What was it like for Alpana Singh to be the youngest female master sommelier?
You know, it’s one of those things that, in hindsight, I’m more appreciative of the feat but going through the process, my only goal was to pass the exam. It took me seven years to go through the exam process and it really takes over your life. You focus everything and every decision you make to pass the exam and surpass the goal — that involved moving from Monterey, where I was born and raised, to Chicago to take over a wine program that would allow me to learn how to run a program to work as a professional sommelier.
I moved to Chicago when I was 23 and worked at Everest for five years, and it was a Four-Star, Relais & Châteaux property; so that was a fabulous opportunity to learn fine dining and work in a fine-dining element. I had passed the exam in 2003, and it was my fourth year at the restaurant, so I stayed another year. When I hit the five-year mark, I started thinking, “What’s the next goal? What’s the next step?” Everest is owned by a company called Lettuce Entertain You; it’s a large restaurant group based in Chicago, and they have over 80 restaurants in eight states. I moved to the corporate office to become the director of wine and spirits for the company. I did that for another five years and got that similar sort of “What’s the next goal? What do I want to do next?”
I had been friends with my now partners at The Boarding House for five years, and we had always talked about doing a restaurant together, but it was one of those things where I wasn’t quite ready. Then in November 2011, I celebrated 20 years in the restaurant business, and I didn’t think I was going to do anything else. At this point, restaurants are very much a part of my life, and they always will be. So the next logical step was to see if I had learned enough from my 20 years and see if I could operate my own restaurant. Especially knowing that I had really good partners that would stand behind me and help fulfill our vision for what we wanted for our restaurant. We sourced a space, and the building itself is absolutely magnificent. It was just an opportunity that was too good to pass up, so I decided to take the leap to restaurateur.