This week, Fork in the Road featured a two-part interview with chef Richard Kuo of Pearl & Ash, who specified the importance of his partners, Brandon McRill and Patrick Cappiello, a number of times. That’s because food is only part of the equation at this downtown dining destination, and while McRill keeps the front of the house in line, Cappiello is master of the wine list.
The sommelier went from being an uptown, suit-and-tie, fine wine guy at Gilt to hip yet still haute in a t-shirt at this downtown spot; Cappiello regularly works on improving one of the most intriguing wine books in the city. In this interview, he weighs in on what he drinks off the job, why he can’t wait for Christmas, and why you should meet his barber Ben.
How did you first get started in the restaurant industry?
My first job was at 15; I worked as a busboy for a restaurant called Crescent Beach Hotel. It was just to get some extra cash for skateboard parts. I have worked in the industry ever since.
Do you remember your first taste of wine and what it was?
I grew up in an Italian family, so wine was always around. Not fine wine though, more like table wine. But it gave me a healthy relationship to, and respect for, wine as something more than a way to get drunk. That’s what beer and whiskey are for!
What is the focus of the list you’ve created at Pearl & Ash, and how does it complement the food?
The list is focused on depth and breadth of great producers from classic and emerging wine regions. It matches the high quality of Richard’s cooking. It’s as simple as that. Great wine should be next to great food.
Are there any people who inspire you, either in or outside of the wine industry?
I have three of the greatest mentors in the NYC wine industry: David Gordon, Daniel Johnnes, and Tim Kopec. They taught me everything I know.
Do you find women and men order wine differently?
Women tend to be more conservative and rely on what they have had in the past and enjoyed. Men are often more open to experimenting, although men tend to be less forgiving if the wine doesn’t excite them.
Are there any wines you tire of having to carry because people want them? Any you wish you could but customers won’t order them?
Nope. I’m here to give people a great experience. I’m just a dude pulling corks out of wine bottles, not a dictator. That mentality has always made sommeliers look like pretentious a-holes, and that’s not who I am.
Have you noticed any consumer trends over the last few years?
Younger people are drinking wine. Or maybe I’m just getting older…
Are there any questions you wish a journalist would ask you but hasn’t?
No one has ever asked me who my barber is. His name is Ben, he owns Ben’s Barbers on Avenue A. He’s the BEST!
What do you like to drink off the job?
Beer. Cheap, cold, Mexican beer. Modelo Especial is my favorite. I also like Irish whiskey, preferably Jameson.
Any specific wines you always have at home?
Clos Roche Blanche from the Loire Valley, white or red. All are great and under $20.
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?
Northern Rhone Syrah and Peking Duck.
What interests do you have outside of wine and work?
Video games. So psyched for PS4 coming out this Christmas!
What about favorite movies? Music?
I am a Science Fiction movie nut: Star Wars, Blade Runner. For music, I favor punk, metal, and new wave.
If you could be traveling anywhere right now, where would you be?