Kriti Malhotra began her career right after school at 18. She found her love for wine when she joined Kingfisher Airlines as a cabin crew and attended a two-day workshop on ‘alcohol and its nuances.’ After that, there was no looking back!
Her curiosity took her all around the world and finally earned her a place as India’s first certified lady sommelier. Join us as we ask her about her journey and what it takes to be a successful woman in a male-dominated industry.
Can you tell us how you developed your interest in wines and spirits?
I always enjoyed travelling; maybe that’s why I chose a career at Kingfisher Airlines. Whenever I landed in a new country, I walked to the duty-free shop and read the labels on bottles. Since the amount of information crammed onto a sticker can be confusing, I went home and Googled each term. I would constantly build on my knowledge and absorb all I could. I even saved money to fly to different cities and visit iconic distilleries, wineries and breweries. I guess it’s my curiosity that got me this far and allowed me to pass some of the toughest exams in the world.
What other traits should a sommelier have?
Being a sommelier involves much more than reading books or passing a test. It’s about understanding the culture, cuisine, and customs of a region and relating them to your guest. You must have an open mind, learn from your experiences and continuously explore.
That’s why, I toured many famous places like the Jameson Distillery and Guinness St. James Gate Brewery. I also took a trip to Scotland and saw various whiskies made first- hand. The vineyards in Tuscany and Bordeaux were my favourite and I still remember walking down the most magnificent châteaux in France.
Turning your passion into a career mustn’t have been easy.
Though I was determined to enter the industry, I was pretty aware of the challenges I’d face. With a goal in sight, I took the plunge and followed my dreams. I was committed to the task and completed the advanced level at the Wines and Spirits Education Trust. Years later, I became a certified sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers UK — an achievement I shall cherish forever.
How did your parents react to this decision?
Of course, they were a little surprised at the beginning, especially since they are both teetotallers. But it was my dad who really pushed me to go for it and take the exam. For a father to encourage his daughter to join the airlines or become a sommelier is quite brave. I think that’s what a parent’s faith in their child inspires them to achieve. It helps them reach their full potential and aim for the unthinkable.
You joined Accor in the middle of 2015 as their Head Sommelier. Can you tell us about your role over there?
I was at Pullman & Novotel for nearly four years. As Head Sommelier, I was in charge of selecting the alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, training the staff, and checking the inventory. I even curated special dinners and helped guests choose a wine that best suited them.
Contrary to what most think, sommeliers do much more than drink and appreciate wine. They connect with a guest, ask them questions and understand their palate. They sell a story and persuade them to try something new. They make them feel comfortable enough to drink a glass they would enjoy. It’s about hospitality! And that’s what our industry is all about.
Do you remember the first time you ordered wine?
My first experience with wine is something that’s still fresh in my mind. The waiter rattled off a couple of complicated French words and asked me to choose. After making him repeat the names thrice, I gave up and settled for a beer I was familiar with. I recall this memory every time I teach a class and promise to make it as simple as possible. I try to take the seemingly daunting subject of beverages and bring it down to earth for everyone to understand.
How do you manage to do that for the students at ISH?
The classes at ISH are more practical than theoretical. Students learn about all types of beverages through workshops, masterclasses, tasting sessions and field trips. We also teach them how to develop a concept, design menus, manage a restaurant, and draw a budget — all essential to running a business.
But more than the curriculum, it’s the conducive environment on campus that allows students to keep learning. Here, they are free to ask their questions and have conversations with me and other facilitators. In addition to that, we have a solid operations team supporting us and training our students in the different aspects of hospitality.