Understanding Taste; thoughts from my childhood. LIAM STEEVENSON MW

My childhood holidays were spent on the idyllic island of Jersey, the British protectorate just off the French coast, from where much of its personality originated.   My grandparents, had time that my parents did not over those long summers, and they treated me to sun-filled weeks, where my ever patient grandfather taught me to cast a fly, swing a golf club and catch a wave.

My grandmother was Jersey born.  My grandfather moved with his family as a child, and therefore shared a rich history with this island, emotionally focussed around the German occupation in the Second World War.  If my affection for the drinks trade were to be attributed to genetics, a trace would run back to my grandmother’s father who managed the brewery on the island for over twenty years. 

Perhaps because they were financially able, but certainly also because it was a priority to them, it was my grandparents that introduced me to fine food and then to wine.  Once a week, I would dress up (as would they) and be taken to one of the many restaurants on the island for lunch and occasionally dinner.   Perhaps strangely for a boy my age, never once did I complain about changing from shorts into chinos and leaving the beach below their house, for it was always my favourite few hours. 

Thirty-five years ago now, I remember the formality of the restaurants clearly. Table clothed dining rooms looked out across the Atlantic.  Impeccably dressed waiters (they were always male and largely Portuguese), silver-served us, presenting dish after dish of incredible food from the kitchens, all of my senses responded.

The service brigade, my grandparents, and the tables around us would warm to my appetite for the unusual.  Unaware of cost I indulged in Oysters, Welks, Crab, Lobster, learning as I ate where the fish was sourced, the importance of season, how recently the lobster had been taken from the sea. The waiters, and sometimes the Chefs, would explain classic cooking, talk of ‘Escoffier’ and reduction as I dipped fingers into the sauce-pans.  These were extraordinary meals, that combined flavour experiences that I remember to this day and lengthy conversations with two wonderfully engaging people.

My grandmother Fayette was a talented dancer as a girl, which left her with wonderful posture that she held throughout her life.  Incredibly elegant, she would enjoy my ambitious menu choices, but herself eat much more simple dishes, Plaice being her staple favourite, ordered with a request for fine, dry-white wine. I  would listen whilst the Sommelier explained the importance of pairing light, elegant, mineral white.  Words like Chablis, Muscadet, Pouilly Fuisse entered my vocabulary. I was taught to sip, to savour the flavours on the tongue, to consider the length that the elements I was experiencing.

Neither of my Grandparents were wine experts, and to some who knew them, the idea that they set me on my wine journey might amuse them.  However, I feel blessed that early in my life they bought the dining table into it, created the understanding of the importance of the space to share great food and wine and discuss the nuances, structure, texture of what we shared together. That decade of my childhood, in restaurants perched above the sandy beaches of Jersey, I was to understand that there is more to food than eating, and more to wine than drinking.