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Insatiable Antoine Pétrus

A sommelier’s secret garden

A sommelier’s secret garden Paris

Insatiable Antoine PétrusIt really is quite extraordinary for a sommelier, but Antoine Pétrus has an unquenchable thirst! Not satisfied by his predestined name, his constant appetite and thirst for learning and discovery are voracious.Antoine Pétrus
Insatiable as he is, Antoine Pétrus has a way of slaking his thirst and satisfying his appetite. A trip to winegrowing areas seems to be his principal cure. “It’s a way of being in touch with my inner feelings; I can’t do without these trips. For my next break, I plan to take three days to visit Roussillon. A short while ago I went to Chavignol, to visit Pascal and Francis Cotat. Before that I went to see the Foucault brothers at Clos Rougeard. With my friend Hubert Piel, a winegrower in the Orléans area, we paid a visit to Bonneau in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, then to Didier Dagueneau in Pouilly-sur-Loire.” Antoine Pétrus, who is just 24 and has the experience of working in several prestigious establishments to his credit, derives great pleasure from spending time like this visiting vineyards, but we also have the impression that he feels these trips enable him to mature, because he is bursting with youthful enthusiasm. Sporting a soft-grey suit, a discreetly silver-toned tie and on one lapel of his jacket the insignia of the Crillon Hotel and on the other a sommelier badge, this young man really is absorbed by his metier. He is Assistant Head Sommelier (a position to which he has recently been promoted) at one of the most stylish addresses of the capital, ‘Les Ambassadeurs’ restaurant at the Crillon Hotel on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, but thankfully Antoine Pétrus has other passions in his life!

Les Ambassadeurs, Hotel Crillon

© Tous droits réservés - Hôtel de Crillon

A Parisian born in the suburbs (Gennevilliers) and brought up in Orléans, the very least that can be said is that he has already had a full life so far. He has even written a book:”Le vin décrypté” (published by Solar). So let’s take a look at his career so far: a professional qualification in catering and table arts at the Hotel and Tourism School in Blois; a period of apprenticeship working for Cédric Place at ‘L’Espace Canal’ in Orlélans, a sommelier position working for Paul Bocuse; Head Sommelier at ‘L’Etrier’ (at the Royal Barrière Hotel in Deauville); he also worked at ‘Lasserre’ in Paris and went to Catalonia to work for the unique chef, Ferran Adria and his restaurant ‘El Bulli’… all this before joining the team at the Crillon Hotel in January 2007! Can you believe it? So, does Antoine Pétrus have time to take a rest? Definitely not; he has already taken part in the Ruinart Trophy competition, where he won the title of ‘France’s Best Young Sommlier’ last year! And there’s more… during our interview in the aluminium covered room he uses as an office and shares with his elder, David Biraud, Head Sommelier of ‘Les Ambassadeurs’ for the past 16 years and also winner of the Ruinart Trophy in 1998, Antoine announces he is preparing for the semi-finals of this year’s competition for ‘France’s Best Sommelier’. He does not specify – “I don’t want to become a competition-sommelier’, but it is easy to imagine that one day he will set his sights on winning the world title.

Whatever happens, Antoine Pétrus certainly possesses the calibre.

The passion that drives him today undoubtedly comes from his time spent studying at the Hotel and Tourism School in Blois. “At first, I wanted to specialise in hotel reception, but I was lucky enough to have fascinating teachers such as François Montigny, Gildas l’Hostis and Christophe Martin, who organised theory lessons followed by tastings. I still remember being captivated by the great growths of the Côte d’Or!” In his parents’ and grandparents’ homes wine was always on the table and Beaujolais was often served, because of family ties in Régnié.

After passing his Baccalauréat (A levels), he already cherished the dream of working with Philippe Faure-Brac and David Biraud. “I was able to watch them blind tasting and their ability to put words to each sensation they felt intrigued me. I admired their precision and the way in which they talked about wine. They used simple, exact, straightforward words. From that time onwards I knew that wine was simply about pleasure. Above all, it shouldn’t be considered as sacred or made too technical.” He came top of his year, but Antoine Pétrus admits that he didn’t “over-stretch himself”. He did, however, devour any kind of document about wine, from the ‘Revue du Vin de France’ to ‘Rouge et Blanc’, as well as a host of specialised, technical books. “Today”, he insists “I’m lucky enough to be working alongside David Biraud. We don’t work on Sundays or Mondays and we share the restaurant (45 covers in the evening) during the rest of the week in perfect agreement. I must say that our specialised sommelier room, where everything is centralised, the wines are kept at an ideal temperature. So we save a lot of time and can devote more moments to our customers. I like customers who trust us and encourage us to talk, even when they don’t spend a fortune and are happy to order wine by the glass at 10 Euros or bottles at 30 Euros.

Every evening, before we begin service, David and I take a little time to blind taste together. The Chef, Jean-François Piège, joins us sometimes. He is very close to nature and the produce of the earth. He admits a preference for Côte Rôtie and L’Hermitage.”
To keep fit, Antoine has played judo for the past ten years; he readily goes to sports centres and jogs regularly in Paris. When work is finished, he takes full advantage of living in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. “I’m not keen on spending evenings watching television, so I often go to ‘La Maison de l’Aubrac’ restaurant where the wine list is exceptional and I can meet my colleagues in a relaxed atmosphere. It’s even more enjoyable since the smoking ban has come into effect in public places. Otherwise I never refuse a good cigar, but always outside, when I’m on holiday, in Barcelona for example, sitting in the open air with my friends from the ‘El Bulli’ restaurant.” Antoine Pétrus is discreet and does not talk very much about his girlfriend, who in the past has helped him cram every Sunday and every evening when preparing for his competitions. He tells us he avoids supermarkets, because he does not wish to tarnish the nobility of his profession. To conclude our interview, he uses a lovely phrase that sums him up marvellously: “I’m making the most of my youth to progress as far as possible so that I can pass on what I’ve learned to young people later.”

Michel Smith

Hôtel de Crillon

Restaurant Les Ambassadeurs
Tel:33(0)1 44 71 16 16
Fax:33(0)1 44 71 15 02


Antoine Pétrus vainqueur du Trophée Ruinart du Meilleur Jeune Sommelier de France 2007 félicité par Jean-Pierre Steinsulz, directeur commercial de la maison Ruinart (à gauche) et Serge Dubs, président de l’Union de la sommellerie française (à droite).