Lelañea Fulton is not someone who is easily missed in a crowded restaurant.
Her ethereal style is nearly as striking as her knowledge of the nectar, be it wine or sake. With a list of collaborations, curations, and residences that reads like a who’s who of the New York food scene (Dirty French, Megu, Bacchanal, Thor, The Lion, Harry’s at Hanover), Lelañea made the choice to move west this past year and the palettes and wine cellars of Angelenos will soon be grateful she did. We stopped into The Rosy Oyster Bar at The Hollywood Roosevelt as she was putting the finishing touches on the wine list for the seasonal restaurant tucked in a corner off the Tropicana pool. The discussion centered around the move, wine, and what’s up next for this former model turned globetrotting guide to the grape.
Any chance you’re named after the melancholy character in the Donovan song?
Wow, you did your homework. Yes, I am indeed named after the woman in his song. I do believe the character is a Hawaiian prostitute. I am a HUGE Donovan fan but I like Deep Purple’s rendition a bit better, less ballad-esque. I have only met one other Lelañea named from the song.
You are a recent transplant to LA after a successful tenure in New York. Why the move?
I outgrew the city. My priorities changed. I realized I was working my life away in the NY grind rather than living it. Here in Los Angeles, I get to spend more time in the woods with my pup, hiking, and foraging. I also wanted to be a part of a movement here in LA that I could see beginning to take hold. There is an evolution in dining and wine that is beginning to be more noticeable and I thought it was a great time to share what I have learned along with all my experiences in this industry. It appears I am not the only one with such a vision as there seems to be a mass exodus of New Yorkers into L.A.
Much has been written about your personal style and how that affects your approach. Would you say you are trying to cut through the starchy perception of what a sommelier is? Or is it less purposeful, more expressive?
I believe it is a combination of both. I don’t agree with the starchy nonsense. That mentality doesn’t exist in the vineyards or the cellars of some of the most talented wineries in the world. It’s an unhealthy stigma and it isn’t one I support, so I just do me. I have been collecting vintage dresses since I was 15 years old. This is my style on and off the floor. It’s elegant, clean, feminine, and non-offensive. If I can’t be me, I most likely won’t accept the position.
What excites you most about the California culinary scene?
This is a hard question. I feel the California food scene is different than the LA food scene. I have dined all over the world, Michelin, trendy, understated, gastro, farm to table, and more, and have fallen in love with the ethnic cultural representation here in Cali. I really dig chef-driven establishments that create an experience that you either participate in or not rather than alternate based on personal preferences. I really appreciate and respect chefs who use their art to express themselves to others, offering pieces of themselves intimately, one person at a time, revealing emotion, interpretation, and experience.
What is your ideal weekend getaway and what are the ideal wines you’d pair with it?
My ideal weekend is anywhere in the woods. I use to spend a lot of time in upstate NY, hunting waterfalls, rock climbing, foraging, cabin living. Here in SoCal I’m really digging the desert life. I’m in Joshua Tree about twice a month. Fly fishing in the Kern, and I essentially live in Angeles National Forest with my wild beast of a pup. She gets her husky shuffle on while I forage and learn all about these new species of plant life that I am surrounded by. I take wine with me everywhere I go and what I drink is very much based on the weather. I love high pitched dry German Riesling on a hot day, Coteaux Champenois in early fall, Condrieu in the winter when I get to hit snow in the higher elevations.
What is, The Rosy Oyster Bar?
The Rosy Oyster Bar is a really fun concept that I was approached with and jumped on board enthusiastically because it’s definitely missing in Hollywood and lacking here in LA, at least on the east side. It is an extensive rosé program with about ten rosé wines by the glass as well as a plethora of high acid whites and playful reds, a huge focus on grower champagne, fun orange wine, vermouth, and sherry. All wines are paired with a fresh, diverse rotating selection of oysters. The ambiance is nostalgic, airy, timeless, and relaxing. It’s a place where one can go, open a beautiful classic novel, and sip on rosé while slurping oysters. Feels so Hemingway!
How did you approach curating the list?
The curation was very much inspired by the design and feel of the space as well as what pairs beautifully with oysters and doesn’t overpower them. The emphasis was to create an approachable wine list that price point-wise has something for everyone. LA is becoming unacceptably expensive and I create programs that are quality driven and accessible to everyone; representing wines that are balanced, terroir-driven, clean-making, and expressive. This was the perfect place to play with the beautiful artisanal vermouths being made locally as well.
Is there a similar language when describing flavor profiles between oysters and wine? I feel like the layperson struggles with both.
Yes, I feel there is. I feel language, regardless of the subject is the liaison between entities. To connect means to not speak over, or confuse, or to dominate, but rather to embrace and seduce. When we come from a place of truly wanting to connect we learn a language that will work, and can change from person to person. The use of vocabulary changes with those I am connecting with because the end objective is to find common ground. When we describe the flavor profiles of oysters and/or wine, using a language that inspires emotion or curiosity, it’s easy to speak passionately. When you do that, I find it is hard not to convey a message of truth, enough so for all to understand. Oh, geez.. now we are getting deep!
What’s the caziest thing you’ve ever done to get a rare (unicorn) bottle?
Oh damn, I’m sorry… this isn’t going to be as fun or adventurous of an answer as you would hope. I haven’t had many issues with getting ahold of the wines I am seeking, at least not in New York. It is definitely challenging here, so I am doing a bit of creative hustling and convincing just to get these wines in the west coast market. So yeah, no stories of me stalking winemakers or camping out in their vineyards, chaining myself to vines in order to get that unicorn wine.
What has been your favorite travel destination in the last few years?
Loire Valley and Jura for sure! I’m such a romantic and Loire is just that. I was with my dear friend and mentor Peter Wasserman of Becky Wasserman Imports and we spent a week in the Loire bouncing from Domaine to castle, Domaine to castle, and so on. We were like two kids learning, tasting, and playing in castles. It’s all about the company and how you can give yourself over to an experience and your environment.
What else have you been working on and what’s next?
I’m working on a place at the end of the block called Soul, specializing in southern fare across the US and the influences of southern cuisine. The wine list will reflect the different countries that have cultivated the South. My company, The Loving Somm, was just recently featured in the gift bags that were gifted to the 2017 Oscar nominees along with some of my favorite producers of Becky Wasserman imports. My company focuses on offering wine services to those who are building or liquidating their wine cellars, in-house wine tastings and educational palate training, personal in-house dinner somm services for parties and much more. I’m also working Pebble beach Food and Wine in a week. I do a lot of consulting on projects so have a super busy summer ahead of me!
- Photography Che Stipanovich
- Story by Che Stipanovich