28-year old sommelier Mathias Camilleri is one of the UK’s most promising young talents. Previously at the Medlar, he is now Head Sommelier of The Five Fields, a modern, seasonally focused British restaurant in the heart of Chelsea. This month he sat down with us for a brief chat about his career and passion for wine.
Julia: Hi Mathias, thanks for having me here at Five Fields. I’d like to start asking you about your personal journey: how and when did you get into wine?
Mathias: The journey started 4 and half years ago now, in Paris, where I’m from. I initially studied music for two years—my main instrument was electric bass. After finishing my studies I decided to move to Macau, China, where I attempted to launch myself as a professional musician. Unfortunately that didn’t work out in the way I wanted, but it is where I discovered wine! Even though I grew up in France, I was never very interested in wine. In fact it wasn’t even French wine that caught my eye, it was a German wine.
Julia: Do you remember which wine it was exactly?
Mathias: Of course. It was an Egon Müller Spätlese, 2006. Strangely enough, I had always hated wine- I found it too dry, too tannic. I have a quite sweet palate, perhaps because I am half-Asian. So that first sip of this Riesling, which was sweet but with such acidity, was a revelation. I thought: I could drink this every day! Of course at the time I didn’t know it was such a pricey wine!
Julia: How did you go from loving wine, to deciding you wanted to pursue it as a career?
Mathias: During my time in China I was going to a lot of restaurants, and I always observed the sommeliers. I thought they were the superstars of the restaurants! They have the opportunity to interact with customers, to talk about wine, to think about how it complements food, and then there is the technical part: decanting, pouring, and choosing glasses. I thought this could be a career for me.
Julia: Do you think that element of performance resonated with you, as a musician?
Mathias: That probably also appealed to me– there are a lot of correlations between wine and music, I feel. The approach I had to music—really feeling an emotional connection, but also the need for discipline, constantly learning more– is the same I have to wine.
Julia: So going back to your journey, what happened after China?
Mathias: After two years in China I decided to return to France to study. I did my professional degree in hospitality and catering, and then a specialisation as a sommelier (aka Mention Complémentaire en Sommellerie). I remember the exact date I left Paris for England: August 20th, 2012. I started as a Commis Sommelier at The Vineyard hotel and restaurant in Stockcross, where I worked for 6 months under Yohann Jousselin MS. It was a great experience but he left for China (of all places!), and I can say he was truly my introduction to being a sommelier in England— I’m very grateful to him.
After that I went to the Medlar Restaurant here in London, where I worked with Clément Robert, who became my mentor. This lasted 3 years, during which I became his Assistant Sommelier. For the last two months I have been Head Sommelier here at The Five Fields.
Looking back, it has all happened very quickly– but I think that is the great thing about working in England: if you are willing to work, people will give you the chance to prove yourself. I consider myself very lucky to have met people that trusted me, and I hope I’ve shown them that I’m worthy of this trust.
Julia: So, you’ve made it all the way here. Now, what’s the next step?
Mathias: Definitely the Master Sommelier. I’m sitting the first exam now in October, and I’m also a quarter finalist for the UK Sommelier of the Year award. The results will be announced on May 16th!
Julia: Congratulations! What are the most rewarding, and most challenging, parts of your job?
Mathias: There are so many. I think this job is really the kind that you have to love in order to do well. Of course there are bad moments, hard moments. But at the end of the day you are dealing with your passion: opening and sharing wines every day and making your customers happy. Sometimes you fail, but that is part of the challenge. It’s all about hospitality.
Julia: What is your relationship with your chef (Marguerite Keogh)? How do you collaborate?
Mathias: It’s very close, and she is very open. I can always approach her to try a sauce, or another element of a dish, and we discuss the wine pairings. We do a briefing with the whole team every time there is a new dish, new bar product, or new wines. We are truly a team here, which allows us to exchange a lot.
Julia: Speaking of The Five Fields, what is the essence of your wine list, and what do you customers respond to the most?
Mathias: Our customers generally prefer very classic, fine wines. We sell a lot of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but I’ve also been very surprised to see a lot of people interested in New World wines. I think a lot of it has to do with people looking for better value. So they lean towards classic wines, but they are also interested and curious.
Julia: The Five Fields aside, where is your favourite place to drink wine in London?
Mathias: I’m a big fan of 28-50. I think for sommeliers it will always be a reference—there are so many wines by the glass, at fair prices, so it is a great way for us to discover new wines. Plus the atmosphere is always fun. I also recently discovered Social Wine and Tapas, which is another place I love—the food is great and the wine list is very complete and balanced.
Julia: What about your favourite restaurant in London?
Julia: Final question, if you had to have one last meal and wine on Earth, what would it be?
Mathias: Definitely eggs and white truffles. The perfect scrambled eggs (at least 6!) with shaved white truffles.
For last wine, I have to choose three: Salon Champagne 2002, and for sentimental reasons, an Egon Müller Auslese 1990— but that is if I were to have my last meal in 20 years! To drink now, it would be a Sassicaia 1985.
Julia: That concludes our interview! Thank you so much Mathias, for being the first featured sommelier on Indigo’s blog.
The Five Fields is located at 8-9 Blacklands Terrace, SW3 2SP. For more information, please visit their website. If you have any suggestions for future interviews (topics or people), please get in touch with me here!