My 15 Minutes with Michael Broadbent

Given the otherwordly scenario we are in, here in Chicago, and throughout the world, it makes me prone to reminiscing of times when things were better. Upon reading the news that wine icon, Michael Broadbent, had passed away, reminded me of my fleeting interaction with him in the 90’s.

I haven’t posted much of late because I have had no time. Working full-time in a wine department and then part-time at a winery restaurant with at least an hour commute does not leave much room in the schedule to tap away and post. Given that the wine store has basically furloughed all hourly employees and the winery restaurant is closed I now have time.

In the 90’s, I was a freshly printed MBA out of NYU and in the masters of the universe high yield bond business. My talent was eating and drinking with clients. In the training program, one of the salesman’s words of advice, was ask only one question of your client, “red or white?”. During business school, I went to school by day and by night went to cooking class. I took the class series “French Techniques”, developed by Peter Kump, James Beard’s protegee, at Peter’s cooking school on the Upper East side.  The school was right next to the apartment that I shared with 2 other women. I managed to get these classes for free by being the “plongeur”, dishwasher. One thing I have always been quite good at is cleaning up. Peter who died later that decade had just founded the James Beard House, the first iteration before the financial scandals of the aughts. So after surviving the training program at Smith Barney,  having been given the title of Vice President and a set of accounts, I preceded to entertain my accounts.

Fortunately, I developed a set of clients that were foodies and winos. I had joined the Beard House on recommendation from Peter and took advantage of their events. Well, one event that was held, I cannot remember the title, it could have been as simple as Chocolate and Port with Michael Broadbent. I took my client Wayne and the two of us, along with, I think, perhaps 4 other people, sat through a port and chocolate tasting, including purchase of Michael’s book, The Great Vintage Wine Book II with Broadbent.

My recollection of that interaction was that I think Broadbent was very put off that these beautiful, glorious vintage ports we were tasting, were being paired with chocolate. Although the internet existed, the whole blogging, instagram influencer world did not exist yet. But this night was almost a clashing of worlds, old and the future, because the woman presenting the chocolate had no real familiarity with port (not that I am implying influencers don’t know their subjects but they do tend to be style, flash over substance, most of the time), it was more a quirky pairing and a way to give his night at The Beard House a different angle. This pairing must have been thought up by his publicist. Port and chocolate do pair, but I remember smirks, guffaws, pregnant pauses when Broadbent responded to some of the comments from the “Chocolate Gal”. Broadbent was so knowledgable, that I think he was a bit flabbergasted by the conversations and being asked questions by someone who clearly was not familiar with the subject. I remembering him just continuing on, pouring the vintage ports for our group. At that point, I did not have my wine goggles on the way I do today. My interest in wine was more intuitive and I figured go to the experts like Broadbent at the Beard House or a Serena Sutciffe tasting at Sotheby’s. Broadbent was a very striking figure, he had that James Bond, debonair aura about him. He was very polite but I think our interaction and that entire evening for him was “one of those things you go through to sell books”. I just remember him being somewhat frustrated without showing outright frustration with us. He probably was thinking “these idiot Americans” or whatever the British equivalent is. It is hard for me to imagine that so much time has gone by, 25 years,  and he is now passed away. I just remember him as this very good looking more middle-aged than old, English gentleman. I was in awe of him then and excited that I actually got to meet him. I did not take notes, sadly of the ports we tasted, of course, all vintage and delicious.

Sadly but not so sadly, I gave the Broadbent book away to the Newberry Library for their book sale. As sorry as I am that I don’t have the book, I know that the people who frequent the Newberry book sale are book lovers, so the book is in good hands.

Ironically, as much as I am a lover of vintage port and introduced to it so many years ago, I still have not been able to pass my WSET fortified test for the Diploma course. I have the theory down but not the tasting.

It was a privilege and a pleasure to have this very brief interaction with Broadbent, it will be one of those life moments I will always remember and treasure. One of those happy memories that keeps my spirits up during these dark days that we are in at the moment. It is icons like Broadbent who seemed like they would likely live forever that really shows that time has passed away.

I think a glass of port is on the agenda for tonight’s sipping solo meal.


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