James Lloyd, stellar sommelier, has left Restaurant Gordon Ramsay after 25 years. Starting a new chapter in life, he speaks about his life front of house and spine tingling wines.
“It is a little bitter-sweet,” admits James Lloyd to be stepping away from the top échalons of hospitality after 25 years. “It has afforded me wonderful experiences, and of course, amazing wines,” he continues, “I shall miss the adrenaline rush of a busy service, but it feels the right time to turn a page in my life and enjoy the wine world from a different perspective.”
Lloyd is staying in wine, joining Bacchus Wine Auctions as Director of Wine, and taking a wealth of experience with him. Winning the innaugural “Inspiration Award” at this year’s Top 100 Sommeliers, he is respected by many in the business for his impeccable standards, attention to detail and passion for training. Inspiring sommeliers at the beginning of their wine journey.
When asked about the favourite wines he has drunk over the last 2 decades, Lloyd says, “Seemingly that is an easy question to answer. But it never is. I could name drop many a Châteaux from legendary vintages. Most memorable, however is to attach a wine to memories, emotions, certain occasions and people.”
One memory I have was Armistice Day a few years ago. A guest sat down, asked for the wine list and ordered a Château Mouton Rothschild 1918. That, in itself, is an amazing wine, but, coinciding with the fact that 99 years later, within hours of the First World War concluding, we were opening this particular bottle! It sent shivers down my spine.
Always a gentleman
Speaking about his profession, he believes the art of ensuring that guests remain comfortable, ” whilst delving into a subject that has a habit of making a majority feel exactly the opposite” is an invaluable skill.
“I learnt to take my ego out of the equation by using my knowledge to guide my guests,” he explains. “By listening to their wants and needs rather than trying to ‘educate’ or show how much I know. ” He believes the role of a sommelier is about “being empathetic to every personality, taste or budget.”
For Lloyd working in the rarified environments that he has, taught many things that he feels are easily transferrable into one’s personal life.
Simple things like being a gentlemen, being polite and considerate. Being disciplined, stoic and focused. Following through to complete the task at hand and, most importantly, never giving up.
Change for the better
After a quarter of a century in the business, Lloyd is certain that hospitality has changed. Perhaps “more complicated rather than harder than before”, in his own words.
He believes that guest-wise “the public is much more knowledgeable about food and wine now. It’s amazing, but it creates another dimension of expertise for the front of house team.” He has noticed guests’ expectations have increased as a result. For him it is now imperative for the sommelier to skillfully navigate pre-conceptions. “Mentally, this can be far more challenging, but its something I relish.”
For him the aspect of hospitality that has changed the most is leadership and staff management. “It’s far more prominent and rapidly changing. Building and maitaining a team is much more time consuming. But that’s good for hospitality. Professionally, I believe that it is important for a manager to provide support, show empathy and learn to manage the characters in the team. Play to their needs, match the individuals’ abilities to their peers’ and allow them to become stronger, more positive about their capabilities.” He stresses, “setting the members of the team up for the future is extremely rewarding. ”
Sommeliers aspiring to mirror Lloyd’s acheivements have to “keep driving their knowledge forward, ensure you work on yourself, as a person. All too often that side is forgotten.” He insists that sommeliers have to “remain passionate, driven, focused and work hard. But, at the same time be empathetic, loyal, patient and consistent.”
Lloyd concludes, “Be proud, but not arrogant. Always try to be the best you can be, without having the attitude you are the best.”