A drink with… Yannick Benjamin

Yannick Benjamin
Yannick Benjamin.

Wine on Wheels was born out of Wheeling Forward – an organisation working across all forms of disability to tackle some of the most underserved and challenging areas of need in the disabled community. With its support, Wine on Wheels became a growing community of wine lovers and sommeliers who have come together to harness their passion for wine to benefit charity. Wine on Wheels brings people together from across the hospitality industry to pour wines, socialise, and raise funds to empower people with disabilities to realise their full potential. All of Wine on Wheels’ sommeliers are volunteers, and the wines are all donated by friends from various facets of the hospitality industry. The first post-pandemic Wine on Wheels takes place on 10 September 2023.

‘Very simply, I’m a second-generation restaurateur. My family all came here from France. They all worked in the restaurant business. It’s something that I always wanted to do. I never thought about doing anything else. I was very lucky at a very young age to work at some really great restaurants (Le Cirque & Felidia) and also to be under the tutelage of my family, my uncles and my cousin. In 2005, when I was at the peak of my own enthusiasm, and my career was starting to take off, I was in a car accident that left me paralysed from the waist down.

‘I had some experience with the world of disability through my family.  I have a cousin that was born blind. My grandfather became blind, and I had another cousin, Guy, who became paralysed in France. He was in an accident on the family farm.

‘A few years later, it happened to me. What I never really thought about was all of the social barriers that people with disabilities face that I was going to have to deal with now. Like flying and getting my wheelchair back, and it’s broken. You think, well, this building has an elevator, but it’s not been maintained, and so it’s out of order. These kinds of things are things people with disabilities face every day.

‘When I was still in the hospital, people would come to visit me, and they were trying to be encouraging. They would say things like, “You know, Yannick, you’re still so young, you can go to law school, or you could get a degree in finance.” These were not things that appealed to me at all. Sitting in an office all day, behind a desk.

‘Now, here I was, newly injured. I was quite young and trying to get back into the wine and fine dining industries. There really wasn’t a template for how to do that. There wasn’t anyone that I could look up to and say, how are they making this work for them? Whether they were blind or hard of hearing, or anyone really. But I knew that this is what I wanted to do.

‘I’m an optimist, and I really believe in the power of positivity. I had to ask myself, will this be worth it? Will it be worth the barriers and the frustrations and disappointment I would inevitably face? I decided that it would be as long as I was learning from those things. Whether it was my mistakes, or the rejection I’d inevitably face, if I could take something positive from it, it would be worth it.

‘My mother is from Bordeaux, and that is where my love of wine comes from.  I had the very good fortune to spend my summers there growing up. I remember things that I still experience, like the smell of the barrel room. In the late 80s and early 90s, you could still drive up to the châteaux, knock on the door and pick up some wine. I was with my uncle, and we visited Château Giscours. I remember listening to them talk about the wine, the hospitality they showed us. I was captivated by it.

‘My dad grew up in central Brittany. I would spend a few weeks every year up there in the north. It was very rural. The people spoke Breton, it was very traditional there, people worked small farms, and I remember it all, seeing your food grown, the smell of the soil, these were things that made me feel a certain way about experiencing…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/magazine/a-drink-with-yannick-benjamin-508968/

A drink with… Yannick Benjamin A drink with… Yannick Benjamin *A drink with… Yannick Benjamin