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Erika Gauvin - Atlanta based hospitality professional, aiming to Sake Sommelier

How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.

I’ve been in the food industry for almost five years now. I started as a server in a small, family-owned Japanese restaurant. I am half Japanese, so I have always gravitated towards Japanese cuisine. Over time, I have gained more interest in sake because it pairs well with the food I am serving. I recently just left my server management position to care for my mental and physical health. I still love the industry, and I loved my job, but I was feeling burnt out. I need to take a break to feel the love for the job again.

Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine (sake)?

A few years ago, I took a sake adviser course, which started my interest in sake. But my sake knowledge expanded around July/August 2020 in my most recent restaurant job. At my restaurant, we had omakase dinners, which are up to the chef nigiri course dinners. Guests had the option to have drink pairings with their dinner. I enjoyed doing the pairings, especially if they wanted to focus on sake.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

When people don’t know what kind of sake they want, I ask for their preferences, and I hit the nail on the head. People loving my recommendation is one of the little joys in my life.

Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry?

It rarely happens now, but when I worked in restaurants with more Japanese clientele, several Japanese male guests would interact with me in more inappropriate ways. The guests glorified me because they loved that I was fluent in Japanese, so they felt more comfortable around me. As well as the “hafu” archetype, which means mixed, is idealized in Japanese culture, so the men tend to be more intrigued by me. I have developed a thicker skin to where I don’t allow this behavior to go unnoticed anymore.

When it comes to wine (sake), what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by advocating for diversity and inclusion?

The sake industry is primarily male-dominated. There are very few female sake brew masters and even fewer women-run breweries. Therefore, when women claim to have expertise in sake, it is usually taken less seriously. In general, I believe women in the industry allow for more beautiful relationships and create diverse flavor profiles. I think women will bring a new perspective while upholding traditional values. At the moment, I think the sake industry will have to focus on gender equality. Then we can tackle cultural diversity and allow the industry to expand outside of Japan. There are a few sake breweries outside of Japan, but the quality is not comparable to Japan yet.

What changes do you hope to see in the wine (sake) industry in the next five years?

I would love to see more sustainability in the industry. Few sake breweries are carbon neutral or negative as of now. It is due to the amount of water it takes to create a quality sake.

What does equality in the wine (sake) industry look like to you?

Once there is more sake female brewmasters, more female sake sommeliers, more female-run restaurant businesses in general. I always believe that strong women will support other women to be strong as well. It’s a chain reaction.

In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine (sake)?

When I am being knowledgeable and educating others, as time goes on, people have come to me to ask what I think is good or what I would recommend. It has given me the confidence to learn more about sake to provide better recommendations and attempt to become a sake sommelier.

What message do you have for anyone now entering the wine (sake) profession?

Have fun with it; talk to people; ask them questions. The Japanese first developed sake to be social with others, allowing that original purpose to shine through; it makes the process fun.

What other industry heroes do you admire and why?

There’s not a particular person that I look up to in the industry. I have always appreciated my servers, bartenders, hosts, server assistants, chefs, line cooks, dishwashers the most. They are the ones that keep the whole restaurant process flowing. During the pandemic, I tried to help all the positions as much as possible, giving me intense appreciation to my coworkers. All of the jobs are hard, and it has been even harder these recent times, but they are also the ones that make the job better.
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