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🦈 THROUGH HELL & HIGH WATER: A MERMAID IN A SEA OF SHARKS

MEET VICTORIA JAMES

The tale of a mermaid who lost her voice- and how she reclaimed it. Side Note: It ends with a powerful happily ever after.


 ABOVE: Victoria at COTE NYC.

 

She might not be Snow White (that name is trademarked), but this princess (technically  granddaughter of a countess) has taken a bite out of the biggest apple there is- NYC. More specifically its misogynistic industry of food & beverage.


America’s once youngest sommelier just so happens to be a woman too. She was certified as a sommelier when she was twenty-one, making her the youngest in the country at the time. She was Food & Wine’s Sommelier of the Year in 2018, and has appeared on both Forbes and Zagat’s “30 Under 30” lists. She has worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in New York City, including Marea and Aureole. Currently, she is the Beverage Director and partner at Cote, a Michelin-starred hot spot in the Flatiron district.  She’s got two books under her belt - the most recent being “Wine Girl”, identified as a “must read” by VOGUE and a “triumph of extraordinary resilience” by the Sunday Times.


ABOVE: Wine Girl has three different publishers in 3 different countries, meaning so far the book has three different covers.  But the story itself remains the same: A brave young woman swimming in dangerous waters, reluctant to give up on her dreams and passions as a sea of bloodthirsty pirates take advantage of her.  Well, not exactly. These pirates aren’t bloodthirsty- they’re power thirsty. And these pirates don’t drink rum- they drink wine.


Having had her innocence stripped away from her at a very young age, Victoria opens up about stories and feelings of worthlessness due to rapes and a traumatizing upbringing. Just like feeling lost at sea without a compass to point true north, we learn about her highest “highs” and some “lower than a supertide low” of lows.  Just as she does with her guests at a restaurant, she’s taken us on a journey “far beyond the bottle” and into the world of wine- including it’s creatures, history, and infrastructure.


Like a fish out of water, she’s a woman entering a universe of misogyny, and reflects on moments of comical naivete, like her choice of wearing daisy dukes and a tube top with her curtain of long mermaid hair to her first class on Chilean Wines.  She confesses to struggles with claiming her femininity and finding the strength to use it, given a fear to stand up for herself, find her voice, and claim her space in this world.  


Don’t get me wrong- the book isn’t all about her. There’s also parts filled with old world whimsy, racounts on historical anecdotes of the wines, their regions, and stories. Even some fun notes on tips & tricks of cocktails pre and post prohibition.


But to me the silver lining is this: the story of a girl that is selfless enough she’s willing to find herself in service to others. A girl so in tune with her feminine essence- an intuitive love for nurturing and healing. Much like a fairy- she connects with mother nature and all her gifts via wine and foraging to create community, an atmosphere of love, and embracing an insatiable appetite for life- leaving us all thirsty for more. 


Smart, scrappy, and resourceful, Victoria takes a bad situation and turns it into something good. She doesn’t shut the door on her past- she uses it to help women all around come forth with their own stories, take charge of their lives, and stand together. 


How do you like them apples?


Well, we loved them so much we reached out to her and begged her to let us share her story, and even squeezed in a few questions on a slightly lighter note:



1. Your travel essentials when going on vacation?

VJ: I love to bring Astier de Villate incense with me, as a sommelier, "smells" can make or break places for me. If I walk into a hotel room and it smells like chemicals, musty or too much perfume I want to leave right away. By lighting a small stick of this incense the rooms is filled quickly with a familiar and comforting scent that is both heady and clean, it completely changes my mood. People might not notice that smells can alter one's perception drastically. Also always almonds or a granola bar (I eat every two hours!), noise-cancelling headphones (noise like smells can be intrusive!), a sleeping mask (ditto on light), and lots of sunscreen!

 

2. Favorite beach? 

 

VJ: Collioure, a small Mediterranean village in the south of France right by the Spanish border where the Pyrenees's mountains fall into the sea.

 

3. A perfect day

VJ: A jog in the morning with my husband and pup, japanese breakfast (my husband is the cook!), and reading and writing. Then by noon I am in the restaurant (Cote Korean Steakhouse), putting together the beverage program for that evening--- then a busy night of service, making guests happy through service, and bringing joy to our team members.

4. Proudest moment:

VJ: Four! 

1) Marrying the love of my life, Lyle Railsback.
2) Opening Cote Korean Steakhouse with the team here and all of the amazing accolades like recieving a Michelin star, a James Beard nod for our wine program, and all of our fantastic team members and guests. 
3) Starting a 501c3 non-profit with two other female sommeliers called Wine Empowered, that offers tuition-free wine classes to women and persons of color in the hospitality industry in an aim to diversify the upper ranks of leadership in the wine world.
4) Publishing my memoir, Wine Girl, the Obstacles, Triumphs, and Humiliations of America's Youngest Sommelier, in the hopes of giving women everywhere courage to stand up against sexism, misogyny, and abuse. 

 

5. Biggest challenge:

VJ: I think that some of my proudest moments have come after the biggest challenges in my life. For example, opening a restaurant--- not easy! Writing a book about traumatic experiences and starting a non-profit in order to promote social justice-- these things were all great challenges but I think overcoming them is what makes them so powerful.

6. Fondest memory:

VJ: My proudest moment #1-- marrying Lyle. Our wedding was truly the best day of my life, we were married on my family's property, Castello della Manta, in Piemonte Italy and winemakers, friends, and family flew in from all over the world. The whole space was so filled with love, and my brother and sister gave the most beautiful speeches-- I still have goosebumps when I think about that lovely day!

7. Any Pandemic takeaways?

VJ: Gratitude. How much I am grateful for that I often take for granted. Even simple things such as walks in the park, being able to serve so many lovely guests every night at the restaurant, dinners with friends, etc. This pandemic has given me the opportunity to take a step back and be so thankful.

8. Can’t live without...

VJ: Water. Of course, and wine.

9. Indulgence:

VJ: A gibson martini after a long week or not setting an alarm clock.

10. Wildest dream?

VJ: Making the hospitality world more inclusive and healthy (which really isn't all that wild--- more hopeful).

11. Hobbies?

VJ: Foraging, writing, reading, and lots of sleep.

12. What’s in your wine cooler for a beach day?

VJ: Rosé, obviously, like Domaine Tempier Bandol or a mineral and savory white like Clos st Madeleine blanc from Cassis in the south of France. Also Ramona is a delicious and organic wine spritzer from sommelier friend, Jordan Salcito.

13. Favorite snack & wine pairing to try at home these days?

VJ: Rosé (or frosé) with radishes with butter and salt. Super easy and fresh. Also Don Bocarte anchovies with a Manzanilla sherry.

ABOVE: Clockwise, from upper left hand corner. WINE GIRL, by Victoria James.  ATELLIER DE VILLATE Incense.  Victoria's favorite beach: Collioure, France.  Victoria's non-profit partnership: WINE EMPOWERED.  Victoria's wine picks for a beach day: RAMONA SPARKLING ROSÉ, DOMAINE TEMPIER BANDOL, CLOS ST MADELEINE BLANC.  Victoria's favorite pairing for FROZÉ: Radishes with butter & salt.  Victoria's restaurant in NYC: COTE Korean Steakhouse.  Victoria's family's property: CASTELLO DELLA MANTA.  Travel Snack: a handful of almonds.     Indulgence: GIBSON MARTINI.  DRINK PINK, by Victoria James.

FOLLOW @VICTORIA_JAMES 

 

1 comment

elizabeth a.

amazing!

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