Unique Culinary Careers: Renie Steves
When ICE President Rick Smilow and Anne E. McBride wrote "Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food," they discovered a plethora of food jobs they had never heard of before. Since the book's release, they have been discovering even more interesting career paths in the food world. DICED shares some of them with you in a reoccurring feature, “Unique Culinary Careers.”
Wine and beverage are an integral part of any fine dining meal and it takes great skill to artfully pair wine with food. Wine writer and judge Renie Steves works as an instructor teaching people how to be their own sommelier, giving people the knowledge about wines, regions, and taste so they can match wines with the dishes they create. Her September 22 class at ICE is called “Be Your Own Sommelier.” Steves writes for the Fort Worth Business Press and Wine News. She is based in Forth Worth, Texas, but has traveled to over 50 countries to visit wineries and judge wine competitions. Her career is an enviable mix of traveling, eating, drinking and meeting new people. We asked her about what she does now and how she got there.
How would you describe your job?
I’ve had cooking school for over 32 years. While I still teach the occasional one-on-one, one-on-two or team-building class, my career has evolved to become a journalist writing about food, wine, and travel. It’s a gorgeous combination. The wine and food world is actually quite small. I get to meet people who are passionate about the same things as me, and that’s such a plus. There is almost nobody I meet who I wouldn’t want around my dining room table.
How did you make the shift to wine?
Ever since I taught my first class in 1978, I always served a full menu with two wines in each lesson. I had created several thousand recipes, but I didn’t know how to pick wines for them. So, say I had a recipe for lamb ragu, I would go into the store and ask the advice of my favorite salesperson and buy two to three wines they recommended. My husband and I would taste it with the ragu and pick one for the class. Then, I would soak the label to remove it from the bottle, scotch tape it to a piece of paper and plagiarize a description from a book — I didn’t know then how to describe wines. Next, I would type that description and photocopy it with the label to include as the last two pages of the menu for class. Back then people couldn’t pronounce wines without their tongues getting twisted up. So those sheets made them comfortable to go into store and point out what they wanted.
How did you make the shift to journalism?
A friend and contemporary was an editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She asked if I wanted to write a column. I hadn’t thought about it, but I try not to close any doors. I went in to meet with her editors, and they didn’t bite at fist. But nine months to a year later, they called up and asked if I was still interested. I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a try.” My husband and I wrote an almost weekly column for them for 15 and a half years. Along the way we did a lot of freelance for Wine News, Wine Spectator and we even did some work giving speeches for the Italian Trade Commission about the different Italian wine regions. Now, we are at the Fort Worth Business Press. They wanted to do an extra page about food and wine so we had a column there in print for three and a half years. Now, it is online. We still give classes and lectures. Sometimes, we just move the furniture out of the living room, set up some round tables and have someone come in. We’ve done that with Mike Grgich and Michael Mondavi.
What is your favorite part of the job?
I love the people. I love traveling and surrounding myself with all sorts of people. Those are my happiest experiences. I have been to nearly every wine region as well as some places that don’t make wine. I think that if we reach our hands out and greet people with a smile more, then we wouldn’t even need wars. I’ve been to India, Vietnam, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Thailand and more or less all of Europe. But I still have to go to a lot of places. I haven’t been to Israel, Jordan or Morocco. I plan to do a lot more before I die. I would advise anyone to put a winery on their travel itinerary, even if they’re not extreme wine aficionados. Not only is it pleasurable, that way you get to meet people who live in the place you are visiting. Often, when you travel with a tour group all you see is each other. If you get out by yourself, people talk to you. Always try and pick venues where you are out with people in some fashion — wineries are a great place to start.
For more info on Renie Steves, follow her travel adventures on Twitter, Facebook or her blog. Want to learn how to be your own sommelier? Register for her class online.Interested in starting your own unique culinary career? Pick up a copy of Culinary Careers and get started now.