After my time in the Peace Corps, my wine and food world expanded exponentially when I arrived in Brussels, Belgium as a tax accountant for what was then called Price Waterhouse.
I immersed myself in the rich, exquisite version of French cuisine made famous by Brussels and neighboring Luxembourg chefs. Holidays and long weekends were occasions to explore the vineyards and restaurants in Champagne, Burgundy, Beaujolais, and Bordeaux. And Parisian dining was only two hours away by train.
It was on one of those long weekend trips that I was seduced in a wine cellar. It occurred in the village of Gevrey-Chambertin.
After buying pate, cheese and bread in a local store, I asked the woman where I could purchase some wine. She gave me directions to a house in Gevrey-Chambertin, but I doubted myself when I arrived at a modern home. I drove back to the store and asked if that was the correct address. Madame confirmed it, so I returned to the house.
I knocked on the front door and a woman opened it. After explaining I was directed there by the shopkeeper, Madame invited me in. Her husband brought me to the kitchen where he moved the table and chairs and opened a door in the floor, we descended the stairs into the wine cellar.
Monsieur handed me a wine glass and picked up a glass tube used to extract wine from a barrel, called a pipe or pipette and colloquially referred to as a “thief.”
I began smelling and tasting wines with intoxicating spice and fruit aromas and flavors that I had never known until that moment. I stood there in the dark, damp cellar swept away by the experience and offered no resistance for more.
Eventually, we climbed the stairs up to kitchen with bottles in hand. After paying for the wines, I asked if I could buy the glass. The couple gave me the glass and after thanking them, I drove to a nearby field where I ate my pate, cheese and bread and drank their wine. Then, I layed in the grass for an afternoon nap.
On my drive back to Brussels, I decided I would resign from Price Waterhouse, return to America and open a restaurant. The fact that I knew nothing about cooking or owning a restaurant didn’t dissuade me: Passion doesn’t ask questions.
Two years later, I was offered the position of the day sous-chef and saucier at the world-renowned “21 Club” in New York City, a position for which I was completely unqualified. Again, that didn’t stop me: I simply replied “yes” to every question Executive Chef Tony Pedretti asked me. On my second day he pulled me aside and said, “you can’t fool me.” From that moment I embarked on a trial-by-error crash course in cooking (I was told every Friday that I could work one more week). For eight months I cooked in fear and read more cook books than I ever thought existed.
A year after finally passing muster, I left the “21 Club” to open my own restaurant The Tarragon Tree in Myersville, New Jersey. As my interests and expertise evolved, that was succeeded by Le Delice, and finally Sonoma Grill. All three were acclaimed by local, regional and national publications and reviewers. Each was recognized for having a significant impact on dining in New Jersey.
Part of that impact was my wine passion. Trips to Napa and Sonoma brought an appreciation for America’s enterprising spirit of wine newcomers with a goal of producing world-class wines. At the same time, voyages to the Old World opened the window to centuries-old winemaking families that were incorporating new technology and viticulture practices to meet the challenge facing them from California and Oregon winemakers. And, I brought all this knowledge, passion—and wine–into my restaurants to share with customers through my wine lists, winemaker dinners, classes and tastings.
Writing about wine and food for several New Jersey newspapers, trade publications and wine magazines helped put it all into perspective. And, that’s what I will share with you, who come along on the Wine Odyssey with me.
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Along with his writings, John Foy has been conducting wine classes and winemaker dinners since the 1980s, and bi-annual trips for small groups of wine collectors to wine regions in Italy and France.
He is a member of the Wine Media Guild and its former vice-chairman from the mid-1990s to 2006.
He is the Bailli (president) of La Grande Cave du New Jersey, a chapter of La Chaine des Rotisseurs, the oldest culinary society in the world (founded in 1248) and a member of Le Ordre des Compagnons du Beaujolais.
Photo: Lana Bortolot