As sommeliers continue to pop up all across Bangkok, we chat with some of our city’s leading culinary and wine institutions about learning the trade and how to get a start.
“What we can see today in the differences between certified [and non-certified] bartenders is the certified bartenders become more valuable,” says Nick Mober, Administrative Manager of Asian Professional Beverage Academy. Nick, whose food and beverage career began in 1987 as a bartender at Hotel Continental in Sweden, has two decades of experience in hospitality, including 10 years at Yaowarat’s Hotel Royal as general manager. Once upon a time hotels would manage the buying and selling of wines and “leave the rest up to the guests,” he told us. Nowadays, that’s not enough. More and more people are interested in knowing the background of their wine.
Wine curiosity isn’t simply left at the table however, rising interests have opened the market for more educational institutions and in turn provide more training opportunities for not only enthusiasts but hotel and catering staff alike. Since 2017 Bangkok has seen the opening of Asian Professional Beverage Academy (APBA) a branch under Bangkok Beer & Beverages (BB&B) and Culineur School of Culinary Arts and Entrepreneurship, a recent collaboration between Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF) and Lausanne Hospitality Consulting.
On the opening of new schools, Le Cordon Bleu Dusit Culinary School wine instructor Christophe Mercier said there’s no shortage of students. Despite the rising number of wine courses popping up, his school has seen a steady increase in applicants. “It seems the market is able to absorb every new player,” he said.
“More people want to be educated, so they self educate,” said Nick. In fact, many of the students at both Le Cordon Bleu and APBA are not bartenders or hotel staff. Students range from wine enthusiasts to bloggers, importers and university students who aren’t yet in the industry. All are usually self-funded. This was something Nick noticed, so to satisfy curious staff Hotel Royal began trading wine and education courses in exchange for extended contracts–a win-win deal for both the staff and the hotel.
Education varies widely at all three schools from internationally recognised certificates to beverage management. At Le Cordon Bleu, a 45-hour wine studies course sees students learning to appreciate wine regions, sharpening their sense of taste and learning to differentiate all kinds of wine. APBA, on the other hand, takes students through the international curriculum of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) which examines grapes and characteristics, storage and service, principles of pairing and how to describe wine. At newcomer Culineur, the focus is more beverage management, efficient service and entrepreneurship, taught as part of a module which makes up their diploma.
While the number of educational institutions grows, it’s important to measure the value these courses bring. Whether skills learned in theory can be transitioned into practice is a hot question, as is securing jobs for students who’ve invested in these courses and their own knowledge.
For now, schools like APBA are finding ways to connect with their former students and track career progression post course. Nick notes while the value of courses in Thailand hasn’t been calculated just yet, “In France we saw a growth of 13% from wine education alone but that was 10-15 years ago.” Having confident bartenders whose knowledge extends past the label does have its benefits, he says, “customers will recognise this and they will see the level in skills and profession.”