem Sauterne due to the logistics and location of these chinese vineyards.

Ao Yun is dark, powerful,in concentration, it’s a wine difficult to give it an origin or terroir, yet from the beginning it’s silkiness, carries thru on the palate,with its excellent tannin structure and balanced acidity,much like a very good Napa Cabernet or a Tempranillo from Ribero del Duero. It would be interesting to see how the wine evolves in the glass over a meal. 

 Ao Yun is one of the finest chinese red wines I’ve tasted. In time Ao Yun may become China’s contender,as its first, First Growth chinese wine. It’s a wine that would earn a place in any wine drinkers cellar. Ao Yun may be a wine made in China, yet its DNA is very much global in outlook. At $250 USD a bottle and production of just 24,000 bottles, it indeed looks like the Lost Horizon to find the perfect region to make fine wine in China may have been found by Moët Hennessy Wine Division, Shangri-La winery in the foothills of the Himalayas. Time will tell!

©Copyright Alain H Lee June 16 2016

Ao Yun launch at 2016 Vin Expo Hong Kong with Maxence Dulou Estate Manager of Moët Hennessy Shangri-La Winery,Yunnan, China
Ao Yun launch at 2016 Vin Expo Hong Kong with Maxence Dulou Estate Manager of Moët Hennessy Shangri-La Winery,Yunnan,China









Dubai Dining Out …A restauranter of our time Luca Gagliardi


Images from clockwise : Luca Gagliardi GM RTrader, front entrance during the day, speakeasy cocktail bar, my espresso, view  from lounge to stage. Photos © Copyright Alain H Lee 2016

Simone Luca Gagliardi a native from Bari, Apulia, Italy, a hospitality professional whose service leadership has seen him work the finest tables with chefs Marco Pierre White at MPW, Gordon Ramsay at The Connaught and Claridges Hotel in London. In the mega metropolis that is Dubai, Luca was GM at Verre, Gordon Ramsay’s first restaurant opening in Dubai, GM at the late Michelin star chef Santi Santamaria’s, Ossiano at Atlantis resorts, opened Robertos Restaurant & Bar at DIFC, Solo Italian Bistronomia & Vino Bar in Raffles Hotel, Wafi City.

 Luca’s new opening is RTrader, by the owners of The Scene in Pier 7 at Dubai Marina.  (Rogue) RTrader, is a name that plays on the banks that over exposed their currency trades, when renegade traders during the 1990s, bet the wrong way in currency trades, losing billions of pounds for their banks causing them financial ruin. Infamous names as Baring Brothers, J Hughes & Sons are painted on the front entrance of R Trader to depict trading houses. RTrader’s, wicked sense of humour sees the restaurant located in Currency House.  

Level M, Podium Atrium, Al Fattan Currency House DIFC, PO Box 128255 Dubai, UAE                           T: +971 (0)43435518

 RTrader a speakeasy restaurant and bar is reminiscent of a prohibition era venue from the 1920s to the 1930s. Visit the bar and  you will notice the absence of spirits, liqueurs, wine and beers on display. All are hidden away with ingenious panel work, even wine fridges are hidden behind faux  wood doors. Come September a hidden upstairs bar which requires coded entry for entry will be opened, already a boon for luxury fashion brands as a location to invite VIP guests to intimate surroundings to launch their latest collections. Luca stress that photos of guest and the venue is banned, this is to protect the famous and infamous. Prohibition is indeed alive and well in this hidden location.


So how so does the culinary offering stack up, with alumni coming from the kitchens of Tom Aiken’s, dishes are visually stunning, backed up with clean flavours on the palate, there is no shortage of brilliance coming from the kitchen. I asked Luca, is the concept of R trader menu a sharing concept, à la carte? Luca with a twinkle in his eye, tells me RTrader can be anything you want as a restaurant, with live jazz from the stage during the evenings, a bar dispensing classic drinks such as Whiskey Angel, French Kiss. RTrader will be on everyone lips as the place to go too, to be seen at, as one enjoys wonderful plates of food that really wow, excellent cocktails, a good beverage list, while chilling to smooth sounds of jazz during the evenings. During lunch the panelled doors are swung open to allow natural light to fill the restaurant, after all even traders need a dose of vitamin D. Guests conducting mega million dollar deals during the day, can behave with an element of sobriety, that is until the sun sets.

I asked Luca how he balances work and home life. He said one needs to make an effort when one has a young family. He told me one needs to “ balance the reality of home life with the that of being a restauranter ”. Luca Gagliardi is one class act, a gentleman, bon vivant, a true hospitality professional who, creates a sense of occasion for those dining out. RTrader is one restaurant is defining the Dubai dining scene, by showing how good food from the kitchen, a savvy operating bar, professional service on the floor, combine to offer up a genuine sense of hospitality to guests. Complementi Luca to you and your team.

About The author : Alain H Lee a hospitality industry professional with a career covering three continents in operations owned by Gordon Ramsay,Tetsuya Wakuda, Rockpool, Harvey Nichols. Alain mentors hospitality future leaders in The Art of Reading The Floor. Based in Dubai, to be close to the worlds wine producing regions allows Alain  to curate private cellars, conduct wine appreciation to hospitality and private clients globally. Contact: 


Marrakech a journey in time


IMG_8827Photo 1: Ourika Valley river looking towards Marrakech, Berber homes on the hill side

Morocco in North Africa is bordered by Algeria on one side and Western Sahara on the other. It is one the few African countries that share two oceans as part of their coastline the Atlantic and Mediterranean, with a history dating over a thousand years,  Morroco  is surrounded by the vast Sahara desert and the Atlas Mountains range.

When catching the train from Casablanca, a journey around 3 and a half hours, will allow you to see the changing landscapes from green fields, brown  scrub to desert red, punctuated by occasional villages and sheep grazing. On arrival at Marrakech station our driver collected us, dropped us outside of the Ban Ksour to the entrance of our Riad, where a chap in push trolley collected our bags with one of the staff from our Riad. Cars aren’t permitted through the narrow gate that leds to the Medina. Our Riad a former private home of merchants, was over four hundred years old, converted to a boutique hotel of six suites with an internal courtyard, splash pool and roof top garden with views across the Medina skyline and Atlas Mountain ranges.  

The front of the Riad on street level is a small door, that leads downstairs to a cavernous space of a courtyard, splash pool with the sounds of birdlife. One is guided up another flight of stairs to the rooms all rooms where our beds where super comfortable, with warm donnas and comfy pillows that mould yo you head.

The Medinas and it souks with the many babouche sellers, metal work ateliers, bric a brac merchant of vintage wares. One will usually get lost, on ones first day in the souks in the Medina, just watch your bearings by using the minaret of the mosque as your pointer or asking restaurants that surround the square after you eaten your meal to ones location and they will generally steer you in the right general direction.

In the main square you will see the snake charmers, if taking photos, its expected that you give some money for the privilege as they are earning a living. Female henna artist will approach you, some may even grab your wrist, be polite and say no thanks and move on if you don’t want it done. Horse carriages are found in the square, where for a fee one can take you on a tour around the city. Orange juice vendors, dried fruit sellers will also be in the square. Entrance to souks radiate onto Jemmn alak Square. When in the souks be prepared to haggle over prices, it’s all part and parcel of visiting a souk.

On some Marrakech rooftops you can see these mountains where many Berbers people still live in villages along the mountain passes. The Ourika River flows down from the mountains towards Marrakech is beautiful with it gentle meandering ways yet at times possessing the destructive force when floods occurs. The valley  is only 70 km from Marrakech is a contrast to city life.

I  recommended you get a driver for a day to negotiate the road up the  pass to where the tree line ends and the mountains begin.Head up from one of the valley floor townships past the Monday markets where villagers from the surrounding hills gather to do their weekly shopping for lamb,chicken, herbs, fruits, vegetables, clothing, catch up with neighbours and relatives. At times the hillsides can be prone to rock slides, with the rocky clay like soil on the mountains becoming loose. This loose clay is a two edge sword, as without the clay, there would be no pottery and ceramic industry, pick up a tagine while in the mountains.


Is your hotel and restaurant beverage list performing or is it just playing catch up ?


The fortunes of the world’s best rugby playing nations will gather in the UK to compete for the holy grail of International Rugby, the coveted Webb Ellis trophy and be crowned world champions. It is the dream of every rugby player in the world, to one day represent their nation playing rugby. Over 2 million people will converge from, across the globe, to sporting stadiums across the UK,with an estimated viewing audience of over 4 billion people. Hotels are booked up, for this seven week tournament, which occurs every 4 years. It’s an event that will generate millions of pounds into the UK economy. Major sponsors, with their corporate vip boxes, will take this opportunity,to invite their best clients, potential new clients to these games, to continue to build on successful business relationships, that will endure for years.

International rugby’s most dominant team over the last 10 years is,the New Zealand’s All Blacks, a team who will usually dominate any team they play, occasionally opposing teams may beat them, yet the All Blacks on average win more games than they loose.When one is called upon, to be an All Black, the player putting on that specially engineered body fitting black jersey with the silver fern, is imbued with the blood and sweat, of all former All Blacks, whom have gone before them, those chosen are filled with a mystical force that pulsates through every fibre of their body,that belief thru they’re training, the trust in their team mates to go forward, to back you up on the field, with support and guidance from their coaches, coupled with the unwavering support of a nation, to play the game of rugby. New Zealand is the only country in international rugby, who can field two winning All Black teams at once. This isn’t a case of an A and B team, as both teams are considered A teams. New Zealand population is less than 5 million, yet their talent pool runs deep, with every New Zealand child, who grows up playing rugby, aspiring to one day wear the All Black jersey.

Creating beverage list for restaurants, multiple outlets and bars is a case of putting together the best team in terms of product and personnel. Some venues may have budgets to stock their outlets with, the worlds greatest wines, with multiple vintages, cult wines, rare spirits, craft beers. Thru purchasing they will negotiate the best deals in ranging products,thru pouring allowances, sponsorship of a bar, naming rights for a private dining room. Restaurants whether in hotels or stand alone venues will have beverage directors, beverage managers, head sommeliers, who will have the skill to built up world class, award winning wine,beer, spirit and cocktail list. The list will show interest, depth, balance, offering something familiar, something quirky that will be a drawcard in bringing guest to the establishment. Other operations will take a play safe approach with lists, listing popular global brands, that at times comes across as having a homogenised look about them, yet what ever list, regardless of size, product range, needs to serve a purpose, in the market they are operating in.

A beverage list, that works for a venue in delighting the customer, as well as contributing to the revenue stream of the business is very important. Yet all this will fail to succeed, if the floor team doesn’t possess the right skills to develop. Investment through training from leaders who inspire, with a willingness to coach hospitality teams, to be confident in knowing their product, plus the confidence to convey that message to their guest. Sadly, far to often we see operations, with lists, that are ill conceived, with the basics often neglected, such as having the correct vintages or the lack of vintages listed, products unavailable not taken off , spelling mistakes, damaged list not replaced. Correct Inventory management that actually works, handling and storage procedures, an awareness of new products and developments in the wine, spirits and beer world.

In building beverage lists and beverage teams that are consistent, caters to a market demographic that is successful, requires that all these elements, need to combine together, to create a successful end product. Does your beverage operation flow like the All Blacks or is it constantly dropping the ball and playing catch up.

© Copyright Alain H Lee September 16 2015

Alain H Lee career includes leading restaurants and hotels in developing successful award winning beverage programs, creating award winning lists as beverage manager and head sommelier. His other beverage experience includes fine wine sales, retail operations, wine auctions and wine show judging. He consults to restaurant and hotels.


In a fathers footsteps, story of a wine maker


Each year “ The Royal Sydney Agricultural Show ” is held at Sydney’s Olympic Park, to judge the best produce from the state of New South Wales, as well as wines from across Australia, in the hope of being awarded trophies and medals to claim bragging rights for best in show. A top panel of Australian and International wine judges come together to taste thousands of wines. Wineries large and small across the land compete for coveted trophies which would help wine sales domestically and internationally.

One of these trophies is The Albert Chan Memorial Trophy which is awarded for the best white wine at the Royal Sydney Show. Many will ask who was Albert Chan? Ask any one who wasn’t involved in the Australian wine scene between the late 1970s and mid 1980s, won’t be able to tell you. Look up the internet, little is written about Albert Lindsay Chan, yet those who had ever worked with Albert would say Albert was an Oenologist (wine maker ) with an incredible palate, a wine judge at Australian capital city wine shows and someone held in the highest regards by his peers.

Sadly Albert ’s life was tragically cut short in 1986 at the age of 37. Phillip Shaw of Phillip Shaw wines today honours his mate Albert by calling his top Sauvignon Blanc No:19 in memory of Albert whose birthday was August 19, had he lived Albert would be 66.

People may have twigged, that Chan is a chinese last name. Albert was a second generation winemaker from New Zealand, who came to study winemaking at Roseworthy in Adelaide, South Australia. Today we hear about chinese winemakers, making wine in China and across the globe. Albert Lindsay Chan was the first New Zealander of chinese heritage to be appointed chief winemaker at a major Australian winery.

IMG_4090 - Version 2Now a third generation is following in Albert foots steps. When Albert passed away in 1986 he left behind a 15 month old son named Benjamin, a widow with a yet to be born second child. Benjamin who studied wine making at Charles Sturt University at Wagga Wagga in NSW, worked in wineries in NSW, South Australia and Burgundy. A wine maker, qualified sommelier, WSET graduate. Benjamin has followed a path his grandfather and father has taken with a career in wine. Those in the London wine trade where Benjamin is plying his trade today, are indeed fortunate to have him on their team. Albert I know you are smiling down from the heavens today, knowing your son has followed in your footsteps.

© Copywright Alain H Lee August 19 2015


Art Of Reading The Floor


Art Of Reading The Floor

Dubai is gearing up for Expo 2020, with over one hundred new hotels scheduled to open between now and 2019 with the addition of over 300 new restaurant openings in these hotels, plus a host of independent restaurant operators coming from across the globe to launch in Dubai over the next few years. In September 2015 Dubai will see the return of both Jason Atherton and Gordon Ramsay opening new restaurants.

Major cities throughout the world have a profusion of restaurants, whether they are free standing owner operators, owner operators who have become so successful that they have spin off restaurants in London, Paris, New York, Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne. Many restaurants have become brands within themselves, with the face of the chef patron adorning products in super markets around the globe, releasing a selection of cook ware, cook books, chocolates, table ware.

The International hotels will have a number of restaurants whether it be two or twenty-two outlets. The hotels will usually have a couple of highly rated restaurants with world’s renowned chefs name attached to them.

What makes a restaurant more successful, than others, even though they may not have a celebrity name? There are many world class chefs, who will source produce from owner growers whether it be meat, fruit and vegetables, source beverage whether its coffee, water, beer, spirits and wines, have fantastic flower arrangements, masterful art works, the best linen, cutlery, glass wear, mood lighting, every process is planned to the last detail, yet if the restaurant floor team suffers from lack of inspirational leadership from the general manager, chef, restaurant manager, assistant managers, head sommelier, sommeliers, section waiters, host, then the restaurant operations will fail, when they don’t deliver an exceptional guest experience on the floor.

Start off with a poor greeting or lack of greeting, on arrival can be the catalyst for a downward spiral of a guest dining experience, letting the guest wait for there pre dinner drink, failure by the floor service team to acknowledge the guest, when they stereotype the guest, as they don’t have movie star looks, or a dress sense, that will grace the latest fashion magazines, then watch the business fall by the wayside .

An example of recent visit to a restaurant at a five star hotel in Dubai, that offered up a promising dining experience at the start, yet failed to deliver when it mattered most, due to lack of management understanding the art of reading the floor by providing a sense of directionality to the service team.

A reservation has been made to the hotel, you are looking forward with anticipation to the long Asian brunch to follow, with access to the pool and beach afterwards. On arrival, you are taken by the hostess down a flight of stairs, shown to your table, greeted by one of the servers in your section, even the chef de cuisine comes out to acknowledge your existence, the general manager of the restaurant welcomes you to the establishment, mentions he has organised a cabana for you after brunch for you to enjoy. It’s all sounding good so far.

The brunch kicks off, your first starters arrive, it explained to you by your waiter, you say to your guest “ this looks promising ” even though the sound system is blaring away with its bass pounding music bombarding your ear drums, making it difficult for a conversation. Other diners continue to arrive, your next lot of dishes arrive, service wise it seems to be going well, then as more and more people converge, the restaurant fills up, the sense of calm from the floor team you experienced on your arrival, begins to unravel, dishes you ordered, fail to turn up, when it does turn up one of the dishes is wrong, five minutes later the wrong dish turns up again, you begin to ask, who is managing the pass in the kitchen, directing the flow of food to the tables in the restaurant, which table order has also been wrongly sent out, you ask yourself, one mistake, becomes two, it all begins to snow ball, yet all isn’t lost if, there was a strong manager on the floor, so where is the general manager, restaurant manager, assistant manager, where is the directionality on the floor.

The floor staff are trying there best under the circumstances, yet there is no leadership, on the floor. We seek out one of the waiters, telling them one of the dishes isn’t correct, nothing happens for twenty minutes, then another waiter brings all the initial dishes we had ordered earlier, even though we have just finished eating them. While we where waiting for the food to arrive we observe the dining room, the floor staff are scurrying back and forth, they are looking flustered, you then notice there is no team work on the restaurant floor, a waiter starts to clear a table of sixteen people, is there someone else helping her, no help arrives, it seems the other waiters have a clearly defined section and stepping across to help someone in another section seem to constitute crossing into no mans land, another waitress pours still water into my glass, when its sparking water I am drinking. Where was the communication with the first waiter, who took our water order?

We order tea, it arrives, we notice there are no tea leaves in the tea pot. Time passes, no general manager, no assistant manager, to take ownership of the restaurant floor. We finish our brunch, the warm greeting on arrival from the general manager with the offer of the limited cabana by the beach and pool doesn’t materialise, there is no farewell as we leave the restaurant to go to the beach and pool. The restaurant floor is in a state of chaos. All this is happening not, in a cheap and cheerful restaurant but from a world class five star hotel whose international reputation is based on service. The floor team lacked guidance, there was no directionality from management, no one was available to be able to read the pulse of the floor.

©Copywright Alain H Lee August 2015