Frederick Dexheimer
106 E. 57th St.
New York, NY 10022
(212) 752-7470


21 W. 17th St.
New York, NY 10011
(212) 691-8888


Frederick Dexheimer
BLT STEAK & BLT FISH | New York City

Amy Tarr: How did you develop an interest in wine?
Fred Dexheimer: It was accidental. I was working in a restaurant and the first time I ever opened a bottle of wine it was with one of those winged openers – I was breaking the cork and the guest said, “Here, let me do it for you.” Then the first time I opened a bottle of Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages, I couldn’t pronounce the name and I butchered the cork. I was frustrated because I didn’t understand about wine when I was a waiter then. You made your own money, so if you could sell that $40 or $50 bottle of wine, you’d make more money. The more I knew about wine, I saw it as the real tool to make more as a waiter. The only way to do it was to educate myself about it.

AT: You accepted your first sommelier position at Cello in 2002 working with Laurent Tourondel and now you’re back with him again at BLT Steak and BLT Fish – plus you worked on the wine pairings for his cookbook – Go Fish. What appeals to you most about this chef and his cuisine?
FD: He’s French and I’m American, so it’s kind of unusual right there. But we click because we both have extremely high standards of the dining experience. His food is awesome, some of the best food I’ve ever worked with, and I feel like his food is the most accessible to people. He uses great ingredients, but he doesn’t scare people away. He doesn’t make food that is intimidating. You look at a menu of his and you say, “Wow, this looks great.” You don’t have to ask 25 questions about it. For me, it’s about making people happy, developing a clientele, and having fun with these people on a nightly basis. His approach to food is unbelievable. You can’t be a sommelier without a great chef.

AT: Can you talk about the importance of the wines by the glass program?
FD: I look at wines by the glass a little bit differently now than I used to. I offer things now that people are comfortable with. I don’t offer esoteric wines too far off the path. The people who want those wines will go to the bottle menu. I offer the pinot grigio, cabernet, Sancerre. Right now there’s a trend in “brand name” wines. People just care that you have a pinot noir. Sancerre is like a brand name - no one knows a producer of Sancerre, but they know Sancerre. So I run a glass program that’s profitable but gives clients what they want. I try to get as best a quality as I can.

AT: When are you taking your Master Sommelier Exam?
FD: I took it for the first this year, but I didn’t pass it. I’m going to take it again next year. However I get there, whatever my process is, I’m going to do it. People on the MS side have expressed their desire to help me to beat the best. That’s been my goal since I was 22 or 23. I want to push myself to become the best that I can be. It’s the top level of achievement and knowledge. The test is very, very hard, there are very defined and stringent criteria. And you’re with your peers that have all passed the tests – about 130 over a 25 year period. I never had a mentor. I did this process alone for the first two courses. I just got paired up with William Sherer – the sommelier at Atelier – he’s very involved in getting young sommeliers together, setting up tasting groups. As soon as you get it, you have to give back. You want to get more involved in the program because of the community of it. None of us would be where we are without someone taking us under their wing.

AT: What wines do you favor for your cellar at home?
FD: As my palate has moved from place to place, I’m ending up in Burgundy, like a lot of sommeliers. Especially on the premier cru and grand cru level. I’m looking at site-specific places. Wines that breathe a sense of place each year after year, where there’s a tremendous hand of the winemaker, year after year. When I was at BLT Steak, I was looking at a lot of the great Bordeaux, 10-30 years old and the way they changed texturally, their flavor profile, and how they developed. Bordeaux has been very interesting. A lot of sommeliers end up in Germany, Alsace. Wines with clarity and vision, a sense of place, wines with balance of acidity and fruit. Most sommeliers like high acid wines with clean and lean flavors.But l sell California chardonnay, California Pinot Noir. I may not love the wines, but for my guests, that’s what they want and you should appeal to your clientele. A lot of people come back to my restaurants because I have certain wines. A lot of sommeliers make that mistake. It’s a symbiotic relationship, it’s not all about ego. People want a simple dining experience. When you come into a restaurant, you want to feel comfortable. People like a sommelier that’s not intimidating.

AT: Pinot Noir seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue with the success of the movie Sideways. Even our Rising Star Chefs seem to all want to pair their dishes with Pinot Noir. What’s your take on this grape and its surging popularity?
FD: To people who know wine, pinot noir is the best grape for food. It’s new to people who have just seen the movie. It’s the most versatile food grape – it goes with everything from fish to steaks. The New World Pinot Noir is about fruit. A lot of people have just planted pinot noir in a lot of places. There are some plantings in California going back but people didn’t really take it seriously until the ‘70s, New Zealand in the mid-‘80s and really in California in the mid-‘80s and ‘0s. It’s going to take a lot of time to mature. Burgundy is so great because of centuries’ old relationships between the earth and the vine. New World pinot noir doesn’t reach the level of subtlety and complexity as it does in France. California is warmer – you’re going to get more fruit, more alcohol. Still I buy tons of Californian Pinot. It sells.

AT: What are your ultimate career goals? Where do you go from here at such a young age?
FD: A lot of people in this industry are shortsighted. There are many opportunities to grow. I don’t want to be someone who is 40 years old, working on a restaurant floor. I want to create my own entity and facility. It’s a lifestyle thing – you want to have the most comfort in life. I want to travel, do all those things. Right now I’m doing the hard work to have that in the future. I more want to be an educator, a mentor. I want to give back. I’ve been blessed with so many people who have given me such great information. The restaurant is a great business on the surface. But the hours and amount of time you work – especially opening a new restaurant, you don’t have time for your personal life. You work hard now so you can have that later. As the Beverage Director as a kid, I’m privileged. That opportunity is unreal. It’s a learning process as well. It’s not like I have all the answers. I need good people around me – it’s definitely a team effort.

AT: Anything else you’d like to share?
FD: I’m not just a wine geek. For me it’s about the guest having a great time. Offering people what they want, having fun, getting closer to my goals, and working with great people. A lot of people don’t have goals. I want to know there are other things than running around a restaurant. I’ve made a decision to get better for the future. Create better revenue for my restaurant. Create better education for my staff. It is a business.


   Published: April 2005