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?
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.
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