interview Maxime Pastor Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo
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Interview with Maxime Pastor: Head Sommelier at the Louis XV – Alain Ducasse at the Hôtel de Paris

Published on February 16, 2024Updated on March 11, 2024

There's no doubt that curiosity, expertise and excellence are the watchwords of sommellerie at Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer.  These qualities have guided the Monegasque Maxime Pastor in his passion for the world of wine.

Passion, but also humility and sharing. This is the philosophy of this Head Sommelier, just in his early thirties, who now works in the cellar and the prestigious dining room of the Louis XV - Alain Ducasse restaurant at the Hôtel de Paris.

 

To be or not to be a sommelier 

This "job for the curious-natured", as he likes to call it, "you come to it because people before you were curious enough to want to encourage you to take an interest in it". And among the first people to introduce him to the world of wine were his parents. Generous epicureans who enjoy good food at large family gatherings strewn with bottles and dishes. He remembers the warm, happy atmosphere. And his first tastings, on his fingertips, sitting on the grown-ups’ laps. "It's also where my passion for sommellerie comes from. These shared moments, the pleasure of being together". As well as these family banquets, Maxime Pastor also remembers evenings spent with his mother watching reports on the great Parisian ‘palace’ hotels. "I was fascinated! "... And so he decided to enrol at the hotel school in Monaco. And it was during these five years of study in the Principality that the student met his first Pygmalion, Mr Serge Serrier, who introduced him to oenology. "He was the first person to give me a passion for the world of wine. It was he who, after my BTS, encouraged me to complete my training at Cagnes-sur-Mer and take a complementary sommelier qualification ". 

 

interview Maxime Pastor Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo
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Paris, a big milestone

 

After gaining his diploma after a year's apprenticeship at the Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo, Maxime Pastor still wanted to be sure of his career direction. He gained experience in a number of different restaurants. He did summer and winter seasons. Indoors and out. At the age of 23, his ambitions confirmed, he returned to the Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo where he rubbed shoulders with Franck Damatte, Head Sommelier at the Pavyllon Monte-Carlo, with whom he shared his desire to travel the country. "I dreamt of Paris and its palaces". The very places that fascinated him as a child. "Franck Damatte was kind enough to call his friend Sylvain Nicolas, Head Sommelier at the Guy Savoy". It was 2014, and that was how Maxime Pastor's Parisian adventure began, on rue Troyon, in a three-star restaurant a stone's throw from the Champs Élysées. "It wasn’t always easy at first" he admits. "But Sylvain believed in me and pushed me to hang in there". Maxime Pastor stayed at the Guy Savoy for more than two years, before spending a few months at the Royal Monceau. He still had one Parisian goal to achieve, a dream to fulfil: to join the team at Alain Ducasse's Plaza Athénée. He joined the team in 2016 as assistant sommelier. The experience lasted six years. Pressure, rigour, high standards. At the heart of the Avenue Montaigne palace, he learnt a lot and quickly gained maturity. He worked alongside Laurent Roucayrol, Head Sommelier, Gérard Margeon, Executive Head Sommelier of the Alain Ducasse Group, and Denis Courtiade. "Not forgetting, of course, the Chef Alain Ducasse, who continues to place his trust in me today".

 

Returning home

A phone call from Alain Ducasse and a 'yes' from Maxime Pastor were all it took for the young Head Sommelier to return to Monaco. "This is my home, my land!  I'm proud of its history and traditions, and I owe it a great deal. Today, I want to return the favour". It's now just over a year since Maxime Pastor joined the ranks of the Louis XV – Alain Ducasse restaurant at the Hôtel de Paris, a temple of gastronomic excellence. Alongside him, equally newly appointed, are Restaurant Manager Claire Sonnet and Chef Emmanuel Pilon. A timely reunion for this trio whose paths had already crossed at the Plaza Athénée. "The Louis XV – Alain Ducasse at the Hôtel de Paris is the first hotel restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars", he enthuses.  "It is an establishment that has played a major role in putting Monaco on the international gastronomic map". So inevitably, at the start, there was a touch of apprehension. "It's all about living up to the place and its history, without letting the challenge overwhelm you. All this is obviously very stimulating. Above all, it's about having fun as part of the team and sharing that with customers. Through the cuisine of Chef Emmanuel Pilon and the sweet creations of Pastry Chef Sandro Micheli, we have so many stories to tell".

 

interview Maxime Pastor Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo
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Happiness à la carte

 

Maxime Pastor now draws his inspiration from the legendary cellar of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. "It is a special place with a very special atmosphere, full of serenity. Strolling through its aisles, in the silence of its subdued lighting, is a truly moving experience. A precious place that must be respected". The head sommelier finds everything he needs to provide a made-to-measure service for every customer, every day. "Not everyone comes to the Louis XV - Alain Ducasse at the Hôtel de Paris for the same reasons or with the same expectations. Even if, generally speaking", he acknowledges "customers today are much more sophisticated than they used to be. This encourages us to refine our recommendations". 

 

Strategy and Exchange

This means a great deal of preparatory work for all the sommeliers of the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer group, who meet every Friday morning to review the allowances to add to their wine lists and to discuss possible product placements. This is followed by a tasting session. "It's an opportunity to share our different experiences, to talk about the bottles we've tasted and new trends". In particular, the move towards more easily digestible, less tannic wines. "These days, we're opening up younger and younger wines, and people prefer to drink less but better quality wine".

 

interview Maxime Pastor Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo

So many stories to tell...

Maxime Pastor also highlights the opening up of the wine list to vineyards that were once seen as under-rated, but which are now rightly regaining their pedigree. "We realise that people in the Loire know how to make wine, that people in the Jura, Languedoc-Roussillon and Corsica know how to make wine". Sensitivities are changing. Wines are evolving. This is the way of the cycle of sommellerie. "And it's up to us sommeliers to try, humbly, to spread happiness to the people who come to see us. For me, that's one of the great joys of this profession, along with the opportunity to make a living from my passion. It’s a priceless privilege ".

Sommelier, "a job for the curious-natured", as Maxime Pastor put it, and "a job of service" that this native of the region practises with unfailing love. "This is essential if you want to keep the flame of those who passed it on to you alive. We all owe everything to this passing-on of the flame. It is at the heart of our passion. It is even its raison d'être". 

 

interview Maxime Pastor Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo
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