Dennis Kelly

Silicon Valley - Master Sommelier and the Co-Owner of Protégé

With only 262 of them in the world, Master Sommelier is no casual title; just ask Dennis Kelly, who was the 191st Master Sommelier in the world. Kelly, who is also the Co-Owner of Protégé, a high-end restaurant located in Palo Alto, California, has spent his years doing what he does best, being a connoisseur of wine and sharing his talents with the world. -“Our mission is to establish Protégé as a world-class neighborhood restaurant— and a reference-point for dining in Silicon Valley,” explains Kelly. Whether dreaming about classic American muscle cars or rooting for his hometown NFL team, the Cleveland Browns, Kelly continues to set standards in his industry and push the envelope of what it means to be a restaurant owner and sommelier in Silicon Valley.

Q&A:

Hometown?

Cleveland, Ohio (Home of the future Super Bowl Champion Cleveland Browns ;-)

Place you call home now?

Los Altos, CA.

Any notes on your education?

It definitely wasn’t anything to be proud of.

Favorite sport to watch?

I love Mixed Martial Arts… The UFC specifically. I’ve always been a huge Bruce Lee fan, and he was decades ahead of his time in his understanding of the importance of being strong in all four ranges of fighting, including kicking, punching, trapping, and grappling ranges. MMA is the culmination of that understanding.

Favorite sport to play?

Does yoga count?

Best vacation ever?

Each and every opportunity I’ve had to explore the vineyards of France, Italy, Germany, and Austria.

Dream trip destination?

Rioja, San Sebastian and Barcelona… I’ve never experienced Spain.

Favorite dinner?

My mama’s Cavatelli & Meatballs… It’s killing me just thinking about it right now.

Favorite dessert?

Really great ice cream… Almost any flavor will do, but dark chocolate and nuts are always a plus.

Underrated food?

Authentic Barbecue… Low & slow over some clean fruitwood or post oak smoke. A juicy brisket smoked at 225 degrees for 18 hours can be mind-blowing. Many people break out the grill for an hour and think they’ve barbecued.

Dish you’re best at cooking?

With a good offset smoker, I will ace that beef brisket and pork shoulder ;-)

Best meal you've had at a restaurant?

I’ve been fortunate to experience many extraordinary meals in my lifetime, but I worked at The French Laundry for more than a decade and dined there just once. It was a 6-hour, 24-course dinner with my family, accompanied by wines selected by my own Sommelier team. It’s gonna be tough to top that one.

Favorite TV show as a kid?

Saturday Night Live in the late ’70s and early ’80s. What an incredible cast of brilliant comedic performers and writers in that era.

Favorite movies?

I love classic movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood. For me, the peak was the late-30’s and early-40’s. The fashion of the day was stylish and classic... Modest, yet flattering… And always thoughtful. The Stanford Theater is a true gem.

Favorite actress and or actor?

Audrey Hepburn and Carey Grant had a style and ease that I admired. Jimmy Stewart was also a personal favorite.

Favorite bands?

I grew up on a steady diet of metal bands, but thankfully I eventually outgrew them.

Most impressive live performance you ever saw?

Prince on his Purple Rain tour. Singing falsetto, doing the splits in high heals AND playing guitar like a boss with Shiela E on the drums. He blew my mind.

Car you drive now?

BMW X1.

Car you’d like to drive?

1966 Corvette with a 427 big-block engine in jet black gloss paint with candy-apple red racing stripes… My birth year dream car ;-)

Best car you've owned?

I learned to drive on my mama's fire engine red 1973 Pontiac Firebird 'Trans Am' with a Super-Duty 455 cubic inch engine. I used to accidentally chirp burnouts on the way out of my girlfriend's driveway. Initially, it was a challenge to manage all the muscle under that hood. Thankfully the car is still in our family.

Motorcycle?

Way too dangerous for me.

Wear a watch?

I wear a Baume et Mercier that I received from Chef Thomas Keller to celebrate my 10-year Anniversary with The French Laundry.

Got a dream watch?

I’ve always admired the style of Bell & Ross.

Summer drink of choice?

An iced matcha or a good Margarita.

Winter drink of choice?

A hot matcha or a Hot Toddy.

Bourbon or Scotch?

I prefer Bourbon, although I’m not opposed to a well-balanced Speyside Scotch with a splash of water.

Vodka or gin?

I love Gin, but I prefer a light, an aromatic expression like Reisetbauer's "Blue Gin” from Austria or Cadenhead’s "Old Raj - Red Label” from Scotland.

Cologne?

I quit wearing cologne years ago because I was concerned it could desensitize my sense of smell during my preparation for the Master Sommelier examination.

Go-to red on a wine list?

My go-to red wine is Burgundy, ideally from a blue-chip producer in Chambolle-Musigny, Nuits-Saint-Georges or Volnay. A great Beaujolais, Cornas, or Barolo will also make me very happy.

Go-to white?

My go-to white is Burgundy, ideally a 1er Cru Chablis from Vincent Dauvissat.

Favorite beach?

I’m too busy and too afraid of wrinkles to have a favorite beach.

On a Saturday, your favorite errand to run is?

I’m in the restaurant on weekends, but I do enjoy a visit to Whole Foods on Mondays.

Otherwise, you’ll be busy doing what?

I like to spend free time taking our Rhodesian Ridgeback for walks to the park.

Best work advice you ever got?

When I was 14 years old and took my first job, my father told me that if I was honest I’d always have work. He taught me that being trustworthy is actually quite rare and would always make me very valuable to employers.

Best thing about your career?

A restaurant is a community and I have the pleasure of meeting new guests who discover our restaurant each day. I especially love getting to know those who support our restaurant regularly on a little deeper level.

What do you do now for work? Tell us something about your work and career path?

I am a Master Sommelier and the co-owner of Protégé, a Michelin-starred restaurant located in Palo Alto. Protégé is an upscale, casual restaurant where Chef Anthony Secviar and I share our knowledge and experience with our team of dedicated restaurant professionals. Our mission is to establish Protégé as a world-class neighborhood restaurant— and a reference-point for dining in Silicon Valley.

Do you have any philanthropic interests/endeavors?

I have not taken on any philanthropic endeavors quite yet, but I do look forward to being in a position to give back one day soon.

Add anything else about yourself here that you would like the world to know about you.

I believe that dressing well shows respect for those around us and is a form of good manners. It’s true that 'beauty is the language of care.'