The charismatic Carl Villeneuve-Lepage
1. How did you prepare for this North American competition? Was it different from preparing for the Meilleur sommelier du Québec, or the Canadian competition? What are the differences between those, and this continent-wide competition?
“Yes, it’s different, but at the same time it’s sort of a continuity. The difference is that there are more competitors. There were 8 candidates at the Canadian competition, now there’s 20 of us. Plus the contestants are all national champions, so the competition is fiercer.”
2. Is there a candidate that makes you somewhat nervous?
“In my experience, I would say that Pier-Alexis is an admirable opponent. Being from Québec, my advantage is that I have easy access to products from all over the world, which isn’t always the case with sommeliers from other countries.”
3. What element of the competition makes you the most nervous? What sort of thing would be the most embarrassing for a competitor here?
“I feel great right now; I’m not afraid of any aspect of the competition. I learned a lot from my past competitions and I know what to expect. I especially know how to approach it mentally; I know how to control my stress levels.”
4. Your relaxed demeanour and humour charmed spectators and judges at the Best Sommelier of Canada competition. Is your humour a double-edged sword? How do you balance a serious, yet approachable tone?
“Well the idea is to just be myself. To me it’s the same as when I’m working at Toque! Sometimes you get customers who are more serious; I know how to adapt. It needs to be serious, but fun at the same time. Today’s restaurants need to adopt a more human approach. I don’t think I intentionally used humour at the last competition. I just think that everyone is so stressed that one laid-back response manages to lighten the mood and helps the room relax a little.”
5. Do you have a pre-competition ritual?
“I’m not superstitious. I let that idea go because I feel like it adds even more pressure. I make sure to be well balanced before the competition, but I don’t restrict myself either. Last night I drank wine with dinner, as usual, and today I feel great.”
6. What would you do if you won?
“I would treat myself to an excellent cigar! In fact, win or lose, that’s what I plan on doing after the competition!”
Photo: Julien Faugère