What do you do and how did you get to industry?
I come from a family of restauranteurs and it was only natural for me to be in the hospitality industry as I used to help my parents in their restaurant. I developed an interest at just 21 years of age, specifically in the culture of wine, and expanded my knowledge further through my travels, discovering the art of pairing different cuisine with exquisite wines.
I’m a certified sommelier who manages the restaurants and bars of The St. Regis Langkawi. In addition to that, I am in charge of creating wine concepts for the hotel. We offer the most well-known vineyards with a good mix of new and old world. The main focus in our red wine selection in the Decanter wine room is Bordeaux with all the first class Château’s such as; Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Lafite and Château Petrus. In our concept we feature also a collection with old Vintages and very rare single bottles including Richebourg Grand Cru from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Vintage 1999, this fine wine list is an exclusive selection for our exclusive guests and Wine Connoisseurs.
Tell us a little about art of sabrage.
The art of Champagne sabering is used in ceremonial celebrations. The technique became popular after the French revolution when Napoleon and his army had many reasons to celebrate after their victories over Europe. The most distinct tale is of Madam Clicquot who inherited her husband’s small Champagne house and entertained Napoleon’s officers in her vineyard. When they rode off with their complimentary bottle of Champagne, they would open it with their saber to impress the young widow. This tradition not only remains an inspiration for many who are wine and Champagne enthusiasts around the globe but a tradition that has become a significant ritual at the St. Regis.
What are the key point to remember in successfully sabering a bottle?
First, you will need to prepare the bottle by chilling the entire Champagne bottle (even the bottle neck) in a wine bucket of ice to lower its pressure and vibration as this will help in keeping the cork from bursting open. For beginners, I would recommend removing the foil and slowly unwinding and discarding the wire basket to make sabrage easier but not fully necessary. Hold the bottle firmly and carefully point the bottle to a 30°-45° angle (ensure no one is standing in front of you), slide the blade of the saber along the body towards the neck. The force of the blade as it hits the lip of the bottle’s neck will break the glass whilst still keeping the cork and collar intact. The champagne is ready for a toast.
Do guests ever try sabering?
Yes we do have guests who are adventurous in trying and we allow them to experience the ritual with high supervision to ensure their sobering is successful with no injury. Champagne sabering is an impressive ritual that engages guests, especially during special occasions or private corporate events.
Have there ever been any disasters or crazy moments?
I believe in practicing and being confident in anything you do. As far as I can remember there were no major incidents but there was a special moment where I had the opportunity to saber the first Champagne bottle during our opening of The St. Regis Langkawi to welcome our first guest, hotel owners and hotel team to the lobby. I felt very privileged to have solemnised the opening and I still keep the corks from all the special experiences with me for luck and memory.
One of the craziest moments was when I was doing my certification in Sommelier Diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. I broke my leg while snowboarding at that time and I was studying on a vineyard in Switzerland. It was just five weeks before the exam and I could not fly to Korea to take the Diploma. One week earlier I removed my bandage on my own and I had to limp throughout the examination in front of the Court of Master Sommeliers. Luckily, I made it with one of the highest scores. Brian Julian, a Master Sommelier told me, “Jan this is passion but please don’t limp like that in front of guests,”I will never forget that day as the pressure to pass was high but, today I can laugh about it.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
There are so many stories to share when it comes to the hospitality industry as every day is different. On a personal level, I try not to take things too seriously otherwise you will miss the most interesting part of your job – the people. I was very fortunate to enjoy the best wines at a very young age and learnt the art of remembering my guests’ names through the wines they drink. During my stint as Head Sommelier, I managed to remember 100 guest names with beverage preference without having to check any notes!
I’ve served royals such as the Thai princess, actors and the ruling royal Al Thani family for four years. The most memorable was David Beckham as I knew the type of wines he liked to pair his food with including a Wagyu complemented with Bordeaux Leoville Barton 1998 – I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing! One of the most wonderful things about human nature is that wine and food always bring people together and when celebrated in a good hotel, you’re assured of being taken care of.
What is the best part of your job?
I’m most happy when my team are happy and it is definitely the best part of my job. Hospitality is a people business and it always starts with the associates. When they are happy, service is reflected positively to our guests and good comments will follow. I always stress that it is like playing in a champions league and I want to always be on top of the list. The hospitality, especially food and beverage is a constant journey of learning not a destination that ends after you graduate in this field – there will be challenges and failures but you’ll need to pick yourself up and try better the next time. Persevering is important because there will always be changes and if you just settle and be complacent, you will lose.
What’s your favourite meal/ drink at SRL?
A must try is the Andaman seafood bouillabaisse which is available in Kayu Puti. My personal favourite is also the soft boiled egg with foie gras and the classic mushroom duxelles. It may sound very French but a lot of our cuisine are inspired by Asian flavours and local products. A favourite drink of mine for aperitif is gin tonic or a glass of Chablis. Our gin is served with dehydrated fruits and bitters in a red wine glass. The experience and the flavour profile is very complex and enhances different experiences.
What is your favourite food on the island of Langkawi?
One of my colleagues brought me to a local place that serves nasi campur – a Malaysian version of fast food with rice and side dishes laid on a buffet-style set up. The flavours are reminiscent of homestyle cooking and heart-warming experience of a local woman cooking for her family. I just love spicy food.
The perfect day off would be…
I am very easy to please… nice people and good food. Maybe driving with my old Honda from 1982 to a local beach, eating seafood and enjoying a good conversation, while drinking beer and enjoying the view.
What is something you’d like the guest to know about the SRL?
When I first saw the artist impressions of the building and interior, I never thought it would look this beautiful after completion. It’s a luxurious resort that reminds you of a private mansion that has stunning views of both the lush rainforest and emerald green Andaman sea. For me it is a place where you can relax and discover new experiences as I still see something new every day.