THREE QUESTIONS WITH CHUCK FURUYA

 A blast from the past, can you guess where he is?

A blast from the past, can you guess where he is?

In 1989, Wine Speak co-founder Chuck Furuya became only the tenth person in the United States to pass the rigorous Master Sommelier examination. It was his passion to fully excel at wine service and education that led him on the path to certification as a Master Sommelier.

Chuck first began working in restaurants while attending college as a way to earn extra income. Chuck ended up managing some of Hawaii’s most highly regarded establishments. Sharing a mutual passion for wine and food and a desire to offer exceptional dining at reasonable prices, Chuck and restaurateur D.K. Kodama began collaborating in 2003. Today, they operate eight restaurants together.

Educating people about wine and discovering new talent, however, is what brings Chuck the most satisfaction. “I love finding new wines, especially great values. I love pairing wines with foods. But most of all I love teaching.” It was this same passion that inspired Chuck to co-found Wine Speak Paso Robles “so that we as an industry can learn while fostering camaraderie and collaboration.”

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 We recently caught up with Chuck to learn more about his personal journey:

 

What did it mean to you back then to be a MS? 

The Master Sommelier program creates a standard. It is so respected, and it gives those in the profession a standard to aspire to. I look at this old picture of the group and remember how many of them started out working the floor. They understood the craft of being a consummate sommelier.  I was proud and honored to be in their company.

 I remember Brian Julyan, who back then was Secretary of the Court of Master Sommeliers worldwide.  In England, his home base, he was a teacher and he loved teaching.  He also took pride in working as a butler part time for some of the prominent old school families in his country.  Education and service were big to him.  For me, it set the foundation for what I would strive for.

 

How has your journey transformed?

I would say one of the areas that has really progressed and transformed is pairing wine and food.

Thankfully, the emergence of Kermit Lynch, the world renown wine importer, coincided around the same time and area as Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. Together they showed the burgeoning American wine generation a different take on wine and food.

Up to that time, the finest restaurants of Hawaii and I'm sure other cities featured classical French or Continental cuisine. This meant French Chardonnay with beurre blanc and Bordeaux with perigourdine sauce.

I remember on an early visit to Chez Panisse, asking our server why they offered Domaine Tempier Bandol rosé and rouge by the glass and recommended each for many of their food specialties, instead of recommending a Napa Valley wine, given that Napa was only an hour and a half away.

She simply said, "Our food is very inspired by Provençe, and we so be believe it really works well with the wines of Provençe."

From that inspiration came subsequent pairings such as Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Blanc with Bouillabaisse and Regaleali Rosato with cioppino. It opened a whole new chapter on pairing wines with food to a whole new generation of sommeliers and wine lovers, which continued with German Rieslings with Asian-inspired foods and so on.

It was incredible to work with different kinds of chefs at culinary events such as "Cuisines of the Sun" at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel.  It was a golden opportunity to pair wines with Bengali, Indian, Thai, Balinese, various Chinese, Singaporean, Mexican, soul, Chilean, Argentinean, Jamaican, Italian and a host of other cooking techniques, flavors and textures. One can only dream of such opportunities.

 

What do you want to pass to the next generation?

Part of the task of any server or sommelier is, of course, providing service. The Master Sommelier program sets standards for the industry in beverage knowledge and service.  One of the most important facets of service to me is connecting with your guest, that they feel you and that you genuinely care whether they have a special experience or not. The service thing—timing, smiles, serve from the left, ladies first, etcetera—is part of it, yes.  Connection with your customers, however, is another level of service. I am hoping we all keep this in mind and strive to be better at it.

 
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Christine Curtis