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After Dinner Speaker | Food and Wine
During his three-decade reign at Windows on the World Restaurant, Kevin Zraly created the wine list with the largest sales in the country. Before Kevin Zraly, it is fair to say that the average American restaurant did not pay much attention to wine. Americans, after all, used to prefer spirits with their supper; today a good wine list is considered an integral part of any memorable restaurant experience. By the year 2000, Windows on the World Restaurant was the top-grossing restaurant in the United States, with reported revenues of $37.5 million. Through the restaurant, Kevin Zraly launched his hugely successful Windows on the World Wine School.
Kevin Zraly found his calling while studying elementary education and tending bar at an upstate New York restaurant. He read anything he could about wine, pasted wine labels in a journal and made pilgrimages to New York vineyards. During the summer of his 21st birthday, he hitchhiked to California to visit its vineyards and shortly thereafter went to Europe to do the same. By the time he was 24, Kevin Zraly had been everywhere fine wine was made.
At a time when serious restaurants had only French wines on their lists, Kevin Zraly was featuring California Chardonnays. "Kevin really put America on the map," says Rebecca Chapa, a Zraly disciple and the former sommelier at New York's Montrachet and San Francisco's Jardinière. "I think Americans were afraid to like domestic wines until Kevin said it was okay. He made drinking them cool." Perhaps even more important, Kevin Zraly made the role of sommelier cool. Over the years, he has inspired a legion of acolytes, among them several men and women now among the corps d'elite of the contemporary wine scene.
For 30 years Windows on the World Restaurant was at the top of the World Trade Center, 107 floors above Manhattan. "I was the only one there from beginning to end. I was there from the day the doors opened until the day that it ended on September 11." As the World Trade Center towers fell, he watched in horror as his life's work, and a building full of his friends, come crashing down to the ground. In the aftermath of September 11, Kevin Zraly retreated back to his home in New Paltz to regroup before eventually reopening his Windows on the World Wine School in Times Square. His classes continue to gently enlighten men and women, old and young, to the world of wine.
Kevin Zraly is at the top of a profession he largely created himself, and is quite comfortable with the notion that his hardest work is behind him. He developed a way to concentrate his knowledge into a unique one-hour program that he brings to corporate and private events worldwide. Kevin Zraly has tremendous knowledge about wines...and he has a sense of humor. His interactive program allows participants to taste a variety of wines, gain useful knowledge, and truly enjoy themselves. Kevin Zraly makes it clear that there is no need to be intimidated by wine, whether buying an expensive bottle for a special occasion or looking for a casual wine. His charisma, engagingly style, and love of wine captivate everyone he teaches.
The recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the European Wine Council, the James Beard Award as the Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year, and the Food and Beverage Association's Man of the Year Award, Kevin Zraly is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Culinary Institute of America, and has been featured in The New York Times, People, The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Newsweek, and USA Today, among others. His book, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course is the largest selling wine book with over 2,500,000 copies sold.
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