Sommelier Aditya Malhotra Opens Up on His Journey

“There was a complete lack of respect for my profession amongst my friends”

Long ago, much before my days of working in hospitality, I was an especially naughty and energetic kid. As I entered my teenage years, the energy gave way to anger. I was made to feel like an outcast or “different” and I genuinely believed I was weird. I tried, with all my heart, to be “normal”, to fit in, to be a part of groups, to be charming, to be liked. I tried to make others think of me as kind, generous, chivalrous, and even good looking! All kids my age seemed to be all of these things and more anyway – so why not me? 

My parents had a bit of a turbulent marriage and that did not bode well for my self-image either. Often, my father and I were caught in a vicious cycle. He already had a lot on his plate from simply raising me, but I made it harder by acting out to the point that he would get called to my school on a near-monthly basis. What I lacked in verbal rebuttal, I made up for through physical revenge. And the cycle continued. As I got older, I tried to run away from home several times, often seeking adventures, central to which was the element of crime. My time on Indian streets taught me survival hacks. I learnt the basics of business – demand and supply, when to throw a punch and when to run for your life, how to read a person or a situation, but most importantly to always trust my gut. My gut has most certainly kept me alive, quite literally. No Gut, No Glory! 

My school friends and I were practically binge drinking by 8th standard, and we learned what works for us and what doesn’t through ‘trial by vomit’. Underage binge drinking also taught us how to sober up after an entire day of downing cheap vodka and going back home to pretend we had a productive school day. 

Right after school ended, my father gave me two choices – either I go to rehab or join hotel school. At that point, I was a state-level football player and was offered admission at Stephen’s University in New Delhi for History Honors through sports quota, but I was already on the path of self-destruction (as my father saw it). By the time I got into college, I was involved in buying and stealing illegal products, grand theft auto and counterfeiting currency. I had some run-ins with the law, but somehow managed to make it out unscathed. 

In 2011, at the age of 17, I began working as a trainee with Systematic Training and Education Program (STEP), which admittedly sounds like a special needs school. I worked with Oberoi Hotels and Resorts for three years, and this is where I first cut my teeth in the world of hospitality. I pushed my luck at the first hotel I was posted at, The Oberoi Bangalore Hotel, where the General Manager was a very unhappy individual, to say the least. A “petty dinosaur” is what I like to refer to her as. I was saved by the skin on my teeth and transferred to The Oberoi Gurgaon and Trident Gurgaon Hotels in the National Capital Region. The two hotels were full of – pardon my French – complete nutjobs. They were very strict about rules and valued work over other bullshit, which kind of worked out for me.

I sailed through the interviews for the Management Training Program at The Oberoi Center of Learning and Development. As a management trainee for two years, I worked at a range of Oberoi City and Resort Hotels with some really toxic and unhappy people. During this time, I cleared the WSET-2 which is a guild for wine and spirits education. After graduating from the management program, I began working as an Assistant Manager in Food and Beverage Service at The Oberoi Amarvilas Agra for one year. I had worked at 7 different 5-star luxury hotels from age 17 to 24. I also interned with NDTV Good Times (now Good Times) –  an online website and TV channel, as a content writer for food/beverage and lifestyle,  learning some camera work on the side.

There was a complete lack of respect for my profession amongst my friends, there was no hint of thanks or appreciation from the bosses, I was losing hair because of Agra water combined with the god-awful turban they made us wear – suffice to say, I was unhappy with my job and I hated my life. The hair was the final straw for me.

At this point when I was feeling bummed, I met this beautiful American girl in a Jazz bar in New Delhi and we fell in love. We travelled all over India, Thailand and the US. I sold my car to fund this expedition and I do not regret it one bit!

Later, I went to California to study wine at The International Culinary Center in Campbell and passed Level 2 of the Court of Master Sommeliers and thus, became  a Certified Sommelier. My family, including my grandparents, was well-versed with the concept of wining and dining, except that they substituted wine for whiskey. Thus, I only started to engage in the process of wine discovery at college house parties. While trying to buy something at the local liquor shops for the BYOB invites, I stumbled upon a cheap red wine called Medera, definitely not to be confused with, and vastly different from The Portuguese wine and region Madeira! There was another fine wine called Port 1000 which was a plastic bottle port wine. They were both cheap, delicious and I could drink  a bottle or two all by myself. Being wine drunk was simply fantastic and I was hooked! Ever since then I have been trying to improve my wine-tasting skills by expanding my palate.

During my time in California, I also began working the floor of DOSA, a modern South Indian restaurant in San Francisco, and was able to acquire a position of Wine Director and Manager at DOSA Fillmore. I was fortunate enough to get full freedom to experiment to my heart’s content. I was able to explore pairing wine with spice and got to drive the Wine and Beverage program. 

While the pandemic ravaged the world, it also destroyed my professional life while I was in India. I started to ponder more and more about what inspires me and what excites me. I remembered how the death of my biggest idol Anthony Bourdain had affected me in 2018. This gave me the push I needed to launch my own show – the Palate Trekker! It was driven by four major components – flavour, philosophy, technique, and exploration. Some of the ideas had been in development since my solo hiking trip in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh.

Currently, I am the Outlets Manager and a Sommelier at The Taj Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco, which is a part of Taj Hotels and Resorts. The hotels boast a two- Michelin star dinner room with the kitchen led by Chef Srijith Gopinath, who has created the celebrated Cal-Indian cuisine where I get to lead and learn more!

I love good food and drinks and have spent most of my life pursuing them through travel. I love good movies, Jiu Jitsu and cooking. I love dogs more than humans- unapologetically! Now, I do not want to be someone who dictates what you need to do or how you should eat or drink. But I would be honoured to share my experiences in the hope to inspire wholesome conversations about these little things in life that I cherish the most. I hope you join me on this flavourful journey. Bon voyage et bon appétit!

Read our Livestock Rearer Aditya’s recommended list of 10 fine wines under 2000 here.


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