Zuma Abu Dhabi’s Noel Pusch becomes 2014 Sake Sommelier of the Year

From left to right: Jean-Paul Choi; Masaaki Kasai of Gekkeikan; winner Noel Pusch; and Miguel Hernandez

From left to right: Jean-Paul Choi; Masaaki Kasai of Gekkeikan; winner Noel Pusch; and Miguel Hernandez

Noel Pusch of Zuma Abu Dhabi was last night crowned 2014 Sake Sommelier of the Year at a tense final held at London’s Westbury Hotel Mayfair.

Runner-up was Jean-Paul Choi of Origami Restaurant, Luxembourg, with Miguel Hernandez of HKK in London in third place.

The competition, run by the Academy of Food & Wine Service (AFWS) and the Sake Sommelier Association (SSA), saw six semi-finalists competing for three places in the final, held in front of an audience of invited guests and a panel of judges. The finalists took the stage one-by-one to complete a blind tasting, a sake food matching test, and a service task.

“I wasn’t expecting to win at all. I’m amazed – I need time to digest it,” said Noel on receiving his award, which along with a certificate and a bottle of premium sake includes a fantastic five-day, fully funded trip to Japan, worth around £5,000. During the trip Noel will visit a number of sake breweries and have the opportunity to take the SSA’s Advanced Sake Sommelier Course.

German-born Noel, 36, began his career in winemaking gaining a Masters degree from the University of Vienna. His long-term interest in sake prompted him to become one of the first certified sake sommeliers in 2009. Noel has worked for the Zuma group since 2013, first at its Dubai restaurant, and this year joining the launch team for Zuma Abu Dhabi, where he is one of three sommeliers.

This year’s competition, sponsored by Gekkeikan, one of the world’s oldest and finest sake producers, saw some strong contenders for the title. Judge Gerard Basset OBE, MS, MW, MBA, previous winner of the World’s Best Sommelier competition and himself a certified sake sommelier commented: “Noel is very passionate about sake and performed consistently well throughout the competition. He has a broad knowledge of his subject and was particularly good in the blind tasting. He’s also very personable – I would like to be served by him.”

Xavier Chapelou, founder of the SSA said: “Although the standard of competitors was exceedingly high, Noel’s knowledge and skill made him stand out as a top class sake sommelier.”

Following the announcement all three finalists performed the ceremonial opening of the taru (cask) of sake, along with Masaaki Kasai, senior managing director of Gekkeikan. This 300-year old tradition (known as a ‘kagami biraki’) involves breaking the lid of the cask with a wooden mallet after which the sake is poured into cups with a ladle.

The SSA is solely dedicated to promoting sake education. Candidates passing the Introductory Sake Professional and Certified Sake Sommelier courses will become an SSA Certified Sake Sommelier.

(Picture caption. From left to right: Jean-Paul Choi; Masaaki Kasai of Gekkeikan; winner Noel Pusch; Miguel Hernandez).

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Linda Pettit, Tilburstow Media Partners
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The six semi-finalists:
Jean-Paul Choi
, Origami Restaurant, Belvaux, Luxembourg
Deepak Elangovan, Hakkasan Restaurant, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Miguel A. Hernandez, HKK, London, UK
Raku Oda, Yashin Ocean House, London, UK
Noel Pusch, Zuma Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Andrew Rohm, BLT Steak, Trump International Hotel, Hawaii, USA

The 2014 judges
Gerard Basset
OBE, MS, MW, MBA, Hotel Terravina
Xavier Chapelou, Sake Sommelier Association
François Ginther, Partridges of Slone Square Wine & Spirits Buyer
Kumiko Ohta, Sake Sommelier Association
Laura Rhys MS, MW, La Trompette
Sayaka Watanabe, The Arts Club

About Gekkeikan and Sake
Sake is a versatile beverage enjoyed at a range of serving temperatures. With the exception of namazake, namachozo-shu and certain premium sakes, which must be served chilled or over ice, many sake varieties may be served chilled, room temperature or warmed.

The range and quality of sake is largely determined by the rice polishing ratio, variety of rice, variety of yeast and alcohol percentage. Depending on these factors, sake may be fruity or full-bodied, dry or sweet. When labelling sake, classification is determined by the rice polishing ratio, brewing technique, ingredients or a combination thereof.

Gekkeikan is one of the world’s oldest family-owned sake companies founded in 1637 in Fushimi, a district of Japan’s former capital of Kyoto. The crown of laurel (“Gekkeikan” in Japanese) was adopted as the company’s corporate logo in 1905. As a traditional symbol of victory and merit, it was chosen to represent Gekkeikan’s achievement of becoming one of Japan’s leading sakes. http://www.gekkeikan.co.jp/english/