Wine expert and bon-viveur Nick Tarayan has died at the age of 54, seven and a half years after a cardiac arrest left him brain damaged. He passed away on Sunday at a nursing home with his family by his side.
Prue Leith, who Tarayan worked for as managing director of Leith's restaurant, described him as "a great leader, wonderful with both customers and staff, a huge wine buff, loyal friend and more fun to be with than almost anyone".
"I'll still miss him," she said. "But glad it is over."
Award-winning food and wine writer and one of the UK's leading experts on food and drink matching, Fiona Beckett, said: "Nick was the most engaging and friendly figure - a delight to bump into at any wine event and a star sommelier before sommeliers became the stars they are today."
Gordon Campbell Gray, who appointed Tarayan as his general manager at the Feathers hotel in Woodstock said that as well as being passionate about wine and extremely good at what he did, he always cheered everyone up. "Nick was quite simply a ray of sunshine," he said. "What happened to him was an unbelievable tragedy."
Born in July 1958 to an Armenian father and an English mother, Tarayan was introduced to the world of restaurants from an early age. His parents ran the Knightsbridge Buttery, a popular brasserie in the centre of London , as well as running a date and sugar importing business, before going on to open the Omar Khayyarm restaurant in Cannon Street in 1959.
On leaving school Tarayan undertook an HND in catering and hotelkeeping at Ealing Catering College before launching his career in the hospitality industry as a management trainee with the Metropole Group. During his time with the company he worked as a hall porter at the Ship hotel in Brighton, in the kitchens at the Queens hotel in Newton Abbot and as a junior member of staff in the bar and restaurant at the Imperial hotel in Torquay.
Tarrayan's first managerial appointment came in 1978 as assistant manager at the Great Fosters Hotel in Egham, Surrey. During the five years he spent at the hotel, he was promoted to deputy manager.
In 1983 he joined Gordon Campbell Grey to help set up and develop the Feathers hotel in Woodstock, where he successfully spent two years as the property's general manager. Two years later he moved to London as general manager of Masters Restaurant in Queens Gate, Kensington, before being appointed, at the age of 27, as the managing director of Leith's restaurant in Notting Hill Gate.
Although his interest in wine had originally been nurtured in the 1970s, Tarayan's position at Leith's enabled him to develop it further. In 1995 he won the AA award for the UK's Best Wine List, followed by recognition from US Wine Spectator magazine, which awarded him their Award for Excellence for 12 consecutive years.
In 2000 Tarayan decided to take a year out of the industry to go travelling in Spain to indulge in his interest in wines from the Iberian peninsula. It was during this time that he honed his journalistic skills by creating a record of his trip around vineyards and top restaurants, contributing to the online magazine FoodnDrink and Harpers On-Trade.
In 2001 Tarayan set up TNT Communications to continue his wine journalism, as well as work as a hospitality consultant. This was followed two years later by the launch of Wine of the Times, a company supplying new and interesting wines not currently on the market to hotels and restaurants, as well as providing a virtual sommelier service to private customers. His personally selected and unique collection of wines created great interest within the industry.
Tragically, at the age of 45 in 2005, Tarayan suffered a cardiac arrest on a plane at Stansted Airport waiting to take off for Nice for one of his regular trips to the Languedoc wine region of France. As a result of suffering a lack of oxygen to the brain, he was left in a vegetative state.
In 2006 the Nick Tarayan Bursary was launched by friends, and business associates to sponsor students interested in the study and professional presentation of wine.
Nick Tarayan's funeral will be held on Wednesday 6 February at Mortlake Crematorium,Kew Meadow Path, Richmond, TW9 4EN. The family have asked to send any flowers, or donations in lieu of flowers for the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability, Putney, to: T H Sanders & Sons, 447 Upper Richmond Road West, East Sheen, London, SW14 7PR.
By Janet Harmer
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