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This press release was sent to me, by a close friend.  Since I have absolutely loved every meal that I have had at Village Cafe’, I was more than glad to post it on my blog!  FYI:  Foie Gras is always on their menu in the evening!!!

Ben Leger appreciated fine wine long before he ever tasted
it.  Leger, a Sunset native, got his start in the restaurant business in 2003 at
the age of 15. Originally hired as a busboy at Catahoula’s Restaurant in
Grand Coteau, he was quickly moved up to host and soon after elevated to
bartender and server.

Leger says when he started waiting tables he knew his future was in the
restaurant business – and that wine would play an important role.
“For several years I’d been observing the interaction between servers and
customers and recognized how much more engaging the servers who knew
something about wine were. It didn’t take me long to realize that the people
who were serving wine made significantly more money than any other position
in the restaurant,” Leger recalls. “When I started waiting tables, I wanted
to offer that higher level of service and knew I had a lot to learn.”
Having not grown up in a family of wine drinkers, Leger didn’t even know
what grapes he was trying when he initially sampled wines at the restaurant.
“I was very curious about the nature of wine and what it was that got people
so excited that they would spend hundreds of dollars on a bottle and not
think twice about it,” he says.

Catahoula’s new owner, Executive Chef Jude Tauzin, saw the initiative Leger
had taken and promoted the then-19-year-old to general manager. In addition
to managing the service crew, Leger was given the responsibility of
controlling the wine list, making decisions on what wines went on the list
and trying wines that different purveyors brought in to sell to the
restaurant. Leger put himself through a crash course, reading everything he
could get his hands on and buying a kit filled with oils and different
aromas that are associated with wine. The kit gave him a better
understanding of what he was smelling when he brought a glass of wine up to
his nose, allowing him to explain the intricacies of grape cultivation and
selection as he made recommendations. “I began by drinking Rieslings and
pinot noirs, grapes that I quickly learned are immensely complex and
generally misunderstood/underrated by the masses,” Leger explains. “Many
people enjoy these wines regularly, but few appreciate and understand the
layers of complexity that good examples of this wine bring to the table.”
When Jeremy Connor joined the restaurant as sous chef, he and Leger teamed
up to offer a six-course chef’s tasting menu with optional wine pairings. It
was a pivotal moment in Leger’s wine education, marking the beginning of his
skill at effectively pairing food and wine.

Fast-forward five years after Leger served his first glass of wine and the
now 23-year-old is already at the pinnacle of his career. On Aug. 1 of this
year he became one of the youngest sommeliers in the state when he completed
the rigorous testing requirements of the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS), a
four-level education and examination process. His expertise is now part of
the success of River Ranch’s Village Café, where the talented trio of
Tauzin, Connor and Leger reunited two years ago to bring fine, farm-to-table
dining paired with equally fine wines to Lafayette diners. They are also
behind sister concepts POUR, a self-serve wine bar, and The Reserve, a
versatile space next door to Village Café that can accommodate up to 75
guests for any type of party or event.

But it was not an easy road to sommelier certification through CMS. First,
Tauzin challenged Leger to get Village Café’s wine list not just in order –
but tops in the Lafayette. Once they were satisfied that had been
accomplished, in February of 2011 they submitted the restaurant’s wine list
to Wine Spectator magazine and in August were honored with an Award of
Excellence (the only other Lafayette restaurant to earn this distinction was
Ruth’s Chris). The magazine recognizes exceptional restaurant wine lists
from across the nation with Award of Excellence, Best of Award of Excellence
or Grand Award. “There are very few Grand Award winning restaurants in the
country,” Leger says. “We were excited to receive this award, and I really
feel like if I sent my wine list in now, as opposed to February, we would
have received Best of Award of Excellence.” Wine Spectator bases its awards
on criteria that include number of selections – Village Café has about 600 –
quality of selections and depth of vintages.

While he was working on the wine list, Leger continued his studies toward
becoming a certified sommelier through CMS, the premier international
examining body. He had passed the introductory sommelier test in early 2009,
but now was preparing to master a written theory exam, a blind tasting of
two wines and a service exam. On the morning of Aug. 1 Leger traveled to New
Orleans and joined 20 other nervous test-takers. “We began at 8 a.m. with
the blind tasting of a white and a red. After all my practice I found this
to be pretty straightforward but still very intimidating,” Leger recalls.
Next were the multiple-choice and short essay portions and then the service
exam. Leger was asked to open and properly serve, following a number of
service standards, champagne for eight guests. “All the while the Master
Sommelier was asking questions on mock scenarios such as what wine I would
pair with their imaginary dinner, cocktails and after dinner drinks,” Leger
says.

Leger was one of 13 who passed all portions of the test. “I’m lucky to have
a very good friend and mentor named Jared Cocke who is the fine wine
specialist for Republic National Distributing and also a certified
specialist of wine,” Leger says. “He was a tremendous help to me, providing
me with open bottles to taste blindly and tasting blindly with me so that we
could discuss the aromas and flavors. The key is being able to identify what
it is that you’re tasting and verbalize that. It’s sort of like training
your body to have muscle memory in sports. You have to taste many examples
of the same region, say Chablis, so that you can begin to recognize the
similarities that different producers from the same region share.”

“It was a tremendous honor not only for Ben
but for the entire staff,” Tauzin says.  “Understanding
wine and making recommendations that you know a customer will enjoy certainly
involves tremendous knowledge and a high level of talent, but being able to
pair wine and food is much more crucial,” the executive chef adds.  That’s what a certified sommelier brings to the table.  And that’s what sets Village Café’
apart from the other find restaurants in Lafayette.”

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