Just like a maturing wine, Ayanda Kunene, trainee sommelier at Big Easy Durban, says he is a ‘work-in-progress – I learn something new every day!’
Originally from Newcastle, AYANDA Kunene began working as a waiter at Big Easy Durban when it first opened in 2015 and six months later became fascinated with all things wine-related. “There was never wine in the house while I was growing up; it wasn’t part of my upbringing and didn’t feature prominently in my neighbourhood. The world of wine is not really part of my culture and initially was uncharted territory for me,” Kunene explains.
This all changed after Eric Botha (former sommelier at Big Easy Durban) began mentoring him when he started showing an interest in wine. “Eric taught me a great deal and we worked closely together. He advised me on what books to read and shared so much knowledge with me. He is someone I really look up to and admire.” A sommelier’s is responsible for the delivery of wine service and training of the other restaurant staff, as well as working with the culinary team on wine recommendations for particular food items, Kunene explains. “Responsibly, of course! It’s very rewarding to be able to advise and guide someone as to which wine pairs best with which food resulting in enhancing the diner’s overall experience – even more so if they have never been wine-drinkers before!”
The father-of-one’s average working day includes preparing the glassware, checking the wine cellar, anticipating what wines will be sold and learning more about each varietal and blend in stock as well as wine in general. He also recently assisted the Big Easy Durban team in selecting the wines for the soon-to-be-launched new wine list.
Being a sommelier means “enjoying people as much as wines,” says Kunene. “A great deal of interacting with guests is required on the job. One definitely needs to love wine, be open-minded to new experiences and above all enjoy what one is doing.”
Kunene (whose favourite wines are a Newton Johnson Pinot Noir and a Hamilton Russell Chardonnay) admits to voraciously absorbing each and every bit of wine-related information he encounters. He has completed in-house courses and plans to embark on a diploma in wines and spirits in the near future. He adds that being a member of SASA (the South African Sommeliers Association) has also contributed to his wine knowledge.
“Networking with other sommeliers, gaining insights from professionals in the field and attending monthly seminars and workshops is invaluable in keeping up-to-date with trends in the industry. I am also very fortunate to have Eric Botha and Markus Fritz as my mentors – they are my constant motivation and inspiration.”
Apart from hoping to travel to France one day, Kunene’s one objective is to return to his hometown to promote the culture of wine drinking. “Although wine is growing in popularity within the black population, a lot still needs to be done to change perceptions about wine in my community,” Kunene says. “Wine awareness is gradually growing in what is predominantly a beer-drinking culture and I hope to be able to contribute to repositioning wine as an alternative alcoholic beverage in the community. Everything I learn about wine, I hope to pass on to my people back home one day.”
Source: Big Easy Durban