Amanda Geller, 26, Great Neck, NY.
I am the youngest of three sisters. We were (and are) very close and they always looked out for me and took care of me. Our parents had pretty high expectations of success but generally encouraged us to manage ourselves around those expectations. We were all on swim teams, in art classes and in a lot of the same courses in school. It took me a while to realize that I didn’t need to follow directly in my sisters’ footsteps or have my experiences mirror theirs. Going into restaurants was definitely a divergence from that path and what family expected of me.
As for family meals, my dad was the one that cooked. He was big into the classics: steak, pasta, casseroles, chicken parm etc. My mother had a few signature dishes she would contribute, namely split pea soup and beef stew. My sisters and I would cook once in a while and called our popup “restaurant” the Geller Grille.
Spaghetti and meatballs with garlic breadsticks. My Jewish grandparents used to make a huge endless batch every time we went over for dinner. I would eat plate after plate and thought they made the best sauce in the world. I was sHoCkEd when I found out years later that the secret recipe was just a bunch of different jarred sauce brands mixed together -- no specific brands or magic ratio, which is crazy because the concoction tasted the exact same every time.
I first became interested in the industry when I had a college internship at a farm-to-community tech startup. When graduation came around, I thought about looking for jobs in that realm, but couldn't shake the desire to work closer with food.
The day after graduation, I started working as a bar cook at Buvette in the West Village. The role was a hybrid of BOH and FOH so I was expected to learn the wines by the glass and general steps of service. I knew next to nothing about wine so my manager at the time recommended that I read the Wine Bible.
During the two years I was cooking, I took the WSET level 1 and 2 and decided to try to break into the wine world. I started interning at Corkbuzz and took a serving job at a restaurant in Chelsea. In 2018 I was hired as a Somm at Cote. I learned so much there and was given a lot of responsibility and opportunity. After about 2 years there, In March 2020, I was laid off due to the pandemic.
In the past year, I was biding my time working in wine retails and sales. I also launched paint.and.nip, a page that explores another passion of mine: painting. The page started the day after I was laid off with the Quaranudes project, a series of paintings of nude selfies taken by women in quarantine. I painted over 150 women for the series and raised over 2K for various covid-relief orgs. Today, I am still painting and accepting commissions. I also just recently started in a new Sommelier role.
Starting off positively, the pandemic put me in a creative space that I hadn’t had the time or energy for previously. I’ve always loved painting and taking figure classes but never really pursued it. With endless free time, I was able to spend hours painting everyday and launch a really exciting project. I finally made an art website and IG page, which had been a long time goal of mine. It was amazing and affirming to see how many people participated in and supported the project, and how many women continue to commission paintings.
Outside of my art and that journey, the past year was honestly incredibly difficult. It felt relentless... and I spent so much of it completely overwhelmed. The pandemic forced me to take a close look at my physical and mental health -- my habits, mindset, relationships, coping mechanisms, confidence and sense of self. Restaurant life isn’t exactly conducive to fostering a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Putting a hard stop to all the late nights, hectic services, going out and mental distractions really put me face-to-face with myself and my various anxieties. At this point, I do think I've learned a lot about myself and I feel grateful for that. Now that I'm back in restaurants, I am much more dedicated to maintaining a balance and checking in with myself regularly.
It taught me to recognize integrity -- who cares about their staff and public safety, who is transparent, who stands up for what’s right, who walks the walk? This industry is amazing and resilient, but it also gets away with a lot of abuse and exploitation. Both of these truths were amplified this past year.
I went through so many phases in my art so it’s hard to choose just one. In looking back at the collection, this self portrait is poignant for me. The energy in this piece perfectly captures my emotions at the time (April 2020) and I still resonate with it.
I will know things are okay when I can sit at the bar at Greenpoint Fish and Lobster. This was my go-to neighborhood spot pre-pandemic. My order will have to be a dozen oysters, the caesar salad and a bottle of Nervi-Conterno Rosé.
Yes! I recently started Somming again at Charlie Bird. I’m so excited to be back on the floor. I am also brainstorming next steps with my painting -- I hope to intertwine wine and painting more when in-person events are safer. I’d love to host more classes and in-person painting sessions with wine pairings. Stay tuned!