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Interview with Raj Vaidya, Daniel

By Alex Hunt MW |  November 29 2020

Chef Daniel Boulud’s world renowned Michelin starred restaurant boasts an elegant ambience with a delectable menu. Since joining Daniel in 2009, Head Sommelier Raj Vaidya has helped to develop the stellar wine list ensuring guests can expect the very best in the heart of Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Where did your love of food and wine originate from?

My love of food is hereditary, my entire family is obsessed with food and the table has always been the setting of all our great memories. I fell in love with wine organically, working in great restaurants and tasting more and more great stuff early in my career.

Was it always your intention to work with fine wine?

Absolutely not! I expected I’d work in either Law or Finance, and actually left the restaurant business to work in the corporate world. But the pull of great wine and food was too strong and I ended up coming back.

What is the secret to your success?

A lot of hard work, breaking boxes and hauling cases, doing unpaid work in the early days counting inventory and getting familiar with the labels, tasting critically and constantly, a good bit of luck at having been in the right places with the right wines and the right people at the right times.

What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?

Balance with coherence. Balance meaning having options to suit all or at least many palates, and coherence meaning that while appealing to a broad range, all the selections make sense together and have a similarity in their underlying quality.

What makes the wine list at Daniel stand out?

We have great depth in the regions of Burgundy, Rhône and Bordeaux, with grand verticals of the top wines. But we also highlight some (perhaps) lesser known or less celebrated areas and growers, like Von Schubert in the Ruwer, Domaine Bize in Savigny les Beaune or the red wines of the Loire valley.

Are there any particular wines that you love, or remind you of a certain place or memory?

Tasting Ruwer Riesling from Von Schubert always takes me back to the first few great whites I had early in my career when I tried the vintage 1988’s from this estate, and how they served as an education in how brilliant and fresh mature versions of these wines can be.

What is your fundamental philosophy on food and wine?

Pairing wine and food is about balance half the time and contrast the other half; match some of the courses in a meal with wines of structure and flavor profile to the dish, then switch it up and provide a pairing where structural elements in the dish and the wine complete each other, say for instance where a creamy sauce is paired with a high acid Champagne. This keeps the meal interesting!

What food and wine trends are you seeing in New York right now?

More and more plates in NYC are showing up smaller and meant to be shared, so pairing one wine with an array of dishes has become harder. I’m seeing resurgence in the categories of wine that are most versatile with food as a result; Champagne (thought of as a wine rather than just an aperitif), Rieslings with a bit of residual sugar, Beaujolais and Jura reds.

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