Hakkasan, the global chain of Chinese restaurants, has been awarded the Riedel Trophy for the WSET Educator of the Year.
WSET – the Wine and Spirits Education Trust – has given the trophy to three winners: Hakkasan shares the honour with Beijing-based Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting and the Napa Wine Academy in California.
Christine Parkinson, group head of wine at Hakkasan, told Imbibe she was delighted with the award, not least because they never really consider themselves formal wine educators. 'At Hakkasan Group we only train our own staff, and had not expected any recognition for this.'
Hakkasan is an approved provider of WSET courses. Its training programme differs significantly from other international chains, however. For a start, it’s not just sommeliers and wine staff who go through WSET training, but all guest-facing staff.
'This means that frequently we're training – and enthusing – people who never intended to go into wine, and many who had actually never touched alcohol before coming to work for us,' Parkinson told Imbibe.
She cited the example of the group's head of wine in Asia, James Teng, who ten years ago was a student in London studying for a masters in urban planning and working part-time as a waiter at Hakkasan.
'He started out on the basic WSET first certificate, and progressed up through the grades. He went out to Shanghai as head sommelier, and now is now educating Chinese staff there.'
A key part of the Hakkasan approach to wine (and sake) education is that some people go on to become WSET educators and then take their wine knowledge back to their own country.
This is particularly important in Hakkasan’s case, as the group – which started in 2001 – now has 12 venues around the world, from the original (now Michelin-starred) London restaurant in Hanway Place, Soho, to Mumbai, Jakarta, Saudi Arabia, Miami, New York and other major centres.
Parkinson added, 'I think the reason WSET likes us is that we’re spreading wine appreciation around the world in an organic way. We’re enthusing people who never set out to learn about wine – we are creating wine lovers.'
The other two winners, Fongyee Walker of Dragon Phoenix and Christian Oggenfuss of Napa Valley Wine Academy, were equally excited to win.
'This award inspires us to continue to develop our WSET teaching and the furthering of wine education throughout mainland China,' Walker said.
Oggenfuss said, 'We have always held that excellence in education is the cornerstone to a higher level of hospitality, sales, and service, elevating standards throughout the wine industry and we look forward to sharing this award with our students, instructors, and the global wine community.'
Hakkasan has won numerous awards, including Imbibe's Wine List of the Year twice. Christine Parkinson was named Imbibe's Personality of the Year in 2011