IN THE OLIVE GARDEN
THE ITALIAN-FOCUSED RESTAURANT CHAIN
EXPANDS THEIR WINE TRAINING PROGRAM TO NAPA.
It’s the sort of think that makes restaurant beverage professionals shake their heads; you ask a server to recommend a wine, only to be greeted by a flicker of fear in their eyes. Even as our wine consumption increases, the average American is still often intimidated by wine, and servers are no different. Many can’t make recommendations with any confidence.
Staples of the Italian kitchen presentation.
Too often restaurants that don’t have a sommelier miss this window of opportunity. A staff that is at least knowledgeable in the wine basics can enhance any customer experience, as well as increase sales. The Olive Garden, winner of the 2001 Cheers Award for Best Chain Wine program and 2002 Best Chain Beverage Program, knows this, and also try to educate some of their staff by providing a great training experience.
Their idea of a genuine Italian dining experience is fresh, simple, delicious food, complemented by a glass of wine. With that in mind, in addition to their culinary center in Italy (see Cheers, May 2001) they created the Olive Garden Wine Institute, in partnership with Trinchero Family Estates, Robert Mondavi Family of Wines and Gallo of Sonoma Winery. The aim: provide Olive Garden managers with a broader knowledge of wines, so they may share their understanding and passion with the staff and guests at each unit.
The five-day Wine Institute curriculum was created by the Culinary Institute of America in conjunction with Olive Garden and its three Wine Institute partners. The program divides time between the three wine-making companies: classes at Robert Mondavi’s wineries focus on the rich history of wine; Trinchero Family Estates hosts a hands-on food and wine dynamics classes; and service techniques are the focus at Gallo of Sonoma. A recent visit to the Trinchero program showed firsthand how the program influenced participants and showed how their confidence grew over the course of the day.
“The reason we asked Trinchero Estates to do the food and wine portion of the seminar is because we share very similar philosophies about how simple food and wine could, and should be,” says Bill Edwards, director of beverage marketing and development for the Olive Garden.
Barry Wiss, Director of Hospitality and Trade Education.
“Our programs, the Olive Garden Wine Institute and the Trinchero Estates Vine to Dine program, have a lot of synergy and play very well off each other. It’s such a great fit because of the Italian family heritage Trinchero Estates has. They can really speak from the heart of the Italian family experience, and that’s exactly what we try top do in the restaurant day in and day out. And for our employees to hear about how Trinchero lives that truly reinforces the message.
“Napa is the closest thing to being in Italy, and to have our managers see that and experience that and work with the Trinchero chefs to see how simple it is,” said Edwards. “It’s a truly unique and memorable experience.”
Trinchero Estates Vine to Dine Education Program provides a comprehensive food and wine experience for hospitality professionals. The attendees range from operations managers to chefs and wait staff. The program was designed to provide staff with a greater range of experience and education, so that they in turn can provide customers better drinking and dining experiences, using the basics of viticulture and winemaking techniques, culinary education and team building exercises.
Trinchero Family Estates winery chefs David Tankersly (left) and James Houghton.
The dynamic hands-on program inspires creativity and knowledge that can be brought back and shared with fellow employees. Barry Wiss, director of hospitality and trade education, and Jeffrey Starr, Trinchero Family Estates executive winery chef headed the program.
“The goal is for participants to acquire more knowledge, and thereby return to their jobs and be able to speak about wine and food with more conviction and more knowledge,” says Barry Wiss. “We’ve found that providing a relaxed, fun environment for people to learn in really fuels their passion.”
“So many people are intimidated by wine,” Wiss says. “It’s hard to speak with confidence when most people feel you have to be an expert in order to make recommendations. Providing people with knowledge, and giving them the experience to use that knowledge that day, through the team games, not only raises their confidence in speaking about wine or wine and food pairing, but also makes them realize that it’s easy for them to apply their knowledge of wine.”
An antipasti plate with roasted peppers, mozzarella, anchovies and olives.
One aspect, the Aroma Wheel of Fortune, brainchild of Barry Wiss, is designed to give the participants a “noses on” experience with wine. It prepares the team for a blind tasting of wines by helping them becoming familiar with the different aromas found in grapes, such as tree fruits (including apple, peach and cherry), or caramel notes such as molasses and chocolate.
To ensure the success of the program, the Olive Garden targeted prime employees as participants, who had to apply to be a part of the Wine Institute program and were evaluated based on their performance reviews and a series of interviews. Once accepted into the program, the employees were rewarded with a week of education in the Napa Valley.
Trinchero Family Estates
Executive Chef Jeffrey Starr.
The Olive Garden follows up with the participants making sure they know how to use their new knowledge. “That’s the key to success here,” says Mark Mitchell, manager of beverage training of the Olive Garden. “At the end of the day we all sit down and discuss ways to share our knowledge and experience with fellow employees. Being able to go home with a plan of action ensures that the program is a long-term success for everyone involved.”
“There’s no substitute for our employees going to wine country to see and learn how food and wine play off each other,” says Bill Edwards. “And there’s no better way for them to learn or gain confidence. The dialogue the participants have with the chefs, we want them to take that with them and have that dialogue continue with their own chefs and servers.
“If we could capture that experience for them and put it into a bottle–well, that’s essentially what we are trying to accomplish.”
Peg Wallace is a free-lance writer in San Francisco.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRUCE FLEMING
A DAY IN THE SUN
What does a day in Napa entail for the Olive Garden employees?
Here’s the agenda for the Wine Institute’s day with Trinchero Estates:
8:30 a.m. 10:00 a.m.
STAPLES OF THE ITALIAN KITCHEN
10:15 a.m. 11:50 a.m.
FOOD AND WINE PAIRING
UNDERSTANDING THE COURSES (TRADITIONAL ITALIAN MEAL)
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A WINE COUNTRY CHEF
1:00 p.m. 2:30 p.m.
LUNCH AND TEAM PRESENTATIONS
2:30 p.m.-3:15 p.m.
LET’S MAKE A MEAL
INTERACTIVE EDUCATIONAL GAME SHOW
(COVERING ALL TOPICS OF THE DAY)