Aug 01, 2021
Today, she’s the bar manager at Sydney’s infamous Mr. Wong, whilst casually studying to become a sommelier in her spare time. We got the lowdown on her job, and found out what she takes to a dinner party.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where did you grow up?
I’ve lived all over the place! My father is Swiss, and my mother is Indian-Malaysian. I actually spent the first 6 years of my life in Switzerland, so my first language was Swiss-German, but I spent the rest of my childhood in Malaysia. I’ve also lived in Spain, Singapore, Scotland…and now here. I love traveling and exploring new places – it’s so exciting. Moving doesn’t scare me at all.
How did you end up at Merivale, working as the bar manager at Mr. Wong?
Again, that’s been an interesting journey. I’m actually a trained actor and dancer – I’ve been dancing since the age of 3 and studied theatre and dance at the NIDA equivalent in Singapore. I was working as a professional salsa dancer in Spain, and working at a bar on the side for a bit of extra money, when I fell in love with all things whisky, and took off on a whole new job path.
Tell us a little about this whole whisky thing.
I was dancing and bartending in Singapore, and landed a job opening a whisky bar. I knew absolutely nothing about whisky at the time and we had 400 whiskies behind the bar which we had to learn. All I’d ever had was Jack Daniels and coke with my family! It was a huge educational process but I loved every second of it – to this day, I’m still fascinated by the fact that something with only 3 ingredients can have so much complexity. The whisky supplier, Andrew, became my mentor, and eventually got me the gig on the Isle of Skye, in Scotland, working in the distillery at Talisker.
What was that like, working in a distillery?
It was brilliant, but gosh, so hard. I’m talking tough, physical labour, day in, day out – but it very much deepened my appreciation of whisky, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I ended up leaving because I got too cold, and moving to Edinburgh to work for independent bottlers, before heading to Malaysia, and then Australia, which is where my Merivale journey begun.
We heard you’re studying to become a sommelier.
From whisky to wine! Yep, I’m currently studying, I’ve developed a real passion for wine since moving here. Mr. Wong has an incredible wine list and with such talented somms around me, I just found myself wanting to learn more and more about wine. I’m so passionate about creating the perfect end-to-end experience for the guest – so the more I can learn, the better.
What does studying to become a somm actually involve?
I’m studying through WSET- the Wine & Spirit Education Trust – and it’s a mixture of theory and tastings – timed tastings! I’ve completed my WSET Level 3 and I can’t say for sure when I’ll take up the next course – it’s a lot of work, and I’m seriously busy. Whenever I have a bit more time, absolutely.
What’s a recent shift you’ve noticed in the wine world?
I think global warming is really changing the game. So many regions are on the way up who’ve never been real players before, like India and China. And Germany, for example, is now able to produce cabernet francs, cabernet sauvignons and merlots, which wasn’t previously possible as they’re traditionally a cold climate country. Environmental factors and climate change are shifting the entire landscape of wine, and it’s just so interesting.
In your opinion, what makes a good sommelier?
Someone who can take everything they’ve learned and make it accessible to the guest. Putting the complexity of wine into simple language is harder than you think! I feel so fortunate to work with such brilliant somms at Merivale – and to have 2 Master Sommeliers (Franck Moreau and Adrian Filiuta) in the group is just unbelievable – they’ve taught me so much already, and I feel so privileged.
What do you love most about being bar manager?
Without a doubt, the team. It’s such a massive venue and the team is huge – we’re talking hundreds of people – and we’re always relentlessly busy. Having empathy for each other, and respecting one another’s roles, is paramount to keeping things running smoothly. And the buzz you get from working in such a vibrant place is unbeatable. Come work with us – we’re hiring!
What do you order when you go to a bar?
I used to go for whisky, but now it’s usually wine. I always try to get something new so that I can use it as a learning experience, and I love chatting to the bar staff to find out what they’re recommending. If it’s not wine, a classic daiquiri.
What bottle of wine do you take to a dinner party?
Depends on what they’re making – I’ll always ask. My friend made Italian recently, and I bought a bottle of Domaine Bobinet Hanami Cabernet Franc. It’s a funky, gorgeous drop that’s herbal, earthy and savoury, with really plush fruits and beautiful tannins – great for a more adventurous wine drinker – and an acidity that really cuts through the richness of cheese. If we’re having Asian food, I’ll usually go for an Austrian or German pinot noir or a riesling.
Any local winemakers you’re appreciating at the moment?
Mac Forbes. I recently did a trip out to the vineyard and was blown away, Mac’s such an inspiring winemaker. He has a very simple, wholesome philosophy, that’s all about letting the fruit grow in the land to the best of its potential – and the results speak for themselves. I like things done simply, even when it comes to food. Letting the produce do the heavy lifting – that’s what I’m about.
And finally, what do you do when you’re not working, any hobbies?
I’m a sucker for ocean swimming. I live at Coogee so I try to get in the ocean every morning to swim laps, even in winter. It’s so cleansing for the soul – I’m pretty sure it keeps me sane.
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