Meet Sebastien Le Goff, Director of Service and Sommelier for Cactus Club Cafe. Highly decorated as a sommelier and a veteran of some of the top rooms in Vancouver, including Lumiere and Feenies, CinCin, and Uva Wine Bar and Cibo Trattoria, Sebastien has also worked internationally, most recently as General Manager for db bistro moderne at the prestigious Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino in Singapore. Having joined Cactus Club Cafe in 2011, Sebastien is currently lending his wealth of experience to the opening of Cactus Club Cafe’s most ambitious restaurant to date, Cactus Club Coal Harbour. Sebastien took the time to chat with us about his hospitality background, his appreciation of wine, and what’s in store for applicants to Cactus Club Coal Harbour.
A little bird told us you are French (it wasn’t your accent that gave you away, of course). When did you move to Canada from your native France? Tell us a bit about how you made your way to Vancouver.
Sebastien: In early 1999, I moved from Hong Kong to Toronto. I lived there for nearly five years before moving to Vancouver in August, 2003. After five hard winters in Ontario, it was time to look for a milder climate.
You’ve worked for many top-tier restaurants here in Vancouver and around the world over your 13 year career in hospitality. Up until you joined Cactus Restaurants, can you tell us about a particular position you’ve held or experience you’ve had that was most memorable?
Sebastien: Opening a restaurant in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands was very exciting. The property has a 2,600 room hotel, six restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs, a 40,000 square foot conference centre and one million square feet of shopping space. Over 6,000 people were working there at the time and we represented 60 different nationalities.
You joined Cactus Club Cafe in September 2011 as Director of Service and Sommelier. What made you choose Cactus Club Cafe over the myriad other options in the city (and beyond)?
Sebastien: Chef Rob Feenie and I used to work together – I was the Director of Operations for Lumiere and Feenie’s – so he put me in touch with the Cactus group. The food at Cactus is excellent and the rooms are beautiful and very well designed. It is a very progressive and growing company, offering many opportunities. Being part of a great team that was highly professional and open minded was very attractive to me.
Cactus Club Cafe Coal Harbour is going to be the most spectacular Cactus Club to date. Is there anything particular about this location that you are most excited about?
Sebastien: The location itself: next door to the Convention Centre, five world-class hotels within walking distance, and a spectacular view of the North Shore that beautifully transforms throughout the day and with each season.
Will there be anything unique about the design of the restaurant that one wouldn’t find at another Cactus Club Cafe?
Sebastien: Yes! But I do not want to spoil the surprise. It will all be unveiled in March so stay tuned!
You’ve been working at Cactus Club Cafe for over a year now; you must have a few favourites on the menu. what are your go-to Cactus Club Cafe dishes?
Sebastien: I have been with the company for a year and a half. For an appetizer, I love the Beef Carpaccio and the Butternut Squash + Prawn Ravioli is one of my go-to meals. Also, with the current chilly and wet weather, the [Wor] Wonton Soup is a favourite of mine.
The staff requirements for Coal Harbour will be significant. Why is now a great time to join the company?
Sebastien: Opening a restaurant is a very special experience; something that stays with you for a long time. Plus, joining the team early means you have an opportunity to build seniority.
Coal Harbour will be one of the largest restaurants in Canada. What are some of the unique challenges associated with opening a restaurant of this size and scale?
Sebastien: Though it’s one of our biggest challenges, making sure the team is seamlessly organized, knowledgeable and efficient is also something we do very well at Cactus Club. We’re also focused on creating an intimate experience for our guests.
In potential hires, is there any particular must-have quality, trait, or qualification that you look for?
Sebastien: Applicants have to be professional, reliable, honest and flexible. Those who enjoy serving people, have a passion for food and that special ability to connect with new guests is also key.
Do you have any special advice for applicants?
Sebastien: Prepare for your interview. Do your homework and research the company beforehand. We have a wealth of online information and resources. Finally, prepare the questions you want to ask.
Cactus Club Cafe Coal Harbour is not going to be completed for another couple months and hiring is taking place now. How do you plan to train new hires in the meantime so that, when the doors open, everyone hits the ground running? Talk a little bit about what awaits new hires at coal harbour.
Sebastien: The successful applicants will be placed at existing Cactus Club restaurants, ideally close to their home, in order to go through the training and start earning an income.
What do you like most about recruiting online with Eightsix Network?
Sebastien: The applicants are prepared, have a clear idea of the position they are applying for, and offer a transferable skill set.
You’ve won numerous awards and accolades, including ISG Sommelier of the Year award (2006) and Western Living Magazine‘s Sommelier of the Year award (2008), and you’ve recently been inducted into the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame. Is there a particular award that you are most proud of?
Sebastien: The latest one, the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame. Vancouver is the most beautiful city I have had the pleasure to live in and it is my home. I am very proud to have been recognized locally.
You told me a few months ago that you had quite the wine collection at home, with dozens – if not hundreds! – of bottles to choose from. But, say you accidentally drank your cellar dry and needed to stop on your way home today for a bottle. What wine does a sommelier of the year pick up for a weekday evening like today?
Sebastien: Right now, I would go for something red. Either the Stoneboat Pinot Noirfrom BC or maybe a Malbec from Argentina. I just got back from a wine trip to this marvelous country. The Jean Bousquet Malbec we carry at Cactus Club is delicious and well-priced for the quality.
It was announced recently that Cactus Restaurants is breaking ground Downtown Toronto for its first Cactus Club Cafe in Ontario. There must be a ton of excitement within the company about this new location.
Sebastien: Yes, indeed. Toronto is a very exciting market and I am personally looking forward to returning to visit with a great concept and a beautiful restaurant. Cactus Club’s excellent food and beverage offerings, design, and service level are a great fit for a very demanding city.
If there is another city you’ve visited that is most like Vancouver, which would it be? why?
Sebastien: Hong Kong. It is by the sea and surrounded by mountains.
What is your favourite spirit?
If you weren’t working in the restaurant industry, what would you be doing?
Sebastien: I would be in the wine business.