A matter of taste: wining and dining with lecturer Lilla Fülöp

03 December, 2021
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A matter of taste: wining and dining with lecturer Lilla Fülöp

César Ritz Colleges’ wine and beverage lecturer and certified WSET educator Lilla Fülöp talks vintage selection, what it takes to be a sommelier and serving wine at places like the White House 

By Swiss Education Group

4 minutes
Lilla Fulop

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“When you listen to music, you hear the different parts of the song, the different instruments,” considers Lilla Fülöp . “My job, is to teach you to separate flavors like sounds.” 

Wine is Ms. Fülöp ’s life. As a certified sommelier, one of César Ritz Colleges’ resident wine and beverage lecturers and official Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) educator, an intensive program that’s open to the public as well as students, there’s not much this maestro doesn’t know about wine. But don’t let that intimidate you: it wasn’t always this way. 

“I actually originally trained as journalist,” she says. “I had an internship with a Hungarian TV channel and went travelling, ending up in the States, where I found a student job at a restaurant. I was really inspired by the sommelier, so much so that I volunteered to work in the cellar for free! It was fascinating, and ignited my passion for wine, a passion I never knew I had.” 

Student at a wine tasting classA student enjoying a wine tasting

It wasn’t long before Ms. Fülöp was pivoting, and enrolling in a basic oenology course, eager to learn more. 

“Eventually, I became a certified sommelier myself,” she smiles. “This means that you have to spend at least five years in the service industry. Service is very important to me.” 

Ms. Fülöp certainly put in the hours, and quickly found herself with quite the illustrious career. 

“I had a contract with the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts (5 Stars & 5 Diamonds) in Washington DC,” she recalls. “And part of this involved serving the important members of the White House! Before I knew it, I was meeting very famous people from all over the globe and responsible for selecting wines for politicians, even for the Pope! The chefs and I would discuss every single ingredient, and every dish, in great detail, and options would come to me.

 

LucerneMs. Fülöp is based in the picturesque Lucerne

“I remember one time, we had a huge wedding, and the event planner rushed to me in a panic two hours before it was all due to begin. ‘Everything has to be kosher now!’ she told me breathlessly and my heart just stopped. How on earth was I going to pull this off? 

“Immediately, I called everyone I knew in Washington, and somehow, the wedding breakfast was scrapped, reimagined and transformed. Service sure teaches you how to act well under pressure! You just have to make it happen.” 

It wasn’t until years later, when Ms. Fülöp and her husband moved to Switzerland, that she began passing on all this knowledge and experience, and started teaching. Her César Ritz Colleges journey coincided with the early days of the pandemic, so her first classes were held exclusively online, before she finally met her cohort of students in person last October. She had found her new passion. 

Wine selectionIt's Ms. Fülöp's job to choose the wines the students will sample

“I completely fell in love with teaching,” she says. “At first, my role was to serve. Now, it’s time to teach, to pay it forward to the next generation.”  

With all the challenges the past 18 months have thrown at us all, she’s delighted and thankful to be teaching face-to-face full time. Her love for learning is infectious. 

“The focus is on experiential learning,” she notes. “It’s important to prepare our students for real life. Whatever you learn here, you take with you into the future. It’s so rewarding when students come back with stories from the workplace, and tell me that they put something I taught them into practice.” 

So, why should you study wine?  

Understanding wine is a very, very useful skill and very much in demand by employers. Perhaps more than you might imagine. It’s something everyone wants you to know about. You don’t necessarily have to be a master sommelier, or a restaurant manager, but having a basic knowledge will serve you well.

“Understanding wine is a very, very useful skill and very much in demand by employers,” she stresses. “Perhaps more than you might imagine. It’s something everyone wants you to know about. You don’t necessarily have to be a master sommelier, or a restaurant manager, but having a basic knowledge will serve you well.” 

Whether you take the wine and beverage management module, as part of our bachelor’s program, or sign up for the extracurricular WSET course on the weekend, there is much to learn – and much to gain. 

“The WSET accreditation carries weight,” she says of the latter. “It could make the difference between getting the job, or not. It takes you through a certain method of learning, from beginner to advanced level. At Level 1, you learn to identify six wines, while Level 2 introduces you to 43 different styles of wines – it’s quite a leap. The WSET gives you pointers in terms of which wines you can choose, but it’s my job to make the final selection. I adore it. 

The WSET accreditation carries weight. It could make the difference between getting the job, or not.

“This skill also has longevity,” Ms. Fülöp argues. “It’s a need, eating out, dining out. I still see such a bright future for hospitality in general, and restaurants in particular. They won’t suffer for much longer. The pandemic has just made us all a little more creative, that’s all.” 

As someone who definitely fits that description, what’s Ms. Fülöp’s advice for those following in her footsteps, and taking the industry forward? 

“We need people in this industry who really want to be part of the industry,” she says. “You want to serve people with a full heart. No matter where you’ve come from, or who you are, as long as you have the passion, that’s all that matters.” 

 

Thirsty for more? Learn all about our bachelor's and WSET programs here.

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By Swiss Education Group