Elliot Faber, beverage director at Yardbird, Ronin, and Sunday's Grocery restaurants in Hong Kong, is a judge in the Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA).
Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Elliot Faber moved to Hong Kong in 2011 to be part of the opening team of Yardbird. In March of 2013, Yardbird opened a second restaurant, Ronin, and then Sunday’s Grocery in May of 2014. Elliot works as the Beverage Director for all three, training staff and holding tastings regularly as well as overseeing their selection of Japanese whisky, sake, shochu, umeshu and wine. Elliot’s current role evolved out of years of working in the wine and sake industry in Canada, where he started working for restaurants and wine shops after graduating from the University of Calgary. Elliot is certified in both wine and sake. This summer, Elliot will publish his first book on sake and continues to embrace his passion for wine and all Japanese beverages from sake to Japanese whisky. Elliot has been a Decanter Asia Wine Awards judge since the launch of the competition in 2012.
In September 2012,spoke to Elliot Faber ahead of the first Decanter Asia Wine Awards, which took place in Hong Kong later that month.
Tell us a little about yourself – Where are you based and where do you work?
I have worked all sides of the wine industry from on/off premises wine sales to restaurants and retail and I’m now based at Yardbird in Hong Kong. My friend of over 20 years was already here with plans for Yardbird, and I came out last year to help with the opening. My time in Hong Kong was meant to be temporary but I fell in love with our work and this city so I am still here.
How did you first become interested in wine?
When I was at university I held two jobs to support tuition and my desire to travel in the summer when I wasn’t studying. As I travelled, particularly through Europe, I noticed how wine was bringing people together at the dinner table, at the park or cafes, really anywhere. It was as important a part of the meal as bread and water. I started to participate in this bond of people and wine and noticed as I travelled how the wine differed to match the people and the food of wherever I was. I found it very intriguing and wanted to study it more; later finding that the more I studied, the more there is to learn.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your job role?
One person cannot do everything alone. I think that if you want to succeed, you need to be confident in your strengths but you most also recognise your weaknesses and accept the help of trusted others to maximise the quality of your own work.
Is there a person or producer you particularly admire within the wine industry?
There are definitely a few people but someone who immediately comes to mind is Giovanni Almondo from Piedmont. It is the combination of his academic achievement at the University of Torino, his serving as Mayor for his home town of Monta d’Albà, his work with some of my favourite grapes (Nebbiolo and Arneis to name two) and his dedication to family and the family business that all garner my admiration. He does a lot with twenty-four hours in a day and that is always inspiring!
Which wines are you drinking at home at the moment?
It varies, I’m excited to try anything at least once. It could be (British Columbia) Okanagan Gamay, Sparkling Aglianico Rose or 2000 Gaja Barbaresco. Yesterday was Eric Rodez Cuvée de Crayères Champagne. It was breakfast and the eggs that accompanied the Rodez were so perfectly cooked; crispy on the bottom while the yolk still had a rareness at its core. The Rodez was elegant but it had enough texture and body to pair very well with the eggs. Come to think of it, Rodez is also a Mayor like Almondo was, except in this case he is the Mayor of Ambonnay. Maybe there is something for politicians in the vineyard…
What are your favourite food and wine combinations?
I have had a lot of fun with Yardbird because the food is so delicious and the flavours are so concise. For example, we get very high quality sashimi-grade uni (sea urchin) from Hokkaido, served with toasted panko (japanese bread crumbs), a little bit of yuzu juice, some sea salt and raw seaweed. It is such a natural dish to be paired with our Champagne by the glass, Besserat Cuvée des Moines Brut. The marriage of the bubbles with the texture of the uni, the toasted panko married to the hazelnut notes that gently resonate through the Champagne and the yuzu juice with the wine’s fresh acidity. It is one of our most popular pairings and always a pleasant surprise for our guests.
I have to say, as a whole and from an educational standpoint, I love to play with any number of wine and food combinations. Given the right circumstance, I’m not bothered when something doesn’t work because it justifies the science and theory that we spend so much time studying.
Who was your most memorable customer, and why?
In Canmore, Alberta, Canada, I was a partner in the relocating and reopening of a restaurant. A famous local food critic was already a fan of the restaurant. His first evening in the newly relocated restaurant was my first time meeting and serving him. I paired everything the chef brought out to him with wines from the first wine list I ever had 100% control over. He’s been a food critic around the world for about as long as I have been alive and he gave his first and only 10-out-of-10 on a meal I served and paired for him.
It was particularly rewarding because he rarely drinks but appreciated what that the wines brought to the food, given careful thought and explanation. I also have to say that the chef was (and still is) absolutely brilliant but the reason he was such a memorable customer was because as my career progressed and the years have moved on, he has become a friend who has offered sound advice, supported other professional aspirations of mine and eaten at most other restaurants I have had a hand in, except for Yardbird here in Hong Kong, of course!
Is there a strong wine scene in your city?
My initial motivation for coming to Hong Kong was for the wine scene. The market is lucrative, you can bring in almost anything without paying duty and with very little red tape. It has been so easy to bring in whatever I wanted to sell and have been fortunate enough to meet some great suppliers.
Have you noticed any new trends emerging? What are customers asking for at the moment?
I am a huge fan of Italian wine, particularly of Italian wines north of Tuscany, but really I appreciate the terroir and diversity across the whole country. As I go to other restaurants and see what is on offer from various importers, I feel like I am not the only one. I think the acceptance of not just Italian wines but wines from around the world is growing and that Hong Kong is becoming less Bordeaux-centric than it seemed to be not too long ago.
Finally, what are you looking forward to most about judging at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards?
I look forward to the mystery of what’s in front of me. The less I know about the wine, the more exciting it will be to assess and give scores to the wines. I feel privileged to have my opinion considered alongside other wine professionals, and to be sharing the common goal of giving credit where it is due to various wines from around the world.