Sommelier of the Month - Sandia Chang

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Author: TheDrinkShop
Tags: Sommelier, Wine
  • Name: Sandia Chang
  • Place of birth: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • Nationality: USA

I've always loved the hospitality industry. I went to University of Cal Poly Pomona to get my degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. After graduation, I decided I wanted to be a chef so I went to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Greystone Napa Valley and got an Advance Culinary Certification. I then moved to New York City to pursue my dream of becoming a chef.

I worked for a year at Bouley in Tribeca as chef de partie under Cesar Ramirez. I then reliased a chef's life wasn't for me. At that time Per Se had just opened and was looking for front of house staff. So I took the opportunity and worked there for over 4 years. It was there I met my husband, James. We got married in New York and moved to Denmark and worked at Noma.

After we left Denmark, we came back to the UK and I worked at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley and Roganic, before we set up Bubbledogs & Kitchen Table in 2012. In our first year we won Champagne List of the year from Imbibe and the second year, Kitchen Table won our first Michelin star. But the most treasured accolade has to be when Thomas Keller came to visit and support us when we first opened. That was priceless.

Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table

James and I always had a dream that we would one day open our own restaurant. When the day came to decide what kind of restaurant to open, we couldn't come to an agreement. I wanted something casual and he wanted to stick with his training, which was more fine dining. Finally, we decided to split the restaurant in half so we can both carry out what we each envisioned.

I wanted a wine bar and specifically a Champagne bar. I have never been a fan of those ostentatious Champagne bars that are covered in velvet and crystal chandeliers. So I wanted to open a Champagne bar that would be comfortable; one that anyone would feel normal to walk in to and it not to be for an occasion such as a birthday or anniversary. I also always loved having Champagne with charcuterie and cheese and French fries so being American, I thought why not hot dogs? Plus, everyone can relate to a hot dog. The idea was to make it accessible to everyone, keeping the pricing low for Champagne and keeping up the fun and casual environment.

Kitchen Table is tucked away behind a curtain towards the back of bubbledogs and is a 19 seat 'chefs table' serving a tasting menu of 12-14 courses.

Sandia's wine and food pairings

Red Mullet with Meyer Lemon, Basil and Lobster Sauce

Manzanilla sherry

The plate in general just screams Mediterranean and Spain. The saltiness of the manzanilla holds itself quite steady with the intensity of the mullet and lobster sauce.

Sweet Potato Fries

David Laclapart, L'artiste

Champagne and fries is the ultimate pairing. David Laclapart's wines are super bold and quirky thus regular fries would just be too boring for it.

Chicken Skin, Rosemary Mascarpone and Bacon Jam

any Riesling

I find Rieslings to be best friends with pork. This is quite a meaty snack and in order not to start a meal with too heavy of a wine, Riesling is the way to go. When in Germany, always drink Riesling with pork dishes. They've done it for centuries, so why change it?

Balsamic Vinegar Ice Cream with Jerusalem Artichokes and Black Truffle

Vilmart Grand Reserve

This is a tricky dish. Between the vinegar and the artichokes, it almost sounds like an anti-wine dish! The only wine I find that matches with it and works amazingly well is Champagne - particularly the Vilmart Grand Reserve, because it is mostly pinot noir based it is fuller in body. The wine is also fermented and aged in barrels giving it a really creamy and toasty character. The acidity is quite prominent as well in the wine to counter the vinegar in the dish.

Sandia's Q&A

Please tell us some background about yourself. How did you first become interested in wine, and how did that interest evolve into a career?

While I was attending the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, I very naturally gravitated towards wine. Classes were at night so I tried to do as many wine tastings during the day as possible. My first chef job was in a wine bar, and of course wine was a very important part of our cooking and menu design. Then I moved to New York City and worked in the front of house at per se and the competition to be the best drove me to learn more about wine. The wine list at per se was second to none when it came to expensive and rare wines. It gave me great access to taste things that I had never thought I would. The best way I learned about wines was volunteering to do stock take every month with the sommelier team. Touching and feeling the bottles and reading labels and questioning each one really helped me to learn. At per se I learned a lot about unconventional food and wine matching as well. The tasting menu changed every day so we were always challenged to think quickly and creatively!

After per se I went to Noma and that really opened my horizon to small producers and especially grower Champagnes. It also showed me that a restaurant wine list can be tailored and written for the menu of the restaurant. Noma didn't list any new world wines or Bordeaux just for the reason that it didn't match with the style of food they serve. I thought that was very respectful. They weren't concerned about disappointing guests when we didn't have a selection they wanted. They were concerned about keeping the character of the restaurant.

What do you think makes a great sommelier?

Versatility and being able to read and understand the guests.

Describe your typical day at work.

I usually arrive at 10am and say hello to all the staff in the building. I go through my emails in the morning, check in wine orders and catch up with my managers. Then at 11:45am we do a pre lunch briefing. During lunch service I'm either on the floor or administration work in the office. 4pm is staff meal and I check in on Kitchen Table's reservations, set up, wine list, etc. Then 5pm is the pre dinner briefing for Bubbledogs followed by the 5:30pm pre-dinner briefing with Kitchen Table. For the rest of the evening I'm in service in Kitchen Table.

When pairing 'Chef's' dishes with wines, what defines the process for you?

I look a lot into the garnishes on the plate rather than the main ingredient. I look at texture, which relates a lot to how the food is cooked and look at the positioning of the dish in the meal. Additionally I look at what else the guests have drunk in order not to repeat regions or similar styles. The wines needs to also flow like the progression of a menu.

Please describe your process for sourcing new wines.

When sourcing new wines I tend to stay away from very famous and expensive producers. I prefer to search for rising stars and unknown territories. I ask my colleagues and I taste, taste, taste! I aim to find balance on the list so that everyone has a comfortable choice of styles and price and seek to find varieties that are classics but not necessarily from a predictable region or style.

What trends have you noticed in the wine market recently?

Beaujolais and sherry.

You are on that deserted island. Which two varietals do you plant?

Riesling and Nebbiolo.

Do you have a favourite food and wine pairing?

It has to be Champagne and French fries!

And a most unusual food and wine pairing?

Amaro and cheese.

How can customers get the best out of you? What should they be prepared to tell you and what questions should they ask?

I like guests to be completely open with me and to tell me what they really like to drink and most importantly what they don't like to drink. Most importantly is to be adventurous and open-minded - this is the only way you will be able to let great wines into your lives!

Who is the one person you'd most like to share a bottle of wine with?

My friend and former head sommelier at Brooklyn Fare, Michele Smith.

How can budding wine enthusiasts practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?

I always recommend dedicating a week or month to a single variety or region. For example, if I'm trying to learn all about Chablis, I would dedicate a whole month where I just drink Chablis wherever I am.

Where do you see your future career path?

I would like to open more restaurants and teach service in a school setting!

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