Jean-Christophe Forgé, head sommelier at Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh

02 March 2006
Jean-Christophe Forgé, head sommelier at Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh

Jean-Christophe Forgé, 23, has been head sommelier at Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh's first Michelin star winner, for the past three years.

At the 43-cover restaurant, recently reopened after a refurbishment, the young Frenchman perceives his role as "enhancing the dining experience". He advises diners, and his employers, on wine selection and oversees a cellar boasting 250 varieties. He also takes on plenty of admin work.

"You waste a lot of money if you don't keep a careful eye on what's going out and in," he says.

Despite his youth, Forgé has been in the industry some time. In 1998, aged 16, he enrolled at a Centre de Formation d'Apprentis (a vocational college) to study hospitality. In 2000 he specialised in wine. September 2001 saw him win a place on the EU-financed Leonardo exchange programme.

After three months of English lessons, he was sent to the Oranmore Lodge hotel, Galway. He proved a success as a general waiter, and when the placement ended, he was offered a five-month contract.

After 10 months in Ireland, Forgé returned home. But he had been in France for only a month when he saw an advert for a commis sommelier position in Scotland. So by November 2002, he was back among Celts - and promotion was not long in coming. In early 2003, at the grand age of 21, Martin Wishart made him head sommelier.

Forgé doesn't believe his age has proved an obstacle, but feels it might have done had he stayed in France. "Over there it is a big problem," he says. "There is a lot of talent but everything is about experience. Here is different - the way of working and relationships with your co-workers."

He sees a further bonus in plying his trade in the UK. "You serve more quality wine," he says. "In this country, people visiting a restaurant want to enjoy themselves. They're prepared to drink well and listen to advice."

And what does the future hold? "I want to improve as much as I can, and to travel," he says. "Travel is important in this industry and it's best to do it when you're young."

By Phin Foster

Salary Watch: What sommeliers should be earning

Head sommelier: Michelin-starred establishment, £35k-£45k

Head sommelier: Non-Michelin-starred establishment, £28k-£32k

Assistant sommelier: Michelin-starred establishment, £27k

Assistant sommelier: Non-Michelin-starred establishment, £22k

Sommelier: Michelin-starred establishment, £18k-£21k

Sommelier: Non-Michelin-starred establishment, £19k

Commis sommelier: Michelin-starred establishment, £16k-£18k

Commis sommelier: Non-Michelin-starred establishment, £16k

\* Salaries are seldom paid on commission relating to sales, but benefits include a good opportunity to travel to winemaking countries. It's always difficult to find sommeliers as they move around except at senior level.

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