Food Informants is a week-in-the-life series profiling fascinating people in the food world. We hope it will give you a first-hand look at the many different corners of the food industry. Know someone who would make a great Food Informant? Tell us why.
Jean K. Reilly MW is the Wine Director for the Morrell Wine Bar and the Wine Buyer at Morrell Wine Co. She is a 10-year veteran of the wine business and has worked in numerous parts of the trade. In 2010, Jean became this country's 26th Master of Wine, only the sixth American woman to hold this prestigious title. Jean's interest in wine began as a hobby while pursuing a career in corporate finance at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi and Deloitte & Touche. Abandoning the corporate track in 2001, Jean plunged into wine full-time, traveling the vineyards of Europe and the U.S. After a stint as sommelier at a small French restaurant in Manhattan, she worked as a wine instructor for several culinary schools, including Schiller International University in Switzerland. From 2007 to 2008, she also served as the Wine Consultant for Hilton Hotels.
Jean was the editor of the 2007 edition of the Professional Wine Reference and is currently at work on a new edition for 2012. Jean appears frequently on television and radio speaking about wine and writes for a variety of publications, including Beverage Media and Wine Enthusiast magazines. Most recently, Jean's work in television includes her role as principle on-camera wine specialist and commentator for "Jet Set Chefs," a culinary adventure travel series scheduled to air next year. To relieve stress that a glass of wine can’t handle, Jean is a dedicated skydiver.
Read on to learn how much wine Jean drinks per week, and her skydiving adventures.
Monday, October 31: A Rough Day on the Gums
10am: Hectic last-minute changes to our holiday wine and spirits catalog. Our new format is a huge step up thanks to a new designer. We are behind schedule, however, which puts the owners on edge. Timing of merchandising is everything in retail.
2pm: Four hours tasting the wines of two different importers, about 150 in total. The wines cover an astounding range of regions around the world, from standard areas like Bordeaux and Tuscany to up-and-coming regions like the Jura in France and the Collio region of Slovenia. About 10 of them seem like items that could work for our customers. I leave with purple teeth, debating the feasibility of taking a tax write-off for a tooth-whitening session. While not the worst part of my job, tasting this many wines is hard work. I spit 98% of the wine to avoid becoming inebriated. It's sometimes difficult for people to understand that being drunk at work is as much of a no-no for a wine professional as it is for someone in any other profession. I also often find myself explaining that whether a particular wine suits my personal taste is not really relevant to my job; what I’m looking for at tastings are wines that work for our customers.
7pm: Dinner with a good friend at a Warique, a fantastic Peruvian restaurant next to my building that kindly lets me BYOB. I bring several white Burgundies that I am considering carrying in the store, samples that distributors have provided. The Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet ‘Les Folatieres’ ($85) is the winner with the spicy tiraditos.
Tuesday, November 1: A Rough Day on the Feet
9:30am: Meeting with a distributor and a small upscale producer of Chardonnay and Pinot from California's Sonoma Coast. He brings photos of his vineyards and soils. "Terroir," the French concept that the soil and local climate is unique to each vineyard and can be expressed in a well-made wine is a linchpin of communicating about upscale wines.
4:00pm: I gather my notes for a two-seating Zagat Presents dinner we're hosting at the wine bar tonight, a 5-course dinner designed as a short course in food-and-wine pairing. Chef and I have come up with some unusual pairings, including white wine with lamb ribs and red wine with crab.
6pm: Chef Jake Klein and I present the theory for the dinner and talk a little bit about how and why a good pairing can do so much to enhance the experience of a particular meal. Several of the wines chosen for the dinner are sweet so I'm nervous; there is a subset of wine consumers that wants to run screaming for the nearest exit when presented with a sweet wine. But the dinner goes exceptionally well; the crowd is unusually open-minded and the guests ask a lot of detailed questions, all of which makes me feel like I've accomplished something by the end of the event.
8pm: Starting all over again with a second seating of the same dinner. Note to self: don’t wear 3-inch heels when leading wine dinners.
11:00pm: I get home and fall asleep on the couch before I even have a chance to take my coat off.
Wednesday, November 2: A Rough Day on the Waistline
3:00am: I wake up and realize I've still got my bag of groceries in my hand; so much for the milk.
1pm: Lunch at the newly revamped 21 Club with a PR friend, and her client, Antica Terra, an organic winery from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The Pinot Noir is fantastic; earthy, complex and superbly balanced on a knife-edge of acidity.
3:00pm: I'm back at the office and look through our Pinot Noir portfolio and realize that it makes a good fit. A New Zealand winemaker once told me, "Sauvignon Blanc takes up 90% of our tanks; Pinot Noir takes 90% of our time." I feel the same way as a wine buyer. Unlike, say, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir is very particular about where it’s grown and it is often made in very small quantities. Many times, we just develop a following for a wine and then it’s sold out and I’m off hunting for a replacement.
4:00pm: I go over the wine lists with the sommelier of the wine bar. We decide to buy some high-end and mid-range Bordeaux. We also discuss our upcoming "Bordeaux Festival," launched in cooperation with the French government body that promotes the export of French wines. We’ll feature 7 different red Bordeaux ranging from $9 to $18 per glass, a good addition for the cool weather that is around the corner.
7:00pm: We host a 5-course dinner at the Wine Bar with Bill Phelps of Joseph Phelps Vineyards along with 4 vintages of their iconic Napa cabernet, Insignia. There are numerous last-minute changes to the number of attendees, which is brutal for the people trying to create the intricate dinner; there's smoke coming out of the Chef’s ears and the General Manager isn’t any happier. Our guest of honor turns out to be very charming and has long discussions with all of the guests. The food is stupendous. Almost all the dishes are new, designed specifically around the Phelps wines; I am bowled over by a truly inspired eel dish that the Chef has created for the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Thursday, November 3: Difficulty Cutting out the Middleman
11:00am: Here is the back story: Like many retailers and restaurants, Morrell can't help crafting a wine for itself. Over the past few months, I've tasted through hundreds of samples from different wineries and come up with three blends that we think are the most appealing to our customer base. We have a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay and a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine business is highly regulated at the state level, however, and the paperwork surrounding the production of a new wine can be overwhelming. Today I learn that our shipment will be delayed again and we won't have the wines in stock until after several days after our catalog, which features the wines prominently, hits our customers' mailboxes. The delays and the risk have been torturing me. If the bottler makes just one tiny mistake, such as letting too much air get into the wine during bottling, the entire prepaid shipment, with a retail value of $200,000 will be worthless. I won't get a solid night's sleep until the wines arrive and I taste through several bottles.
3:00pm: A conference call with the producers of an upcoming television show that I have been cast in, called Jet Set Chefs. It’s as much about adventure travel as food and wine. We have plans for me to skydive (yes, skydive) into various scenic locations from planes or helicopters flown by winemakers. I love the concept and I’m very excited about the possibility but of course I know anything can change at this early stage of the game. They want more pictures of me skydiving, scuba diving and on horseback.
8:00pm: I am pouring through old hard drives and wondering just how old a profile photo can be before it should be considered out of bounds; is 7 years cheating?
Friday, November 4: Celebrating Success
10:00am: The first proofs of our catalog arrive; it's absolutely stunning. There is an audible sigh of relief at the Morrell headquarters. We also notice the first typos and that we are already low on stock on a few items. This is why God invented the Internet.
2:00pm: Meeting with a representative of one of the large distributors. Some of the large wine and liquor distributors are not the most customer-friendly -- we once asked to change sales reps because the guy who had our account for 10 years didn’t know our address and it took 8 months to get a replacement. This guy's just holding down a seat; I start looking at my watch 5 minutes into the meeting.
4:00pm: Working on re-aligning our by-the-glass list for the winter. We will get rid of all the rosés and add more big reds. We have 100 wines by-the-glass and it’s a constant struggle to get just the right balance to cover as many wine styles as possible and so that all of the wines turn fast enough that they stay fresh.
7:00pm: Dinner at Telepan, a fabulous American restaurant with a great wine list that is managed by a good friend. Last year, I became the fifth American woman to achieve the Master of Wine title. It was a 7-year, $80,000 exercise in tracking down every last ounce of personal strength. I threw myself 24/7 at an exam that has a 1% pass rate and wondered where I parted ways with my better judgment. There are just 300 Masters of Wine around the globe and today I am celebrating because I am welcoming two of my closest friends into the fold, Christy Canterbury and Mary Gorman. We studied together for years, sharing much pain and disappointment along the way and quite a few good laughs. I am unspeakably glad that we all made it.
Saturday, November 5: Jumping Out of Perfectly Good Airplanes
10:00am: I spend most weather-friendly weekends jumping out of airplanes. The adrenaline factor provides a great release from the stress of the week. This weekend I exit simultaneously with 4 friends and we try to body fly into a pre-determined formation. I accidentally knee one of my friends in the face as we are falling 120 mph. My victim is a big tough military guy of the type I never run into in New York City; he takes his licking like a man.
Photo: Eric Halberstadt
12:00pm: I am one of those people who is never far from a laptop. In between jumps, I get lots of work done in the hangar. This weekend, I am going through some distributor catalogs, again looking for that grape that the movie "Sideways" has made so elusive, Pinot Noir. I am also looking for some top Cabernet, in the $100-$400 range; although the pool of customers for wines in this price bracket has shrunk in recent years, there's a core group of collectors that is still devoted to seeking out the best of the best.
7pm: I end up spending a lot of time in the Poconos where I skydive. I am amazed at the good food and the astonishingly low prices for drinks in the nearby town of East Stroudsburg. I have a nigori sake and a dragon roll at the Sarah Street Grill, the best I’ve ever had (and I've been trying hard to find one in New York that is as good.) This is great beer country but the wine scene in Pennsylvania is a bit dismal. Happy to visit but glad I live in a global wine capital.
See more Food Informants below:
John T. Edge writes a monthly column, "United Tastes," for the New York Times. He is a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and a longtime columnist for the Oxford American. His magazine and newspaper work has been featured in eight editions of the Best Food Writing compilation. He has been nominated for five James Beard Foundation Awards, including two M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Awards. Edge holds a master's degree in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. He is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South. Read John T. Edge's diary here.
Chris Jones and Richie Farina are chefs at Moto, a fine dining restaurant in Chicago that focuses on innovative and futuristic cuisine. They are both contestants on this season of "Top Chef: Texas." After attending Johnson and Wales University, Farina, the executive sous chef, started cooking in several Boston restaurants, and then joined Moto in 2008. In his spare time, he trains in mixed martial arts, a mixture of Ju Jistu wrestling and boxing. Jones, got his start cooking in his grandmother's kitchen. After working his way up the ladder in several restaurants, Jones is now the chef de cuisine of Moto. He lives with his wife and young daughter, Savannah. Read Chris and Richie's diary here.
Sean Henry is the owner of Houndstooth Coffee in Austin, Texas. Not until graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Radio, Television and Film, did Sean even begin drinking coffee. While working at a local grocery store, Sean began to explore the coffee world region by region. After the initial broad strokes of regional coffees, he began working at local cafes, learning the art of being a barista. At Houndstooth, Sean aims to provide customers with the sophisticated taste and presentation of a perfect cup of Joe. He not only finds value in a well-crafted cup, but in the coffee drinking experience as well. Read Sean Henry's diary here.
Jean K. Reilly MW is the Wine Director for the Morrell Wine Bar and the Wine Buyer at Morrell Wine Co. She is a 10-year veteran of the wine business and has worked in numerous parts of the trade. In 2010, Jean became this country's 26th Master of Wine, only the sixth American woman to hold this prestigious title. Jean's interest in wine began as a hobby while pursuing a career in corporate finance at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi and Deloitte & Touche. Abandoning the corporate track in 2001, Jean plunged into wine full-time, traveling the vineyards of Europe and the U.S. After a stint as sommelier at a small French restaurant in Manhattan, she worked as a wine instructor for several culinary schools, including Schiller International University in Switzerland. From 2007 to 2008, she also served as the Wine Consultant for Hilton Hotels. Read Jean Reilly's diary here.
Todd Coleman is the executive food editor of Saveur magazine, where for six years he's run the food side of things, including recipe selection, and overseeing the test kitchen. He's also an accomplished photographer who props, styles and photographs the majority of Saveur's covers, as well as frequently shooting and producing stories both in studio and on location. A graduate of the CIA, he's worked in restaurants, has been a private chef, edited at Everyday Food, produced shows for the Food Network, and has photographed cookbooks like The Japanese Grill by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, and the forthcoming Katie Workman book The Mom 100. He lives in Brooklyn, loves the Strand bookstore, hoards photo lenses and is a fiend for Indian food. Read Todd Coleman's diary here.
Chef Stephen Kalil joined PepsiCo and Frito-Lay in 2007 as their first ever corporate chef. In his role, he leads and inspires product development through the application of "Culinology", the blending of culinary arts and food science and technology. He is based at Frito-Lay headquarters in Plano, Texas. Read Stephen Kalil's diary here.
Food maintains a nearly constant presence in the life of 34-year-old competitive eating champion Timothy Janus, known to his fans as Eater X. Ranked #3 in the world by Major League Eating, Janus spends many of his weekends on the road, competing in contests across the country and around the world. A seven-year veteran of the sport, Janus has competed in over 100 events, owns seven world records, and yet still looks pretty good in a pair of pants. At night, Janus is a waiter at a pizza shop in Manhattan's East Village. His life, he says, has been a very good adventure. Read Eater X's diary here.
Geoff Bartakovics, 34, is the co-founder and CEO of Tasting Table, the free daily email publication all about food & drink culture. Before starting Tasting Table, Geoff was a business manager in asset-backed finance at UBS Investment Bank, where he coordinated business activities among the fixed income trading desk and the bank's middle- and back-office functions. Geoff was formerly a business analyst at Deloitte Consulting. He attended The University of Chicago, from which he graduated with honors in English. He was a Fulbright Scholar in comparative literature and philosophy in Berlin and Hamburg. He's an obsessive dinner party entertainer and a serious home cook. Read Geoff's diary here.
Elizabeth Laseter, an aspiring food journalist, is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University and lives in Washington, D.C. She received her diploma in Writing and Art History and is now pursuing a Culinary Arts Degree at L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md. The one-year program includes six months of learning techniques in the classroom and six months at an externship in a D.C. fine dining restaurant. Elizabeth documents her food adventures through two blogs, The Baltimore Food Rag and The D.C. Food Rag. She decided to attend culinary school after interning at Baltimore magazine and working with the food editor. Read Elizabeth's full diary here.
Jane and Terry Levan operate a 20-acre pastured poultry farm outside of Lexington, Texas called Dewberry Hills Farm, after the dewberry vines that grow wild on their land. They raise antibiotic- and hormone-free meat chickens for sale. Their chickens mostly live outdoors. The Devans call themselves "omnivores with a conscience;" Jane won't eat any meat unless she personally knowns who raised it and how it was processed. Jane and Terry began farming in 2003, after reading Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma. The pair had always wanted to farm, but they didn't want to follow the industrial agricultural model. Jane and Terry built a processing building on-site and became state certified so they could sell their birds commercially in May 2008. Read Jane's diary here.
"James" is an Apple employee. He works at Caffe Macs, the on-site cafeteria of Apple's campus in Cupertino, Ca. Reminiscent of Google's epic food offerings, Caffe Macs is pretty much a corporate food court dream-come-true. Read James' diary here.
Brooklyn-based Aaron Lefkove used to work in book publishing and as a freelance writer. After his office re-located to New Jersey, Lefkove decided he didn't want to do the commute. Lefkove and his business partner, Andy Curtin, had the idea for a Cape Cod-style seafood joint for awhile. One day at a barbecue, they decided to commit to opening a restaurant, Littleneck, Brooklyn's first and only classic New England-style beach side seafood shack. Besides working in restaurants growing up, Lefkove had no experience as a restaurateur. He acknowledges that the process has been a major learning curve, but so far, there haven't been any obstacles they couldn't get around. At first, he thought opening up a clam shack would be easier than finding a new job but it turns it that it is actually "WAY WAY WAY harder." Despite this being the "hardest, most stressful, most frustrating, most time consuming, most ambitious thing" he has ever done, it isn't nearly as hard as he thought it would be. Plus, he says he loves working for himself, working toward something he has "always dreamed about," and building something really exciting. Read Aaron Lefkove's diary here.
Jonathan Stich, 29, is a third generation farmer from Burlington, Wisconsin. He grew weary of the corporate world, went traveling and decided to become a farmer. After reading about how heirloom tomato grower Tim Stark in Pennsylvania sells his products to New York restaurants, Stich made the decision to spend a night in restaurants in Milwaukee and Chicago asking if they'd be interesting in buying local produce. Read more about Jonathan Stich's week here.
Erika Nakamura and Amelia Posada are the owners, managers and butchers in chief of LA's artisanal butcher shop Lindy and Grundy. (Erika is Grundy and Amelia is Lindy.) The two, who also live together and are a couple, opened their store on Fairfax last spring (profiled on HuffPost Food). Lindy and Grundy has already been feted as one of the most best butchers in Southern California -- and quite possibly its most sustainable. Read about a week in the life of Erika Nakamura and Amelia Posada's here.
Recently, inspired by a meeting at the San Francisco Food Bank, chef Karl Wilder started the food stamp challenge: living and eating on a food stamp budget. What began as a one week project has turned into a two-month long commitment. Wilder calculated that a family has $1.33 to spend per meal, and decided that when using oil and seasonings, the cost would be $1.22. In total, he has less than $4 to spend on food per day. He monitors his nutrition and caloric intake on FitDay. You can read more about his daily experiences at on his blog, Fusion On The Fly. Read about a week in the life of Karl Wilder here.
Chris Cosentino is the executive chef of San Francisco's Incanto, an offal-heavy (not sure what offal is? Check out our Whole Animal Guide here) rustic Italian restaurant located in San Francisco. While encouraging patrons to try different cuts of meat, Cosentino also champions eating locally. He's previously cooked at such renowned restaurants as Kinkead's and Chez Panisse, and cites Jean-Louis Palladin as a big influence on his cooking style. He also co-owns Boccalone, which sells various cured meats and house-made salami. To learn more about Cosentino, check out his website, Offal Good. Read about a week in the life of Chris Cosentino here.
"Jane," 24, has been working for Trader Joe's since 2007, though in 2009 she left for over a year to go work for Whole Foods. She did not like it there and returned to TJ's. At Trader Joe's, every employee does a range of tasks, but Jane's speciality is dairy. Below is her explanation of the pros and cons of the job: I like working for Trader Joe's because they pay me well and offer great benefits. They also respect me as an employee and make me feel like I'm useful and needed and not just another part-time employee that can be replaced (which has been the case at other retail jobs I've had). Trader Joe's is really good at hiring great people and I'm lucky to have so many wonderful co-workers. I don't like working at Trader Joe's because the work can be strenuous on my back and wrists. Being on a register for several hours at a time is tiring and somewhat soul crushing due to ignorant people who feel the need to be condescending to me because I work at a grocery store. I also feel that the company is becoming more and more corporate as it grows and it is beginning to have an impact on the enjoyability of being a part-time "crew member." I also work in a very busy store which causes the managers to stress out a lot and I don't enjoy being surrounded by it. Read about a week in the life of a Trader Joe's employee here.
Chef Nate Appleman is the Culinary Manager at Chipotle. This involves a range of tasks including developing new menu items, opening ShopHouse (Chipotle's upcoming Asian fast-casual chain) and furthering Chipotle's commitment to sustainable sourcing. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Appleman was previously executive chef and co-owner of San Francisco's super popular Italian restaurants A16 and SPQR. Appleman moved to New York in 2010 to open Pulino's. After leaving, Appleman took his current position at Chipotle. He has received a James Beard award for Rising Star Chef, been anointed Best New Chef by Food & Wine and is the champion of Food Network's Chopped All-Stars. Read about a week in the life of Nate Appleman here.
Freeganism is a lifestyle in which one employs "alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources." Gio Andollo is a writer, artist, musician and freegan. Andollo became a freegan when he realized that artists don't get paid much, but he didn't like the idea of working a "crappy, part-time job" to pay the bills. So he found another way. Andollo performs on the subway for about 20 hours a week, typically in two-hour intervals. He makes $10 to $50 per shift and has a love/hate relationship with busking. Andollo will buy food, but very rarely. The majority of his food comes from trash touring, or dumpster diving. He's become increasingly concerned with the abuses inherent in current economic systems: waste of resources, exploitation of people, degradation of the environment, calloused treatment of animals, commodification of time, labor, even war (thus human life in wholesale). In addition to busking part-time, he writes songs, blogs and books about these issues. Read about a week in the life of Gio Andollo here.
Captain Jason Joyce is an eighth-generation resident of Swan's Island, Maine. He is a Coast Guard Licensed Captain and a registered Maine Tidewater Guide. He has done lobster and fish research with the University of Maine, the University of Massachusetts, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Lobster Institute. Joyce is currently doing a lot of work with the Penobscot East Resource Center, which works to secure a viable future for the fishing communities of eastern Maine. Each week, he records HD video of lobstering that he gives to restaurants to educate customers about sustainable lobster fisheries in Maine. Captain Joyce is married to his high school sweetheart and they have four children. Learn more about Captain Jason Joyce here. Read about a week in the life of Jason Joyce here.
Martin Kastner is a serviceware designer extraordinaire/jack-of-all-design-trades for Grant Achatz's Alinea, Next and The Aviary. Kastner creates custom pieces that work with Achatz's elaborate and intricate food. Born in the Czech Republic, Kastner trained as a blacksmith and received an MFA in sculpture. (His thesis was about air). He met his American wife in Prague and moved to the US in 1998. In 2003, Kastner received an unexpected email from Grant Achatz, who had emailed a host of designers. Kastner was the only one to respond. They've partnered not only on serviceware, but also on web design, video and the Alinea cookbook. Kastner's other clients include L20 (an upscale, seafood-focused Chicago restaurant), Le Bernardin (Eric Ripert's homage to seafood) and Empellon (Alex Stupak's new Mexican restaurant in New York). Read about a week in the life of Martin Kastner here.