On February 6, 2022, Shen and I had the incredible opportunity to teach a wine education class to the staff of one of the best new restaurants in the country—Roots Southern Table. Yes, you read that right . . . COUNTRY. Not Dallas-Fort Worth. Not Texas. Country.
But don’t just take my word for it. The folks at the New York Times and Esquire rated Roots Southern Table as “The 50 restaurants we’re most excited about right now” and “Best New Restaurants in America, 2021,” respectively.
So how did we score this opportunity? Well, it all started with a boy and a dream . . .
Ok, not exactly.
In the fall of 2021, I taught Restaurant Management at The University of North Texas at Dallas. This was my first semester teaching and I had BIG plans. I wouldn’t use a traditional Restaurant Management textbook. Instead, I would create my own curriculum. I envisioned a class focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, empathy, active listening, mental health, addiction, sexual harassment, and so much more. Ultimately, I would utilize my bachelor’s degree in Humanities to discuss topics that were taboo for most of my hospitality career.
It is my belief that hospitality students, and hospitality workers in general, can learn the hard skills (e.g., food costs, compliance, etc.) on the job, and thus my class focused on human skills (e.g., empathy). Sadly, human skills are too often ignored in the upward progression of staff to management roles. As background, the typical trajectory of a restaurant manager goes something like this: a busser is good at bussing so she is promoted to server; she excels at serving so she tries bartending; she excels at bartending and is promoted to assistant manager. Now, that manager can step on the floor at any moment and serve guests, but nowhere in her journey to become a manager did she learn how to care for the people in her charge. My class aimed to remedy that.
Now, as much as I love talking and sharing my experience with my students, I have enough higher education experience to understand the value in guest speakers. So, I brought in badass guest speakers from across the country to discuss the topics stated above. Some of my guest speakers included: Alex Jump (who is the Bar Manager of Death & Co. Denver and also has a podcast Focus on Health), Joel Rivas (who is the founder of Saint City Culinary Foundation, whose Heard program focuses on wellness in the F&B industry), and Chef Tiffany Derry (who is the owner of Roots Southern Table).
Yay, we finally made it full circle to Roots Southern Table!
Chef Tiffany Derry is a celebrity chef, restaurateur, TV personality, food advocate, and brand consultant. She is INCREDIBLE. She had my students pumped up to take on the world! After hearing her speak, I could have jumped in the ring with Mike Tyson or given oral arguments to the Supreme Court. Yes, I would have had my ass handed to me in both situations, but that’s beyond the point. Chef Tiffany was that inspiring. At the time, I wanted to say thank you for taking the time out of her crazy busy schedule to speak with my students for over an hour, but I wasn’t sure what to give her.
Fast forward to my 40th birthday dinner. A couple of my besties took Shen and I out for dinner at Roots Southern Table. Chef Tiffany was gracious enough to step out of the kitchen to say hello and talk to us about her new restaurant. The food was killer and the staff was super welcoming. Still, I noticed something when we ordered wine. Our server was too nervous to open the wine so she asked the Bar Manager, Creighten Brown, to open it instead. That gave me an idea!
Teakwood Tavern Hospitality could offer a wine education class to the staff as a thank you to Chef Tiffany. I proposed this idea to the Roots team, and it was approved.
For this class, we focused on how to perceive acidity, sweetness, tannins, alcohol, and body in a wine. In my experience, most wine newbies incorrectly focus on the subjective elements of tasting. “Does anyone else smell cat-piss?” Instead, they should focus on training their brain to recognize acidity, sweetness, tannins, and body. These characteristics matter when pairing wine with food and when ordering wine at your favorite restaurant or wine shop.
To teach the structural components of wine, we showcased contrasting wines. We selectively procured wines with various ranges of sweetness, acidity, tannins, alcohol, and body. We were not concerned about the staff determining the exact levels of sweetness, acidity, tannin, and body. That takes time. Rather, we taught the staff how differentiate a wine with a high level of a certain characteristic (e.g., tannin) versus a wine with a lower level of that same characteristic. Being able to notice that subtle difference in a wine is the first step towards mastering how to taste. And the best way to do that is by tasting multiple wines at the same time and comparing their structural components.
Interestingly, Chef Tiffany explained how she uses the same methodology when teaching her culinary team about different grades of beef. It would be very difficult for someone to compare a prime NY strip that she ate a month ago against a choice NY strip she ate today. However, if you put a prime NY strip and a choice NY strip in front of someone at the same time and asked her to compare, she could likely perceive the difference in tenderness, flavor, juiciness, and marbling of the two pieces. It works that way with wine too.
Shen and I had an amazing time teaching the staff at Roots. They were super attentive and great fun to be around. They asked fantastic questions and were serious about their notetaking. Creighten said that he took 5 pages of notes, which is not bad for an hour and a half presentation.
There you have it. That is the story of how Teakwood Tavern Hospitality saved Christmas. Just checking if you are still there.
That is the story of how Teakwood Tavern Hospitality taught a wine education class to one of the best new restaurants in the country—Roots Southern Table. If this type of class interests you, please contact us! We host in person and virtual classes.
Sending humanistic love,
P.S. Over the years, I have received a lot of crap from my Ohio State friends about being a Humanities major. The funny thing is that they never understood what type of classes I took. My specialization was in Comparative Cultural Studies. I was only 1 class short from a minor in both African American Studies and Women's Studies. I loved my Humanities classes, and they have served me well since I graduated in 2005. It’s especially rewarding to use that knowledge to teach at the university level about diversity, inclusion, and sexual harassment in hospitality. Funny how things work out.