Unfiltered: Rémi Cousin, Le Gavroche

Rémi Cousin, head sommelier at Le Gavroche, had held intentions to become a chef from a young age. However after a stint in the kitchen of the George V in Paris he decided instead to join Le Meurice as a trainee sommelier. After tasting a Chateau D’Yquem 1988, his career path was set. Cousin moved to the UK in 2004, starting at the Hotel du Vin in York and in Bristol, before joining Heston Blumenthal’s cellar at The Fat Duck in 2008. Here, he stayed for eight years, during which he won the Chaine des Rotisseurs UK young sommelier award and attained the title of Advanced Sommelier from The Court of Master Sommeliers. He is currently studying for the Master Sommelier exam, while working as head sommelier at Le Gavroche, part of the Roux empire.

Credit: Emily Roux

What’s your vintage?
1980

What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?

Depending on what’s on offer, I would have to go for either a cold lager or a nice glass of Champagne.

What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?

Back when I was working at Hotel du Vin, I was pouring a bottle of wine and didn’t wipe the bottle down properly. The bottle slipped and fell onto the table, making a huge noise. I definitely learned my lesson!

If you could give your younger self advice when starting out as a somm, what would it be? 

Pass the Master Sommelier exam before having children!

Has a wine every given you an epiphany? Which one?

Yes. When I was working at Le Meurice when I was 17, the head sommelier handed me a glass of sweet wine asking me what I thought about it. It took me five minutes to describe what I was smelling, and then he asked me to taste the wine. Everything stopped. The wine was like nectar. It was a Yquem ’88.

Which customer habit annoys you the most?

I suppose as a sommelier, the most frustrating thing is when guests aren’t drinking! Obviously, I do understand there are times when you can’t, but I love doing my job!

Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?

Too many to mention! When I was 10 years old it was Bernard Loiseau. I dreamt of being like him; inventive, innovative and always smiling even when work gets difficult. Then it was Eric Beaumard; his list of achievements could inspire anyone. Then it was Christian Pechoutre, my former sommelier teacher who became Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (MOF) sommelier at 40 years old.

I’m also inspired by a lot of chefs. Heston Blumenthal has a great vision and has taught me to “question everything”. And, of course, Michel Roux Jr is a huge inspiration, he’s in Le Gavroche almost every day – it’s such a pleasure to work alongside him.

What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?

I have few but to name just three: Stilton and Cognac VSOP; Sticky toffee pudding with PX; poularde vin jaune et morilles with Vin Jaune.

Where would your fantasy vineyard be?

I am not sure. Maybe Alsace, Australia or Cataluna (Priorat).

If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing?

I would have loved to play Rugby for France. In fact, I used to play when I was a teenager but then I had to make a choice and I chose hospitality.

Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?

I love South Africa, the people and the wine, but it would have to be Pinotage.

Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served?

Chris Martin when he came in to the Fat Duck with Gwyneth Paltrow to celebrate her birthday. They arrived late but were very apologetic about it. When it came to choosing the wine, Chris wasn’t drinking but I let him off because he’s an Arsenal fan like me! He did insist Gwyneth treat herself to the most expensive pairing as it was her birthday.

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