5 Questions with...WTTW 11's Alpana Singh

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5 Questions with...WTTW 11's Alpana Singh

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

November 18, 2009

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with a new weekly feature entitled 5 Questions with...

Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weekone of Chicago public televisions most popular personalities and Master Sommelier whose knowledge of food and wine is second to none in our fine cityshe hosts the wildly-popular Check, Please! on WTTW Channel 11here are 5 Questions withALPANA SINGH!

BIO: Born and raised in Monterey, California, it was only natural that Alpana Singh would develop an interest in wine. As the Director of Wine and Spirits for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc., her duties include wine education and training, purchasing and bar program development for the Chicago based restaurant group. She also moonlights as the host of the three time Emmy Award-winning restaurant review television show, Check, Please!, which airs weekly in Chicago on WTTW 11. In 2006, Singh published her first book, Alpana Pours. Alpana also pens a weekly wine column Bottle Service for the Chicago Tribunes RedEye and writes for her beverage blog www.whatwouldalpanadrink.blogspot.com.

Born to Indian parents who moved to California from the Fiji Islands, Singhs family owned an ethnic grocery store in Monterey where she worked at an early age; a life experience that she credits for her present day work ethic and ease with people of all ages. While waiting tables in college, she discovered her love for wine and found that it combined her varied interests of geography, history and food. She achieved her goal of becoming a Master Sommelier by passing the final exam in 2003 at the age of twenty-six.

Prior to her position at Lettuce, Alpana served as Sommelier for Chef J. Johos Relais Gourmand and Traditions et Qualit restaurant Everest. During that time, Wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. praised her in his publication the Wine Advocate as one of the finest young sommeliers in America today. In 2006, Bon Appetit named Singh Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year. She has also been featured in numerous publications including Newsweek, Food & Wine, Wine Spectator, Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times.

1) CSNChicago.com: Alpana, its an amazing success story that in just a short period of time you went from knowing next to nothing about wines and the wine industry to now holding the title of Master Sommelier, one of the youngest individuals to ever achieve this honor. What was the spark in life that took you down this career path?

Singh: I first became interested in wine while I was working as a server at a fine dining restaurant in my hometown of Monterey, California. I wanted to learn more about the subject in order to correctly answer questions diners would have about the wine list. I was immediately fascinated with the study of wine and was soon spending whatever spare time I had reading and learning about it. I became aware of the Court of Master Sommelier program and decided to focus my full energy and attention on passing the exam.

2) CSNChicago.com: What sports did you excel at playing growing up in California, and, since youve been in Chicago, what team(s) have you gravitated toward following on a regular basis?

Singh: I was not much of an athlete in school, but I did enjoy playing tether ball, Im not sure if this counts as a sport. My friends and I would mostly go bowling in high school and in college. I grew up surrounded by beautiful beaches so I loved to go kayaking and boogie boarding in the ocean.

After moving to Chicago, I lived in an apartment with a roof top deck that overlooked Wrigley Field. My roommate was a huge Cubs fan so I would join him on the roof top to watch the Cubs play and I soon found myself rooting for the Cubs. I was amazed at how emotionally invested I became with the team and the game. I was on a roller coaster ride of feeling different emotions joy, sadness, disappointment, elation, anger, fear, triumph, etc. After the calamity of 2003, I realized that I didnt have what it took to follow a sports team, especially a team like the Cubs. The emotional drain can be extremely exhausting.

I have a huge amount of respect for sports fans, especially Cubs fans, because I realize how much dedication it takes both in time and in heart. My father is a huge 49ers fan and I remember one year, he had to be taken to the hospital after the 49ers lost a crucial game. Thankfully, he ended up being OK but I realize that this type of fanaticism is in my DNA so its probably best that I keep an arms distance away from getting too involved in following a team. I do enjoy going to sporting events be it the Cubs, White Sox, Bears or the Bulls. Theres just something about the energy of being at a live event, especially with Chicago fans.

3) CSNChicago.com: With the big Thanksgiving Day holiday coming up, name three wines that CSNChicago.com readers should consider having on their tables to accompany a traditional Thanksgiving feast?

Singh:

Prosecco a sparkling wine such as Italian Prosecco is a festive way to greet your guests when they first arrive. At around 12 a bottle, the wine is fairly inexpensive and can be enjoyed with a wide array of appetizers crudite, shrimp cocktail, mixed nuts and meat & cheese trays.

Sauvignon Blanc I prefer white wines that are fresh, crisp and clean and Sauvignon Blanc is a particular favorite. The style will appeal to a wide range of palates and will pair well with the various side dishes featured at any standard Thanksgiving table.

Malbec I always make sure to always have a bottle of Malbec in my house. Its a rich and satisfying full-bodied wine that hits the spot when you want something heavier. Most Malbecs are also really affordable.

4) CSNChicago.com: As you know, Chicago sports fans are big on tailgating before big sporting events. Is there a wine out there that goes well with burgers, brats, etc. or should we just stick with beer during our pre-game rituals?

Singh: I cant think of a better wine to celebrate your team than Champagne. Rose Champagne, in particular, also pairs really well with ribs and burgers. Its also bubbly like beer so why not?

5) CSNChicago.com: Check, Please! on Channel 11 has been a huge hit in Chicago and you have done a great job as host allowing your guests to freely review and even argue about the citys top restaurants. In your opinion, what makes this show so appealing to the general masses and not just dining experts?

Singh: I feel that most people can relate to our reviewers because we all have a restaurant that we like to call our own, much in the same way people follow a sports team. We take it to heart when someone criticizes something we care so deeply about or we cheer when they agree with us. Besides, who doesnt love watching video footage of delicious food?

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything you want to plug Alpana? Tell us, we want to hear about it

Singh: I am teaching my husband how to cook and were chronicling the adventures in a new blog homecookingschooled.blogspot.com. I guess you could say hes currently in training.

Singh LINKS:

What Would Alpana Drink? official blog

WTTW Ch. 11Check, Please! page

Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants official site

Alpana Singh on Facebook

Alpana Singh on Twitter

Fire putting finishing touches on roster as season nears

Fire putting finishing touches on roster as season nears

The preseason has finished and it's officially a match week for the Chicago Fire.

The Fire, which travel to Columbus on Saturday for the season opener, returned from preseason training in Florida on Sunday and began the team's first full day back in Chicago with the team's annual kickoff luncheon on Monday. The team's players, coaches and staff interact with fans and the media ahead of the upcoming season.

Two players, UNC-Charlotte products Brandt Bronico and Matej Dekovic, were introduced to the audience a couple hours before the club announced the two 2017 draft picks had signed contracts. Bronico, a central midfielder drafted in the third round, and Dekovic, a center back/left back taken in the fourth round, both signed one-year deals with club options for the following three years.

Dekovic could add some much needed depth in central defense, but is a logical candidate to go out on loan to USL affiliate Tulsa. Dekovic, 23, is Croatian and counts as an international player even though he played three years collegiately with the 49ers. The Fire have nine international players on the roster with eight slots for them. The Fire could trade for an international slot, but if Dekovic goes out on loan he won't count against that number. Coach Veljko Paunovic was asked about potential outgoing loans, but didn't give specifics other than to say they have "made some decisions" and "are still working on that."

Bronico and Dekovic don't figure to play major roles this season, but there could still be more moves ahead. The lone trialist in the final week of the Fire's training camp, former Columbus Crew defender Chad Barson, was not retained. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said Ryan Taylor will be the latest right back to join the Fire on trial. Taylor, 32, made 55 English Premier League appearances with Wigan Athletic from 2005-2009 and 61 more with Newcastle United from 2009-2015. This season he has made 12 appearances for Port Vale in England's third tier, the most recent of which on Jan. 20 when he scored a penalty kick.

 

"Ryan Taylor will join us this week," Rodriguez said. "He's a very experienced player, he plays a lot of different positions, which we like. We like that versatility. We love the attitude that he's expressed towards coming on trial, which is not easy for an accomplished player. We'll look at him this week, maybe look at him for two weeks. I don't know how long it will take, but he is an option for us."

The Englishman would also take up an international slot.

A potentially bigger move is the one Rodriguez hinted at regarding a third designated player. Currently, David Accam and Nemanja Nikolic are the Fire's two DPs, meaning one more DP spot is available.

"We have the latitude, we have the cap space, the budget space and the resources within MLS and within our ownership to add another DP," Rodriguez said. "We've looked at a few players. Two of the players that we had on our list, we didn't make offers for so I want to be clear the two players we were tracking, one signed in Mexico with a big club in Mexico and one went to China for big money so they're off our list.

"There are still two players that we're tracking. I think as we get deeper into the start of the season, even though the first window is open, it's tougher. I would say we would likely look at the summer, or, as we did last year, forego the summer and concentrate on January. I still think it's hard to integrate players midseason."

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."