It's entertaining when Donald Trump tells someone, "You're Fired!" on The Apprentice. But when you're a well respected director of wine and spirits at his restaurant Sixteen inside his Trump International Hotel & Towers and you hear your position is being eliminated, the news comes with a bit more of a sting.
But that's what happened to Rachael Lowe, the acclaimed advanced sommelier who has overseen the wine program at the one-time Michelin-starred restaurant for the last two years. Lowe received the news from her boss, director of food and beverage Bruno Roulleaux, on Wednesday, the day she returned from a week-long vacation at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival. "He told me they were eliminating the position and couldn't justify it anymore," Lowe said. "[He said] they had hired a GM with strong wine knowledge."
That GM is actually new restaurant director Will Douillet, who recently accepted the job after serving as the GM at Next for the last year. Lowe said Douillet was equally surprised to hear the news; she said he had told her he was excited to work together and learn from her. Now Lowe's assistant, Nathan Cowan, a certified sommelier, will assume her responsibilities. Douillet is also a sommelier.
"Is [Cowan] qualified to run a program? Is it fair to him to push him in that position? I don't know," Lowe said. "I think he'll be great, but it's a gradual path that he's being thrown into. He's fresher to the industry than some people. I just feel bad."
This move comes as a surprise since the restaurant, which received one Michelin star in 2011, but failed to get starred in the 2012 guide after executive chef Frank Brunacci left, seems to be on a path to reclaim its glory. It recently hired exec chef Thomas Lents, who is getting rave early reviews. And it brought on Douillet, who has helped run one of the hottest restaurants in the country at Next. The trio of Lents, Douillet and Lowe could likely have put Sixteen back on the Michelin path, but now that things are being shifted, what will happen?
"They brought in an amazing chef who wants to do amazing things for the restaurant," Lowe said. "I feel like I brought credibility to the restaurant in terms of wine and they get rid of me. It seems weird."
Some speculation within the industry points to tension between Lowe and Roulleaux as the reason for her position being eliminated. But when the hotel was contacted, it released a pretty straight forward statement: "Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago can verify that Rachael Lowe and the property have parted ways. As Beverage Director for the past two years, Rachael was instrumental in the ongoing development of the hotel's exceptional wine and spirits program. The Trump Chicago team wishes her all the best in her future endeavors, particularly as she prepares for the Master Sommelier exam."
As for what's next for Lowe, she is taking advantage of this time to study for the aforementioned master sommelier exam, which takes place on May 20 in Aspen, Colo. After that? "I don't know if I'll even stay in Chicago," she said. "It'll be about the position."