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Sake Navigator and Certified Sake Sommelier Courses Held in London
EAT JAPAN Trade News
Monday, 29 November 2010

The Sake Sommelier Association is a non profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of greater understanding and appreciation of Japanese sake. The Association now offers sake courses for professionals in the drinks industry and interested individuals, the Sake Navigator Course and Certified Sake Sommelier Course. Both courses were recently held in London, for the second time in the U.K., and Eat-Japan was there to see how  the SSA is working to introduce the U.K.'s drinks industry professionals to Japan's best-known drinks export. “We want to spark greater interest in sake in the U.K.”, says Kumiko Ohta, Director of Isake, holder of the Higher Certificate in Sake Education and Sake Sommelier Institute Kikasake-shi qualification, organiser of the courses. “And to educate people, so that they'll start to spread the word. That's one of the main objectives of these courses. We're dedicated to showing the drinks industry in the U.K. just how delicious and versatile a beverage sake is”.

Group shot

Kumiko OhtaTwo Professional Courses

The SSA currently offers two courses, the Sake Navigator Course and Certified Sake Sommelier Course. The Navigator Course is a one day course that covers the basics of sake history and culture, production and tasting. This can be converted into the Certified Sake Sommelier Course, which comprises an additional day on which participants learn more about how sake is made, its market position, how to serve sake correctly, and conduct further tastings. The Sake Sommelier Course ends with a written examination, and those who pass are awarded Certified Sake Sommelier certification.

Kumiko OhtaAlthough sake is now part of the British vernacular, it's still an unfamiliar drink for many. The SSA courses serve an important function, with founder Kumiko Ohta, chairman Xavier Chapelou and lecturer François Lavergne presenting their formidable knowledge on sake in an accessible and practically applicable format. Chapelou has a comprehensive background in wine and sake, and in 2004 became the first non-Japanese to be certified as a sake sommelier, passing the SSI Kikisake-shi course in 2004. Most recently, he was awarded recognition for his outstanding contributions to the restaurant industry at the Taste Sommelier Awards in 2009. Lavergne first fell in love with sake on a trip to Tokyo to open the Cordon Bleu's third international cookery school in 1992, and he has been tirelessly exporting and promoting it ever since. Ohta, Chapelou and Lavergne presented a number of sessions on sake history and culture, sake vessels, and understanding the sometimes confusing information on polishing rates and so on found on sake labels.

The Spoon Taste Test

Spoon TasteOf particular interest was the ‘Spoon Taste' session. This session highlighted the importance of palate in tasting sake – more than 80% of what is perceived as taste comes, in fact, from our sense of smell. Essences of various fruits were placed on spoons, and participants were asked to guess what the fruit was, first just from the smell, then by taking some of the essence on the tongue. A similar ‘Spoon Taste' test was then carried out for various sake, highlighting one of the unique characteristics of sake; unlike wine, the palate can be quite distinct from the nose. These practical elements help to refine the ability to perceive and express tastes and smells, as well as giving useful insight into the range of flavours and aromas found in sake.

Spoon TasteParticipants in the first two rounds of courses have included group wine buyers, sommeliers, distributors and wine shop owners. “Course content was easy to understand and it increased my knowledge of sake”, said Mark McCafferty, General Manager of Soseki. Keiko Yamamoto, a professional chef who now teaches Japanese cookery classes, commented that “sake is definitely a better choice than wine for pairing with Japanese cuisine. I'd like to be able to give my students some good pointers on pairing food with sake from now on”. Benjamin Roffet, Sommelier at Gordon Ramsay Au Trianon Palace in Versailles, talked about his enthusiasm for the potential of sake in pairing, but mentioned that “French clientele is perhaps not yet ready for full-scale sake pairing, and international clientele tend to go for French wine”. Finally, Roberto Loppi, Head Sommelier of Hakkasan Mayfair and Eder Neto, Manager of Yauatcha in Soho, were enthusiastic about the drink's growing reputation: “Sake is really trendy”, said Roberto. “We have between 4 to 10 sake in the restaurant at any time, and 2 varieties of umeshu. We also do tastings every week, so I'm always on the look out for great new sake. It would be good if there were more similar courses, so that we can brush up our skills outside of the workplace. I'm also always on the lookout for good guidebooks on sake and Japanese liquours”. Dates for the next Sake Navigator Course and Certified Sake Sommelier Course are yet to be fixed, but interested parties can sign up to receive all the latest information from the Sake Sommelier Association website.