This month we sit down with our friend Gil Avital to hear a bit more about his background and a new class here at La Boîte, An Introduction to Wine and Spices.
Thank you Gil, can you please tell us a little bit more about yourself; how did you become an expert on wine?
First, I don’t think of myself an “expert” on wine. I fell in love with wine when I tasted my first red Burgundy back in my 20’s. Wine combines everything I love and enjoy about life: The good people who make it and their unique family history; The good people you share a glass/bottle with; and the good food you drink the wine with. Aside from taking a Sommelier course in order to learn the basics, my wine education came from learning on the job as a wine buyer and educator, and working in top NY restaurants alongside great chefs. I learn something new everyday through reading, visiting wine regions, vineyard sites, listening to growers & winemakers, and most importantly tasting, tasting, tasting!!! Knowledge is important but accepting we’ll never know everything is what makes it fun and exciting for me.
You worked closely with our friend Seamus Mullen at the now closed Tertulia. How did working with Spanish food inform your understanding of how spices, food, and wine go together?
I was first introduced to Spanish cuisine and culture when I started working with Seamus as Boqueria, back when it was just the one location on 19th street. What we were trying to do there and later on at Tertulia, was to bring not only real Spanish flavors, but the whole culture of sharing plates, drinks, conversation with our community of friends, neighbors, and family. The meaning of the name “Tertulia” (’ter-TOO-lia) is a social gathering of friends, often of literary or artistic nature, always marked by great conversation, food and drink. When you look at Spanish culture (and French, and Italian, and Greek, and many many others), eating well and drinking wine is a way of life.
Over the thousands of years of our history, human cultures around the world developed their unique cuisines based on local ingredients, what grows and lives around them. Wine was no different, we now know that grape based fermented drinks (aka wine), was made in China since 7000 BC, Georgia since 6000 BC, Iran since 5000 BC, and Sicily since 4000 BC. Wine was always enjoyed with food and therefore had to complement what people were eating. It was a slow and long process of trial and error, understanding and refining it that lead to food and wine getting entwined, almost inseperable in those ancient cultures.
Spain is a great example, and Spanish cuisine is very regional: some of the best seafood in the world can be found in the Spanish Basque country or Galicia in the north, and arguably the best ham comes from Pata Negra (black footed pigs), in the south western region of Extramadura and so on. Each of those regions has a very unique cuisine and wines made from locally grown grapes, meant to be enjoyed with their traditional dishes. It was a natural progression that took many years, much harder to re-create in a NYC restaurant or home kitchen when planing dinner menus. My approach to food and wine pairing is always to look first at the origin of the dish, which cuisine influenced it, what spices are used to season it, and where they came from. Then I look at what they drink in that region and I found that 90% of the time that pairing works.
Thank you Gil, what are one or two of your most memorable food and wine pairings, what really worked about it?
I have had many memorable pairings of food and wine in the company of good people around the world. On a recent trip to Budapest, Hungary we asked a sommelier at a local restaurant that serves only Hungarian wines to pair our dinner with wine. He served us 5 different wines for the Tokaji region (predominantly the Furmint grape), from a light, bone dry white with the first salad course of local greens and Mangalítza ham, through round and rich aged selections with our pork belly and beans course, all the way to old sweet wine with our local cheese dessert. Same region, different expression of the same grapes, all complimenting the food from that region in a perfect way.
That sounds terrific, what’s something not a lot of people know about you that you’d like for everyone to know?
Not many people outside my close family know that I am a big fan of Lauryn Hill’s music.
Haha nice! Can you tell us a bit more about the class?
The wine classes will be held at La Boîte and are limited to six participants, you will have the opportunity to taste wines with spiced food items and learn about how they do and do not go together. You will leave with an appreciation for and knowledge of what goes into making wine, learn some things you didn’t know before, and have a great time doing all of it!
Thanks we are looking forward to it!
Gil Avital was first introduced to the hospitality business at age 21 by his parent’s neighbors, who opened a restaurant in his hometown in his native Israel. After working for them for a year, he joined as a Managing Partner and ran the restaurant for 6 more years. Gil then worked for a Chef-driven restaurant in Tel-Aviv until the early 1990s.
In 1996, Gil and his wife followed a life-long dream and moved together to New York City. After few stints as a Barista, Server and Bartender, Gil worked for “Ian Schrager Hotels” as a Restaurant Manager and Assistant to the Food and Beverage Director. During that time, Gil attended the “Sommelier Society of America” wine course and received his Sommelier diploma. Pursuing his main interest, he started working as Service and Wine Director at “Estiatorio Milos” an upscale seafood restaurant in midtown Manhattan.
Starting in 2001 Gil started a long and fascinating journey at “Savoy” restaurant. As the General Manager and Wine Director, Gil worked closely with Chef/Owner Peter Hoffman and became passionate about market-driven cuisine and local and sustainable food and wine.
After getting introduced to “Boqueria” as a customer Gil decided that this would be his next exciting stop and has Joined Chef Seamus Mullen at “Boqueria” in November of 2006. Working closely with Seamus revealed mutual beliefs, shared values and has led to a wonderful friendship. It was a natural next step and dream opportunity for Gil to join Seamus on his exciting new project as a partner at Tertulia and later at El Colmado.
When Tertulia closed down in the summer of 2018, Gil started his own Hospitality Consulting company, using his years of experience in helping Chefs and Restaurateurs in building systems for better practices of restaurant operations. At the same time Gil is in the process of launching Elevation Wine Partners, a wine import/distribution company in NY and NJ.
Gil lives in Harlem and raises his two boys, Shaoul and Hillel together with his wife Dganit.
“Good Food, Good wine, Good People…”