Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Tommy Lam

It is always nice being able to meet inspiring people and for some the name of the following sommeliers might not immediatly ring a bell, but his accomplishments travel wide and far. Please meet Tommy Lam.

Tommy Lam, who was born and raised in Singapore, was and still is a very ambitious man in every sense of the word. That’s the least we can say! He actually started to get in touch with wine as a “requirement that initially made him follow (and certify) an MBA in wine management in Bordeaux, but eventually turned into a passion . When he returned home after his MBA many people started asking him if he could teach them a few things about wine… at that moment he realized he didn’t know anything as he had only learned about the wine business, not about how to make wine, about viticulture, about service, so he went back and studied some more. Over the years he obtained many certification like for Sherry wine educator, CSWE Wine program director, Court of Master sommeliers, specialist in wine, specialist in spirits, Sake Sommelier (advanced), Whiskey ambassador and the list goes on and on. All to be able to educated other people and because his hunger to knowledge became bigger.

In 2006 next to founding the Sommelier association of Singapore, he also designed a 3 level Sommelier course program in Singapore (WiSDOM I-II-III) that even got rolled-out to Hong Kong and China. He was also the person to bring the Court of Master Sommeliers Program to Hong Kong and China, and who founded the China and Singapore National Sommelier Competition . Although he still continues supporting the programs he started in Singapore and Hong Kong, he now focuses on his education program he started in China. A progam that in 4 year grew into trainings that cover 60+ cities with more than 2000 young beverage servers from 200+ 5 Stars hotels and TOP restaurants (such as Joël Robuchon, Hakkasan and Jean George) participating in his trainings (that are free), followed by 11 regional competition, and 23 teams that won seats in the semi-final and final in Ningxia. 4 of these teams won prizes including visits to Bordeaux, Roussillon, and Austria. So we can say without doubt that Tommy Lam has influenced and will keep influencing many sommeliers and most importantly give them opportunities to expand themselves.

Tommy Lam is a man with a mission and that is willing to dedicate all his time to make this mission succeed . We can only encourage that!!

What is your favorite wine region to work with? I do not really have a particular region I prefer working with , but I like working with wine regions around the world that like to welcome anyone who is interested to work with them, so, no region that I had or faced difficulties working with.

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you? Care about business and care about customers. Sommeliers are supposed to be professionally knowledgeable, and capable to run the business of beverages services and sales.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued? Generally yes, you often see a sommelier’s role taken over by another person working in the restaurant such as a F & B Director, The Restaurant Manager, and anyone who is available. Mostly because restaurant owners don’t understand what benefits a sommelier could bring to you restaurant.

When and how did you get the passion for wine? It was when I started a restaurant (French Bistro) in Singapore. At the restaurant I was required to serve wine, but I didn’t know anything about it. That’s where I started learning and am still doing that today. You could say a requirement turned into a passion for life.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world? A person that would without doubt fit this description would be Gerard Basset who holds the 3 top qualifications there in the world of wine and at age of 60 he still fights to win. He also opened a restaurant to survive while teaching/coaching younger sommeliers. Lots of respect for him

Another person I admire is Brian Julyan, he gave almost whole his life to The Court of Master Sommeliers, tirelessly still towing his bags around the world to run and safe-guarding the programs. This is what passion does to a person.

What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes? When teaching, one uses ‘traditional’ principles, fish with white, beef with red, sweet for dessert or spicy, and so on; but in real life, whatever comes by and fits together (how weird it might sometimes be), harmony is important.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why? Australia, easier to understand than other countries or regions, affordable and also easy to find the same wine when home.

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste? I never will make any “ sacrifice “ to taste a wine; if it is meant for you, go for it; if it is not meant for you, just wait, or missed that, so what?

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies? That would be 7 or 8 years ago at the Gastronomic University in Piedmont. I really had a blast and a memory I will cherish my whole life.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..? Try to cook a meal yourself which I have yet to do, might be I should now, or soon :-)

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