Shashi Prakash had barely touched alcohol – and never wine – before he came to the UK. Now a serious wine geek, he has big ambitions for the places he works
One of the joys of the Sommelier Collective is the wide variety of our members. It’s the reason we run these Member Profiles – they’re a chance to celebrate the unique diversity of the hospitality industry. People who have come to the UK from all over the world – and each with their own unique story. But few are as remarkable as that of Shashi Prakash…
You’ve had quite a journey to get here…
I grew up in Jamshedpur – about four hours from Calcutta. I’d never planned to come and live in the UK or Scotland. But if you ask my mum I was always different from the rest of my family. My brothers and sisters all became teachers, engineers, doctors – but I wanted to be away from those things and do something that fulfilled me. My family haven’t come to see any of the places I’ve worked yet, but I’d love to bring them over so they can see where I work – and what wine is all about!
Had you tried wine before you came here?
Here alcohol is considered a part of your dining experience, but in India when you drink you’re considered not a good person. When I came here the only alcohol I’d had was half a bottle of Kingfisher when I left university and the students threw a party for us. I only drank out of respect for them. When I came here the first thing I tried was pear cider – I was amazed. It had such a sweet palate to it.
Why did you come to the UK?
I came back in 2009 to do my BA Hons in hospitality. I had no plans to stay here, but once you’ve got your degree you’re allowed to stay and work for a couple of years. The first job I got was in Gleneagles.
I stayed there for a bit then went to Seaham Hall near Sunderland where Kenny Atkinson was the chef – he had one Michelin star.
When did your love of wine begin?
At Martin Wishart in Edinburgh. They had two sommeliers and I loved the way they used to talk to the guests. It was something amazing to me to see how one wine could go with the food and another one wouldn’t. The sommelier used to give me glasses of wine to taste after service. I’ve moved around quite a lot, but Martin Wishart had the biggest influence on me in terms of understanding the elements of fine dining service.
Have there been any big influences on your wine journey?
After Martin Wishart I went to the Horseshoe Inn, a three-rosette restaurant in Peebles [south of Edinburgh] in 2012. There I was lucky to find a gentleman called David Downey who was a bit of a mentor to me. I started my WSET qualifications and a couple of times a year we’d go out to restaurants and he’d let me pick the wine. I started to learn about wine from here onwards and it allowed me to see my restaurant career beyond food.
Have you done any wine qualifications?
I’ve done WSET Level 2 but I want to do Level 3 and get into a sommelier course. I’m very intrigued by sake, too. Next month I’m hoping to do a sabrage course as well.
What are your favourite wine styles?
Pinot Noir is my go-to wine. I’ve drunk it from all around the world. My taste is probably for fruitier wines rather than rustic ones. My favourites are Felton Road Block 5 – it has astonishing length. I also like some Austrian versions. Not many people know it very well, but I think it’s remarkable. When I speak to customers in the restaurant they have no idea how good Germany is for Pinot Noir. White wise I’m a big fan of Burgundy – good Chardonnay and Chablis. Some of my GMs say I have very expensive tastes.
Tell us about your list at Fonab Castle
I’ve been here seven months – I was at Inverlochy Castle before that. We used to have 150 bins here but I’ve added a further 50-60 bins – mostly wines that are a bit quirkier, a bit different. Things like the Blank Bottle from South Africa. I think they are breaking the rules and just doing something they’re passionate about. It’s very food-driven wine as well.
Are the customers open to those kind of wines?
Our customers tend to be more adventurous in the summer. For the more hesitant ones, if they’ve never had a New Zealand Pinot Noir, they won’t spend £90 on it all of a sudden. Our job is to read the guest, rather than influence them into buying what we want to sell.
How do you balance your family life with the demands of work?
Our son was born in June and I wasn’t seeing much of him – I was working 15 hours a day at Inverlochy Castle. Fonab Castle is a bit more relaxed – it’s allowed me to get a better work/life balance. I’m lucky to have a very understanding wife. She was a chef before she got pregnant, so she understands that this is a job where you sometimes have to work six or seven days a week. My GM at Fonab is very understanding too. They don’t expect me to be here 24/7.
You obviously love it, though…
I love being in this industry – I’m passionate about hospitality. I have so much respect for the people who do what they do – and I’m still in contact with a lot of the chefs I’ve worked with. One of our chefs at Isle of Eriska, Graeme Cheevers, got a Michelin star last month – he’s only been open eight months. There’s a guy who was with me at the Samling Hotel [Windermere], Tom Shepherd, who opened his restaurant – Upstairs – in Lichfield five months ago and he got a star, too.
Does their success spur you on?
I’m working with a chef who was with me at Martin Wishart. We are pushing for a fourth rosette and then eventually we’re hoping to get a Michelin star. If a restaurant is good, forward thinking and innovative, those are the kind of places I like to stay. If it has a one-star Michelin, what’s the next step? It’s important to keep moving and pushing ourselves.