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  • Writer's pictureChomp Magazine

Fun with That Thai Sommelier Jay - Thanakorn Bottorff

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Jay - Thanakorn Bottorff, Thai Sommelier
Jay - Thanakorn Bottorff, Thai Sommelier at Inddee Restaurant

Earlier, Chomp has been to Inddee, a fine-dining Indian restaurant. Not only did the food impress us, but also the wines paired with each course. Indian food is complex, full of different spices and more diverse than most people often think. Therefore, finding the right wine to pair with it is tricky and requires the expertise of a skilled sommelier with a highly refined sense of smell and taste. Jay or Thanakorn Bottorff is a Thai sommelier who took this job and excels.

At first glance, Jay seems like a typical sommelier - well-mannered, polite and soft-spoken. However, there is also a quirky vibe about him. Due to his ability to pull off the perfect wine and food pairing and his intriguing character, Chomp decided to have a chinwag with him.

Jay - Thanakorn Bottorff, Thai Sommelier
Jay with a glass of wine in his hand

Jay has been in the industry for eleven years. He was inspired by a book called Eyes into the Wine World fifteen years ago while on summer break from Dusit Thani College.

"I'm not the kind of person who gets bored easily." He told Chomp, "After reading that book, I realised that being a sommelier for 10 or 20 years, you still need to study and learn new things every day. That attracted me to the wine world and becoming a sommelier. As a sommelier, there are no set rules to follow because wine laws and trends constantly change."

Thai Sommelier Jay - Thanakorn Bottorff
Wine pouring

This Thai sommelier is certified with the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) and Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 3. Passing these tests requires hard work. However, there is a significant difference between them. According to Jay, CMS is more rigid because it requires memorising every book since you cannot predict what will be on the test paper. On the other hand, WSET is more convenient since you can find a specific book as a guideline.

Before becoming a sommelier, Jay started as a waiter at Elements restaurant, now Elements, Inspired by Ciel Bleu, in The Okura Prestige Bangkok, where he met mentor Marc Bittner.

"Marc helped me a lot, teaching me about the wine and helping me with studying for WSET. I passed my WSET level 2 when working at The Elements. After two years there, I moved on to become a Sommelier at L'Aterlier de Joël Robuchon Bangkok (Now defunct). During that time, I met my second mentor, Benoit Bigot. Benoit taught me about the history and modern culture of wine and wine pairing. His pairing skill was spot on." Jay praised his mentors with gratitude and adoration, "After working at Robuchon Bangkok for a year, I was promoted to Premiere Sommelier and passed my CMS certification the same year. It was a difficult journey as I had to work from 9 in the morning to midnight while memorising all the wine knowledge to pass the CMS."

Thai Sommelier Jay - Thanakorn Bottorff
Jay smelling a wine

After completing his tenure at Robuchon, he was recruited by Vladimir Kojic to join the Gaggan Group. While working there, he spent 3-4 months as part of the task force responsible for the opening of Sühring. Once his task was completed, he returned to working full-time at Gaggan. However, his journey didn't end there.

"Six years ago, I moved to Macau because I got fed up with the wine culture in Thailand." He facepalmed, shook his head in disappointment, and sighed, then proceeded to continue, "A friend of mine who was Head Sommelier at Galaxy Hotel Macau told me that one of the hotel's restaurants, 8½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA, needed a Sommelier. Being fed up wasn't the only reason why I moved to Macau. At that time, my friend's sommelier team was praised as one of the strongest in Asia. They had group study every day, which greatly helped with the exams, and most of the team had already passed their WSET level 2 and 3, CMS and Advance CMS. It was a good time, tough and boring - mixed feelings for me." Chuckled he. "I spent a year in Macau before returning to work at the Gaggan Group, but this time at Restaurant Gaa. It was an interesting experience working with Chef Garima Arora, whose food is incredibly creative. After that, I was recruited to join the opening team at Capella Bangkok, where I stayed for four years."

Thai Sommelier Jay - Thanakorn Bottorff
Inddee's Head Chef Sachin Poojary and his team

Chomp was intrigued by Jay's move from a renowned hotel chain like Capella Bangkok to join Inddee. He told us that he wanted to take on a new challenge.

"Having worked with big chains and groups for a considerable time, I have gained a lot of experience. Therefore, I decided to start a new project that is completely fresh and allows me to put my own spin on it. I want to set the standards I deem appropriate without being restricted by the guidelines of any brand or corporation - something that truly reflects my vision," He continued.

For a while, wine pairing has been popular amongst Asian restaurants, so Chomp asked Jay's opinion on the expansion of wine pairing in Asian cuisine. Jay expressed his appreciation for the availability of options and choices that enhance the overall dining experience. He believes this trend is good for Asian restaurants and their customers.

Thai Sommelier Jay - Thanakorn Bottorff
Jay selecting a wine

Inddee, Jay's current workplace, is a restaurant in that equation because it's an Indian restaurant. With his experience with world cuisine and wine and wine pairing expertise, we would like to know the differences between pairing wine with Western and Indian foods.

"I find pairing wine with Indian food is more challenging compared to European food," He giggled, "But when I say challenging, I actually mean fun because Indian cuisine has more herbs and spices, resulting in a wider range of aromas and flavours, as well as spiciness. Indian cuisine is known for its diversity. Each region has its own unique set of ingredients and spices that make it stand out. When pairing wine with Indian food, I prefer to choose a wine that complements the dish's flavour. In my opinion, the ideal wine pairing for Indian cuisine is one that has a character that links to the dish's dominant character or can enhance the flavours of the dish. By doing so, the wine can bring out the best in the food, creating a truly satisfying culinary experience."

Thai Sommelier Jay - Thanakorn Bottorff
Jay and Inddee's Head Chef Sachin Poojary working together

Working as a restaurant sommelier, one must work with a chef. Jay simply said that respecting the chef is the only way to maintain a healthy, harmonious work relationship with a chef and achieve a wine pairing list for a menu.

"In a restaurant, food is the protagonist and the chef is the mastermind behind the food creations, but sommeliers act as their reinforcements," He highlighted, "We work closely with the chefs to understand the flavours and ingredients in each dish and then curate a selection of wines that will complement and elevate those flavours. In addition to selecting wines, sommeliers are also responsible for presenting them to the chef for tasting. This tasting is important as it allows the chef to experience how the wines complement their dishes and give their approval for the pairing. However, it is not the role of a sommelier to ask the chef to change their recipes to suit the wine. The only place where a sommelier can ask a chef to make food to suit the wine is in a wine bar. Never in a restaurant! If a sommelier has the audacity to ask a restaurant chef to do that, they are not doing your job."

Jay - Thanakorn Bottorff, Thai Sommelier
Inddee's wine cellar

These days, natural wine has received mixed reviews, whereas a few years back, it was prevalent. Chomp was curious about the reason for this declination. Jay's response was priceless.

"I have no beef with natural wine. There are plenty of natural wines that I enjoy. Many of the wines I pair with Inndee's food are natural wines. However, I have met some customers who reject natural wine because they had bad experiences. The problem of sour natural wine can be caused by incorrect logistics, lousy storage, premature selling/serving, or a combination of these factors, rather than by winemaking technique." He rubbed his forehead and took a deep breath before continuing. "When natural wine reached the Thai market, only a few places served it. Natural wine is not meant to be treated as a mass product. Regardless, like everything new in Thailand, it became trendy. People became hyped about it because some people wanted to follow the trend. When the demand is high, some business people get greedy and want to take advantage of that. Some distributors import natural wine with unfit logistics, causing the wine to turn bad. If the distributors work with responsible logistics, the reason behind natural wine faults could be the storage. Sometimes, storage is packed, resulting in improper storage. People should keep in mind that natural wine doesn't have a stabiliser, making it sensitive to temperature. Some distributors sell natural wine prematurely. Certain natural wines require a period of settling before they can be properly enjoyed. These physical reasons cause a bad rep in natural wine, but the less direct reason is over-hyping."

Jay - Thanakorn Bottorff, Thai Sommelier
Inddee dining counter

Since natural wine's popularity is decreasing, Chomp would like his opinion on the future trend for the wine world.

"I must admit that I am not proficient in predicting future trends. Regardless of the future trend, people should be aware that over-hype can be a downfall, not only in the wine industry but in every other industry. History has shown that anything too trendy only lasts for a while. It never sustains."

It was a good experience for Chomp to sit and chat with Jay. This Thai sommelier's expertise, openness and quirkiness make the conversation really engaging.

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