David Myers, 32, is the chef and co-owner of Sona, one of three new Grand Award recipients for 2006. Myers is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, who walked away from his undergraduate studies in business to pursue his love of cooking. Before opening Sona with his wife, Michelle, an accomplished pastry chef who established the restaurant's wine program, Myers cooked at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, Daniel in New York and Patina in Los Angeles. He was also executive chef at JAAN in Beverly Hills' Raffles L'Hermitage hotel and at the Westin Stamford hotel in Singapore. In 2005, Myers and his wife opened a Parisian-style patisserie, Boule, across from Sona, and they are planning further business expansion. Wine Spectator Online caught up with the chef on a recent Friday afternoon.
Wine Spectator:Tell us how you became interested in wine.
David Myers: At age 19, I had just started cooking, and just had to have wine with food, to understand and explore those combinations. And it hit me that I love this stuff. I started collecting early, before I was even legally allowed to.
WS: What types of wine did you initially focus on collecting?
DM: I was really into the Rhône, because that was some of the first wine I had experienced. It was exciting, so earthy, and it just blew me away. And then it was Zinfandel. That was in the '90s, when Zin and those really high-alcohol, power-fruity wines were becoming super big. I was buying things like Ridge, and trying to save up my money for a few deep purchases, from Guigal—Côte-Rôtie La Landonne and La Mouline—and Château Beaucastel.
WS: What's your favorite wine to drink now?
DM: My tastes have changed a little bit. I'm very much into Burgundy, and Pinot Noir in general, because it goes so well with our food at Sona. I like a really good California or Oregon Pinot when I'm at home on the weekend, something really rich and luscious and juicy. I love Beaux Frères and Marcassin.
WS: What did you learn about wine while working for Charlie Trotter, Daniel Boulud and Joachim Splichal?
DM: They all taught me that wine … needs to be on par with the cuisine, the service and the ambience. Also about the importance of having a team committed to wine, and bringing that training and understanding to the service team as well as to the kitchen.
WS: Tell us about Sona's wine list and how it relates to your food.
DM: The wine program at Sona is absolutely geared toward the type of cooking that we do, with a really strong emphasis on Burgundy and Riesling. We have a great selection of Bordeaux, and the cult Cabs that people love, but we try also to have a very balanced list that's not heavy in one area over another. We're starting to get into the New World wines— South Africa, South America.
WS: You approach your tasting menu as sort of a variation on a theme, depending on the diner, and there is a lot of improvisation. How do you rise to the challenge of matching wines to a spontaneous menu?
DM: Our wine director, Mark Mendoza, thrives on it. At eight o'clock I may say, "OK, we're changing this dish right now, here's the new ingredient or the new technique," and he'll leave the kitchen and come back with a glass of something for me to try, and it's so stunning, it's an edgy pairing, it's everything about that dish that we were trying to say. It's really uncanny.
WS: Have you traveled much to winemaking regions?
DM: I used to live in Champagne, when I was working [as a stagière] at Gérard Boyer's restaurant Les Crayères. I've been to Tuscany, which was awesome, and of course, Napa. I've sent Mark [Mendoza] to France four times this year, and I'll definitely be joining him the next time.
WS: What can you tell us about the new restaurant you're working on?
DM: We're going to be doing a modern brasserie. We're slated to open in late spring 2007, and we'll be doing an extensive half-bottle program. We're also going to have our own wine bottled, which is why we keep sending Mark to Europe.
WS: You had originally planned to open a Japanese restaurant. Why the change?
DM: There were too many Japanese restaurants cropping up in the same area, so from a business perspective, the location became unsuitable. We're still going to do it, but we're searching for another area.
WS: So many of your chef colleagues have expanded their businesses into second and third cities. Is that in the plans for you?
DM: I definitely envision us expanding to other cities. We're looking at Tokyo. It's a long-term goal, but I think these long-term goals always come up a lot faster than we expect.
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