|Rajeshwaran Gopal, Group Sommelier of SAMADHI|
Interview with Rajeshwaran Gopal, Group Sommelier of SAMADHI
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
I’m the Group Sommelier of Samadhi Retreats’ hotels and restaurants, and am currently based in Singapore. I started in the industry at the age of 17 as a waiter, when there were no tough requirements that had to be met to be hired, except for having a cheerful disposition, a positive attitude and a good sense of humour. English was my third language then and I rarely conversed with it, so it was a tough and frankly brutal introduction to the F&B industry back in 1996. But with guidance and help, I quickly grasped the art of service and eventually delved into mastering wine knowledge. What followed next was an amazing journey with some great restaurants, chefs, wines and a couple of trophies.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
I have worked with some really tough kitchen teams and chefs. However, being at the frontline means we have to present a pleasant appearance regardless of the pressures going on in the kitchen. My first day at work was as a food runner in a huge Italian restaurant on a New Year’s Eve. I came close to giving up halfway through the dinner service, and we did almost 500 pax that night. To add to the misery, I realized my toes were bleeding at end of the night, frankly I was ready to walk out and return to Malaysia to continue my studies.
What's the best/ worst part of your job?
Its always nice being the face of an establishment, as we (sommeliers) are involved in every aspect of the restaurant operations. Naturally we become the ‘go to’ person during service, but it also adds on few notches to the stress level.
In addition, there are also plenty of invitations to wine tastings or dinners in fancy venues, which sadly I have had to decline on numerous occasions due the commitment on the service floor..
As SAMADHI owns several award-winning hotels and restaurants in the region, a personal favourite part of my work as Group Sommelier is travelling to these beautiful properties; the worst part is leaving my family behind.
What's your personal favourite drink in all the Samadhi/Tamarind restaurants?
We have some amazing beverage programs throughout the group, but I’m not a huge cocktail fan, which is a real shame, as we have an extensive and creative cocktail menu. The beers are getting as intricate as wine, I would settle for any Belgian in Tamarind Hill Singapore’ selection, on any occasion.
What's one of the craziest things you've seen behind the scenes?
There have been many crazy and “wow” moments in the past 18 years. Some are too confidential that I never talk about, even to my wife! But the most outrageous moment is when I had to open and decant an imperial bottle of Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947 many years ago. It was extremely stressful as I was reminded (while opening it) that the bottle could easily cost in the region of six figures SGD. I kept my cool and did a good job handling it.
The perfect day off would be...
... in my garden, working the soil and pulling out weeds, cycling with Krshna, my five year old son, and ending the day with a glass of Islay with my wife, on our outdoor swing.
A day in the life of a sommelier is...
... full of surprises and expectations!
What do you do for fun?
love everything British including their infamous weather! I have a decent collection of old British comedy series and nothing can be more fun than ploughing my way through them. At work, I usually surprise guests with unique, unheard of and interesting labels with their meal, and observe the reactions - that’s me having fun.
What's something you'd like guests to know about the Tamarind restaurants?
Our wines and champagnes our more affordable in tax-laden Malaysia than Singapore! In both countries, our restaurants carry a hand-picked selection of over 200 affordable, high quality labels that are not commonly seen. We have a great philosophy of encouraging people to drink from the restaurant list, than bringing their own or settling for beer for example.
What's your favourite(s) food and wine pairing?
Wine pairing can be a straight forward exercise. With all basics followed you would be able to achieve harmony most of the time. Indeed, matching wines with Thai or Indochinese food is a challenge as we have multiple flavours and texture on a single plate! But this is what makes it all the more challenging and exciting! Currently I enjoy pairing our Grilled Pork Neck Salad with a very well made Gamay from Savoie.
What's your view on the Singapore food scene?
It has always been exciting. The last two decades has seen an influx of talented service and food professionals. But just as we are nearing the tipping point, the industry is currently struggling to cope with a manpower crunch, costs are rising, service standards are stagnant and typical conversation with friends from the industry would be about who is closing down, and if they have any staff willing to move over.
Having said that, the overall quality is still inching upwards. Bistro and quality casual dining scenes are on the rise. Very few fine dining establishments are holding on, all of sudden $300 per person menu sounds very absurd nowadays.
What's in store for you in the upcoming months?
We are all excited about the 20 room Villa Samadhi Singapore opening later this year. One of the amazing features of the hotel will be its exclusive, resident-only whisky bar. Located just next to TAMARIND HILL, the hotel will be a really alternative way to experience Singapore – in the jungle, away from the skyscrapers, and surrounded by nature in a lovingly refurbished colonial residence..
I’m also planning to add some amazing wines to JAPAMALA, our award-winning resort in Tioman Island, which is easier said than done, fingers crossed.
On a personal note, I will be preparing for my Master Sommelier exam in London.