With her New England upbringing in a small town in New Hampshire, Carrie Lyn Strong has always been passionate about fresh ingredients and local products. Following her studies at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and a semester abroad in Dijon, France, Carrie found herself in New York City working in the restaurant business, first as a host and then quickly moving into bartending roles. Behind the bar, Carrie discovered her love for wine and transitioned into a management role at Artisanal Bistro where she enriched her knowledge of the marriage of food and wine pairings with their renowned cheese program. This led her to intensive course work at the Artisanal Cheese Center and then onto the American Sommelier Association where she became certified as a sommelier.
Upon completion of her wine certification, Carrie took on the role of Beverage Manager at Jean-Georges' pioneering Asian-fusion restaurant, Vong, under the direction of acclaimed wine expert and Master Sommelier, Bernard Sun. From there, Carrie went on to further her beverage education in several top NYC restaurants with highly rated wine lists, including Jimmy Bradley's The Harrison and Michael White's Ai Fiori.
Carrie accepted the position of Wine Director at Chef Charlie Palmer's flagship, Aureole in the fall of 2013. At Aureole, Carrie manages a vast collection of award-winning wines that tops 2000 selections, whose 8000 bottle inventory is showcased in a dazzling wine mezzanine towering above the restaurant's Liberty Room. Carrie has upheld the restaurant's Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence and continues to enhance and evolve the Michelin-starred wine and beverage programs.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Taking chances and facing fears has given me confidence both personally and professionally. This outlook has taught me both to deal with the euphoria of accomplishment and the struggles of defeat. Oddly enough, sometimes success is lonely and failure is fun. Either way, moving forward is the only way to find success and to be able to truly lead from experience.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure as a Wine Director at Aureole?
Employment experience--as with life experience--has allowed me to anticipate situational outcomes. If I've reacted in one way in the past that has been either helpful to others or has made a situation better, I have the confidence that this method will work again. If in the past, if a reaction was less than successful and I find myself in a similar situation, I have the insight to try a new way of reacting with hopes of a different, more positive outcome.
What advice can you offer to women who are seeking a career in your industry?
Never stop until you reach your goals. Once you have reached your goals, create new ones and refer immediately to the first part of this piece of advice.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's important that I set time aside and promise myself to not engage with emails, phone calls or texts. The restaurant is open every day of the week. I have to remind myself that I will never keep up if I don't take a break.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Unfortunately, there still are barriers for women in the workplace. Keep in mind that in the restaurant business we work with more than just our office and restaurant colleagues, but rather interact constantly with clients, guests, vendors, and outside industry representatives who all have varying personalities, life experiences and opinions. In some aspects, we have moved worlds ahead of previous career accomplishments for women and there are many people on board. But I still find outdated mentalities and prejudices rearing their ugly heads in small crannies of the industry. It is difficult to stand up for ethical standards but if we continue to take a stand and band together, more people will shed old habits and attitudes.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have been very fortunate to have very strong mentors in both my professional and personal life. It's a confidence builder when someone with more experience takes interest and guides you. I strive to always give support and mentor my staff in the same way that I have been shown.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire female winemakers; trailblazers who have taken on this male dominated industry and have flourished like Celia Welch and Merry Edwards. I realize there are so many women winemakers in the world today, but these two women were the first winemakers I met when I started off in the wine industry. They took the time to learn their trade and set the standards for future winemakers, both men and women. Each built their dreams with an unwavering determination. I've heard negative terms said for women with such strong wills... I just think those terms are compliments for people who know what they want and go after it.
What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
I have plans to travel to wine regions where I have never visited before, places where I should have already gone but didn't set the time aside to do so. I've recently returned from Italy where I experienced landscapes and microclimates like nowhere else on Earth. I want to bring these new experiences back to my staff and guests to help them learn more about the regions and get excited about the wine they consume.