Q & A with Sommelier Shanteh Wong
Shanteh Wong is the Head Sommelier at Sydney’s Quay Restaurant, and from eating fish and chips on Tamarama Beach, shaking Sir Paul McCartney’s hand, and ocean diving off Margaret River coastline, we get to know Shanteh – a somm with passion, drive and dedication to service.
How did your career in the wine industry begin?
I grew up in a family that enjoyed wine and whilst studying at university I found myself reading wine books in my spare time, so that’s probably where it started. But then, whilst living in Hawaii, my partner at the time was a Jazz musician and there was a Burgundy wine club that came along to his gigs. They invited me to join and through them I experienced some incredible wines, despite not having a clue what I was drinking!
I was totally awed by their fervour and from there I decided to work in fine dining, eventually getting a job in a 5-diamond restaurant that specialised in wine and food pairing – although they did not even have a wine cellar! I moved to Canada, where I was most impressed with the service they provided. All the waiters had extensive wine and food knowledge and it just fuelled my passion to keep learning. And whilst still living abroad, and having worked with multiple chefs, that I read Peter Gilmore’s cook book. I was so impressed I decided to head home to Australia with the aim of working at Quay – and the ultimate goal was to become their sommelier.
What are your most memorable career highlights?
I feel very fortunate to have had so many wonderful highlights, but I think some of the moments that stick with me are the one-off special events. An early moment was the World’s Biggest BYO to Cure Cancer, a sommelier volunteer event where as a young sommelier I felt like a was standing next to giants, and indeed I was. They were the original Sydney sommeliers, the people who paved the way for a sommelier industry in Australia to even exist. They had so much to give and I’m forever grateful.
Lunch in the Fields with Rene Redzepi and Peter Gilmore is another highlight. Picking pea shoots with Rene and drinking ice-cold beers with Peter on the grass after the event was surreal. Shaking hands with Sir Paul McCartney, cliff diving in Santorini, drinking Chablis in Chablis with my mentor and Group Wine Director Amanda Yallop are just some of the other standout moments in my career so far.
You spent some time working in fine dining establishments overseas. What was this experience like?
Humbling and inspirational to say the least. Hospitality is at its heart about caring and being open to making experiences for people. However, the way in which it can differ from culture to culture is so very interesting. The nuts and bolts are similar, but each place has something unique to offer and they approach the act of going above and beyond for guests in different ways. I tried to be open and learn as much as I could.
What’s the best part about being a sommelier and working at Quay?
Hands down, the people; the people who I get to work alongside and the people I get to look after are just incredible. I get a lot of gratification from my colleagues on a daily basis and being responsible for the largest single venue wine team in the country is the proudest moment in my career so far. I also get a lot from the people that dine in the restaurant. It’s a moving experience to be a part of someone’s special day, even if it is in a small way – and don’t underestimate how much appreciation you can get by being the one who brings the drinks!
What makes Quay so special?
Peter Gilmore! Peter is a living legend and more than anything else is one of the kindest and most caring individuals in this industry. I’ll forever be thankful for the pleasure of working with such a talent. The whole reason 20+ chefs turn up every day at Quay is for his tuition and guidance. I think another thing that makes Quay special is its personalised, authentic service. Today, fine dining service is about reading the guest, trying to gauge their expectations, needs and wants, and individualising the service accordingly. This approach drove the decision to create intimate dining spaces at Quay, each of which are looked after by a dedicated manager. At Quay, we aim to share our extensive knowledge coupled with impeccable consideration of a guests wants and needs, all with Australian generosity.
How do you decide which wines to include on Quay’s prestigious wine list?
There are many factors and straight up deliciousness is a major one, but it is also about balance and representation. Quay’s wine list sits around 65% domestic and I’m very proud of that, but it’s also is a list that aims to stand on an international stage. Another big decision when it comes to the list is what will work with the meal offering, price point and providing a variation of styles.
A lot of work has been passed down from Quay’s previous Head Sommelier and I’m fortunate to have had Amanda Yallop to learn from, who is nothing short of a genius. So, I have inherited a slick list and only hope to continue to add to her legacy.
If you had to pick a favourite wine on Quay’s list, which one would it be and why?
Not fair and it entirely depends on my mood.
What advice would you give to those pursuing a career in wine?
Be curious, work your butt off, and be open to learning from those around you. Above all, be humble and dedicated to the entire beverage industry from top to bottom. We cannot have sommeliers without the clientele, distributors, wine writers, wine judges, winemakers, viticulturists, brand ambassadors, cork manufactures, etc. Everyone has an opinion, but it’s about having something of benefit to add to the world of wine.
What’s your favourite wine varietal and wine?
Ok, I’ll have to give you a little more here. I have more Pinot Noir running through my veins than blood. I love Chenin Blanc and Riesling and more often than not I will be drinking Gamay, Nebbiolo, sherry, gin or beer. There is a time and a place for it all.
What’s your ultimate wine and food match?
My most memorable food and wine pairings have been when the dish coupled with the wine has been more than the sum of its parts. That is, when the wine improves the dish and the dish improves the wine. However, I am also blown away by origin pairings, trying a local specialty with a wine made in the same region. Those marriages just make sense, because the culture and produce belong together. They have been the wine and food matches that really stick with me; green olives and sherry in Valencia, Comté and Vin Jaune, beer shandy with fish and chips on Tamarama Beach.
What is your current favourite:
Quay menu item: Shaved southern squid, fermented Hispi cabbage, Lady Godiva squash seeds and Barletta onions. I challenge anyone to showcase Squid as tender at Peter can serve it.
White wine: Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon Hunter Valley 2005.
Red wine: Sailor Seeks Horse Tasmania Pinot Noir 2017.
Sparkling Wine: Frédéric Savart L’Accomplice by Daniel Savart NV.
Australian holiday destination: I’m a sucker for the ocean and I’d love to be diving right now, so Margaret River please.
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