Q&A: Zuma Dubai's Jacqueline Lewis

Lewis is one of only of 28,000 'sake navigators' in the world

Jacqueline Lewis, sake sommelier, Zuma Dubai.
Jacqueline Lewis, sake sommelier, Zuma Dubai.

Zuma Dubai’s sake sommelier Jacqueline Lewis talks Coco Chanel, F1, oh – and what it’s like to be only one of 28,000 sake navigators in the world

How popular is Sake in this region?
Sake is becoming more and more popular. We have many expats and tourists that originate from countries where sake is a big part of the drinking culture, and they are bringing a lot of customer knowledge and passion with them.

How did it feel to be one of 28,000 awarded the title of Sake Navigator?
I feel humbled and privileged to be a part of such a knowledgeable and passionate group of sake professionals, and to be part of a beverage community with such deep-rooted history and cultural tradition.

Where do you see sake in the region by this time next year?
For sake to make it to mainstream bar menus we need a lot more knowledge amongst the hospitality workers in order to guide customers and put lists together. This will certainly evolve in this part of the world – there is more and more tastings and knowledge coming in.

What is your favourite sake/dish combo?
In London I ate Australian Lamb grilled on an open flame, which was paired with a cloudy nigori sake. The combination was fantastic – rich textures of this unfiltered sake and meat worked wonderfully together. Sake is certainly not just for sashimi!

As a sommelier, what is the most expensive drink you have ever sold/come across?
At my last job we had on our list a 1934 bottle of Haut-Brion. Not only was this an incredibly historic and rare bottle, it had a price tag to match!

What do you think of the Middle East’s F&B sector compared to countries you have worked or visited in the past?
Every country caters to a different local population and a different tourist dynamic. As a fast growing and energetic country, the F&B sector here is less traditional and less bound by F&B history and tradition. Much of what happens here is very open minded, reflecting the young dynamic workforce coming to the Middle East.

Do sake sommeliers face any challenges here that they might not face in countries where sake is more established?
Absolutely. In the Middle East vast quantities of many sakes are not yet readily available. As sake sommeliers, we must know what we want and how to get it. Education both of staff and customers is also more intensive, as there is less existing knowledge at this point.

We are trying be the leaders in turning people’s minds to relatively unknown beverage in this part of the world which is a fantastic challenge to be a part of. There are many misconceptions about sake that people have which we are trying to change on a daily basis.

If not a sommelier, what would you be?
An F1 driver – I love to go fast and open champagne!

If you could create a specific Sake for anyone, what would it be and who for?
Coco Chanel – a sake called No. 6; a timeless, sophisticated sake for a timeless sophisticated woman.

What’s been the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt in your career?
If you don’t know, don’t make it up. I’ve actually had dinner with a winemaker who ordered his own wine. The sommelier made up all sorts of things about the wine without realising who he was serving. That, and hold on to large expensive bottles with both hands!

What food/drink trend will be popular in 2013? Any special sake ingredient or technique we need to be aware of?
I think peoples’ tastes are starting to become more sophisticated so more adventurous and challenging wines, old-fashioned cocktails and a genuine fusion between food and all styles of drinks will become popular. It is no longer food/wine pairing, but food/drink pairings. Sake has a large part to play in this.

As sake gains international popularity, producers are experimenting and there is a huge variety of styles coming on to the international market that are great matches for an enormous variety of food. Watch for sake served in glasses!

Name one thing your team does not know about you
I have a degree in Biomechanics.

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