Melvyn & Janie Master
William Rice / July 2004
Silver Spoon Food Arts presents the July/August 2004 Silver Spoon Award for Sterling performance to Melvyn and Janie Master. The British, to-the-manor-born Masters—childhood friends, teenaged sweethearts, and, since their marriage in 1964, partners in a variety of wine and restaurant projects—could easily have stepped into the pages of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel to cavort with the socialites of the Roaring Twenties. (They came close when mel became the first national sales director of the classy Jordan Winery in the late 1970s and Janie acted as Jordan's social secretary, planning glamourous events at the winery and overseeing the kitchen.)
The Masters and Tom and Sally Jordan met in Denver, where Mel and Janie had come in 1975, he to market his French wines and she—a graduate of London's Le Cordon Bleu—to introduce nouvelle cuisine at the Masterchef cooking school, which she founded, along with a pioneer bistro called Fleurie.
In 1977, Janie opened Dudley's, a nouvelle inspired trendsetter. It was sold in 1980, as the peripatetic Masters moved to Sonoma, then to New York. Mel collaborated with Jonathan Waxman to introduce California cuisine to the East Coast at the wildly popular and much imitated JAMS (Jonathan and Melvyn's) in 1984, followed by Bud's, Hulot's, and JAMS in London. The collaboration ended in 1989.
The final decade of the century saw the introduction of the Les Jamelles (Janie and Melvyn's) line of French varietal wines and a new crop of Denver dinning spots conceived by Janie, including Barolo Grill in 1991 and Mel's Bar & Grill in 1994. Both continue to thrive, although the Masters still own and operate only Mel's.
From his very first visit to the United States, in 1970, to market Paul Bocuse and Georges Duboeuf wines, Mel has been an outspoken champion of tasty, value-for-money-wines from underappreciated regions. He helped craft the French Languedoc brands Les Jamelles and Tortoise Creek, as well as Tiamo from Italy's Puglia region.
Furthering the food and wine connection, the Masters joined with Food Arts founding editors and publishers Michael and Ariane Batterberry, then the founding editors of Food & Wine magazine, to invite rising star chefs from France, Italy, and America—among them Paul Prudhomme and Alice Waters—to participate in a gathering called la Jeune Gastronomy in New York City in 1979, launching a tradition of all-star chef collaborations at the international level.
These days his observations are still from the front lines. He is on the road selling wine about four months a year, on the floor at Mel's one week a month, and he spends about two months in France and italy with Janie, buying and blending wines for his Master Père et Fils wholesale company.
"The segment of the trade that most excites me," he says, "is sales of wine by the glass in restaurants. The improvement over the past 20 years of these programs is feeding a passionate curiosity about wine. The choices available are borader and more exciting here than in any other country. In France, very often, there is no by-the-glass choice, only an unidentified vin de maison.