Friday, April 3, 2009

Jerry Lee
Restaurant Wine Buyer & Manager Extraordinaire

Born in Taiwan, Lee came to the U.S. when he was just 7 years old. His grandparents had Chinese restaurants all over the country. Eventually his dad worked in the kitchen and his mom worked in the front of the house at one of these restaurants. The Lee Family worked very hard because their dream was to open their own restaurant. In 1985 his parents dream came true.

After moving to San Luis Obispo to open their own place -- Jerry became very excited about the wines of Arroyo Grande Valley since it was in his own backyard. Throughout his adulthood, Lee would take weekend trips to wineries and taste what Santa Ynez had to offer.
After graduating high school Lee moved to Santa Barbara and landed a great job at Michel Richard’s CITRONELLE.
After 9 years at CITRONELLE, in 2006 the famous dining spot closed its doors. Lee accepted a Restaurant Manager position with San Ysidro Ranch. You might say restaurants are in his blood.

“When I came on board there was not one single lick of juice and they wanted me to build this world class wine list. I was like a kid in a candy store. NO budget and taste every day. As of today I have build this list at the ranch of 1100 selections with wines focusing on local and Europe. I LOVE Syrah, especially local Santa Barbara Syrahs. I have won The Best of Award of Excellence for 2007 and 2008 my goal is to get the Grand Award before I leave.”

1. What has proven to be your biggest obstacle? Traveling the world, finding the wines & seeing where they come from. I am a very visual person, reading books isn’t enough. I have to SEE it for myself.

2. How has wine changed your life? Because of wine I never finished college…{laughs}. It’s changed my life tremendously, I wasn’t big into school, but I grew up in a restaurant world. I’m infatuated with wine, I can relate to it. Constantly evolving, nuanced, changing, different to different people.

3. Do you believe in fate or serendipity? I have to make things happen. Ultimately. I do to a point, believe in fate, but I go back and forth all the time. That’s a grey area in life. I think things come to be, its not a miracle, you have to work for everything. Ya gotta WORK.

4. What’s your favorite place to relax with a bottle of Syrah, say Kinton Santa Barbara Syrah? At my house, with friends, with my barbecue on high and closest friends around. Can’t beat it, good wine and cooking.

5. Living or dead – what 5 people would you like to invite over for dinner? Bruce Lee, Marilyn Monroe, My great-great grandfather (heard so many stories), Thomas Jefferson and Kermit Lynch.

6. What motivates you to get up in the morning? Sunshine and a good cup of coffee

7. What makes you proud? To see the closest people I have around. To see how far I’ve come in life.

8. Where would you like to visit/travel next? Italy & Germany

9. You have the worlds crankiest person send back dish after dish – what do you do when they finally leave your restaurant? CALL them an ASSHOLE! Or, laugh at them.

10. How do you gauge happiness? Smiling, I’m a smiler. When happiness is around me, I’m constantly moving. I’m an agenda guy. The busier the happier.

11. Besides Syrah, what are the other popular bottlings on your list? Pinot Noir (hands down). But everyone should be learning their Spanish wines (Tempranillo, Grenacha) they offer great prices and are great gems.

12. Do manners matter? Yes, it does matter! Formal or informal – the way you present yourself is reactionary to and for the people around you.
13. Why do you work so hard? Because I don’t want to work later on, I work now so I can travel later. I want to see what the world has to offer, seeing everything….

14. Describe a typical Tuesday Night meal at your house… Grilled or seared pork chops with a red wine demiglace, baby bok choy, potatoes and a hearty red wine.

Jerry Lee encourages you to come visit him at his resort, which was just named by Forbes Traveler as the best hotel in America.


Joie de vivre said...

What a success story. I love how he say wine is the reason he didn't finish college. Could be why a lot of kids never finish college (or perhaps that is tequila shots)

Heather said...

this guy sounds awesome!! i love your interviews :)

Le Meems said...

Thanks Gang :)

He is really inspirational, his work ethic is amazing !!