How delusional – or perhaps, desperate – would you have to be to think you could fake your way through a job as a ‘world-class’ Sommelier at a Scottish fine dining hotel with not a lick of wine knowledge or real-world skills?
For anyone who’s ever worked in hospitality, the answer to this question is a hard VERY…. as in VERY delusional and VERY desperate!
But that doesn’t stop Elizabeth “Birdie” Finch, the exceptionally witty and endearing heroine in Lizzy Dent’s new novel The Summer Job from stealing her friend’s identity and giving it a go.
“When the U.S. publisher bought the book, she said I buy literature all the time. But once a year I like to buy something that’s wildly entertaining, and this year, this is that book,” smiles Lizzy.
The Summer Job, may be a tad far-fetched, but it’s also a seriously FUN, escapist, laugh-out-loud, rom-com. I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of this book in the dead of winter, during week 5000 (!) of lockdown, and it was a hugely-needed pick-me-up that left me smiling for days.
Birdie’s best friend Heather is one of the brightest young wine experts in the UK.
Heather has a new summer job lined up at a hotel in Scotland but backs out at the last minute, opting instead to spend the summer in Rome with her new love interest. Birdie, meanwhile, is unemployed and about to be homeless. The opportunity to sub-in for her friend “Heather” for three months is just too good to pass up. How bad could it be?
Birdie sets sail for the idyllic Scottish Highlands, with a “bluffable” amount of wine knowledge only to discover the hotel website is outdated and a “boutique hotel”, two MICHELIN star chef and a 124-bottle wine list are her new summer reality.
And that’s just chapter one.
Reality Check – a real world perspective
Lizzy Dent wrote The Summer Job around her experiences working hospitality at her aunt and uncle’s hotel in Inverness, Scotland. The parade of characters, the Scottish gastronomical focus, the wine cellar and staff alcoholism thrust her into the magic and mania of fine dining hospitality.
Years later when she started writing about this experience, she turned to one MICHELIN Star chef Michael Smith of Loch Bay, and a UK sommelier to help with the food and wine focus.
She also worked with her mom, a therapist, to help make sense of Birdie’s impulsive and self-destructive behaviour. “I spent a lot of time watching female characters who were funny and wildly entertaining,” she says in our interview. “But I said screw it. I don’t want to write a rom com where everything’s rosy. I want to write something that’s a lot more realistic.”
Did Lizzy get it Right?
According to Lizzy, a lot of research went into identifying food and wine pairings, learning local cuisine and studying wine.
Did Lizzy get it right?
I invited Heather McDougall – one of Canada’s most celebrated sommeliers and yes – a real-world Heather – to weigh in on the book’s premise and provide a few fact-checks.
Like…. is ammonia-scented cat’s pee an aromatic marker for Sauvignon Blanc and how would a sommelier go about sharing that wine “note” with a guest? (Answer: “you wouldn’t”!)
Is Birdie’s kinda-sorta panic-pairing of ‘crab and merlot’ on the money or is that – as Heather McDougall suggests – akin to “eating copper pennies”.
It’s the book’s daily menu pairings, the critic’s visit and having to memorize 124 wines that Heather loved most about the book. “It’s a super fun read,” she confirmed.
“I felt that dread and panic from my early days of service.” she tells Lizzy. “It was so real, at one point when a famous restaurant critic comes to the dining room, I had to put down the book and walk away,” she laughs.
Heather says as a sommelier, a performer, a ‘hospitalitarian’ and someone who loves to make people in her restaurant feel good, “when that doesn’t happen it’s so crushing……and what happened to Birdie, happened to me. It was one small thing, and another small thing and now everything is on fire. And then, of course we dropped a bottle of wine on the guest.”
For food and wine lovers – there is so much in The Summer Job to enjoy.
For those in the hospitality trade, it’s definitely a must read.
For sommeliers, Birdie’s mis-steps will conjure up your worst service memories…. but in a good way!
Enjoy my interview with the fabulous Lizzy Dent and Heather McDougall.
Lizzy is currently developing The Summer Job for TV and working on her second book.
Ontario residents can enjoy themed online events or buy a selection of classic, modern and off-the-beaten-path wines online from Heather McDougall at Sips Toronto or in person at Sips on Richmond, 304 Richmond St W, Toronto