Smith of The Star: Wine buff’s big win in Monte Carlo...

John Dunning Wine Expert
John Dunning Wine Expert
Have your say

LIKE the food he’s been helping to produce all his working life John Dunning’s story is rich, extravagant and full of surprises.

LIKE the food he’s been helping to produce all his working life John Dunning’s story is rich, extravagant and full of surprises.

John Dunning Wine Expert

John Dunning Wine Expert

Unlike the food, it’s hard to know where to start.

Stories fly from him like hot fat from a pan – tales of Parisienne hotel kitchens, upsetting Gordon Ramsay, scuba diving with Jack Higgins, the day he ignored Harrison Ford.

But all of those are as nothing to the Hallam University Hospitality Management lecturer’s Monaco story.

This man has been to wine drinker’s paradise.

Matt Bigland (left) and Marc Sheldon outside the new Milestone wine bar site

Matt Bigland (left) and Marc Sheldon outside the new Milestone wine bar site

In a five-star hotel overlooking the Mediterranean he and a friend found themselves with thousands of pounds worth of history’s finest and most expensive wines to drink.

You don’t need to be a wine buff to grasp the glory of that moment but the list of wines they drank till dawn contained legendary vintages like Chateau Margaux 1947 and the best of Chateaus Lafitte, Haut Brion and Latour – and a dessert wine from Tokaji in Hungary dating back to 1790.

Does life get any better?

“It was a fantastic night and we went on until six in the morning,” said John in his office overlooking Arundel Gate.

“A friend of mine, Luc Delafosse who I had worked with in London was the deputy general manager there and I was working with him.

“There was a charity ball at the Vista Palace Hotel on the cliff overlooking Monaco and tickets cost several thousand pounds each. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was there and there were four wines to each course and around eight courses.

“I was working but at the end of the night there were decanters of these extraordinary wines left over so Luc and I sat looking out over the bay and made our way through them until about 6am.”

That Monaco moment came in 1989 and John has been phenomenally busy since.

He has worked in Italy, France, Switzerland and Australia in some of the world’s best hotels and restaurants and with some top names in the hospitality industry – and met a few megastars on the way.

“I was working front of house at the Savoy in London and one of my first guests was Harrison Ford.

“He came to the desk and I didn’t recognise him and I asked him his name. He just smiled and said ‘Harrison Ford’ then I realised who it was.”

John Dunning, now of Thurgoland, near Barnsley also spent time working in Jersey where he learned to scuba dive – and teamed up with another diving enthusiast.

“The writer Jack Higgins, real name Harry Patterson, was living in Jersey,” said John who has been in Sheffield for five years.

“He only ever drank Champagne and he was a very keen scuba diver when I was learning and we spent a lot of time together talking about that. There were also hundreds of bottles of vintage port in the cellar at the hotel L’Horizon.”

It was around 1990 that he met Gordon Ramsay – after John had sent him his CV and a letter telling him why he needed to employ him.

“I had heard of Gordon then but he wasn’t nearly so well-known as he is now. I sent him a CV and a letter offering myself as his training manager which he didn’t have at the time. His father-in-law Chris Hutcheson interviewed me and I got the job.

“I became training manager and trained staff for Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin-starred restaurants Petrus and the Connaught and did launch training at his Boxwood Cafe and The Maze.

“I did upset him once though when I broke the photocopier at his offices in Victoria in London but I really got on well with him.

“He is an inspirational leader and an incredibly inspirational man.”

John’s CV reads like a who’s who of culinary superstars.

He’s worked with Mark Sargeant at Claridge’s, Angela Hartnet at The Connaught, Jason Atherton and Marcus Waring.”

“I have so many stories from over the years, says John, a man who turns out ideas as though there were a table waiting for them.

“Do you know the one about the man who designed the label for Mateus Rose? He was offered a set fee or a percentage of future sales.

“He went for the set fee.”

You can bet your life he wouldn’t have done if he’d been on one of John Dunning’s courses.