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Odette’s Lesley Liu named Singapore’s Best Sommelier in French Wines

After an intense competition, Lesley Liu was crowned Singapore Best Sommelier in French Wines 2023. Nimmi Malhotra reports from the judge’s table.

Odette's Lesley Liu named Singapore's Best Sommelier in French Wines

Lesley Liu, head sommelier at three Michelin-starred French restaurant Odette has emerged as the winner in a Singapore sommelier competition.

The Best sommelier in French Wines award is one of the longest-running sommelier events in Asia and is hosted by the French Ministry of Agriculture and Sopexa-Hopscotch.

Each year, one winner is selected from key Asian markets, including Greater China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore. The country winners compete in the Asian grand finale for the Best Sommelier in French Wines Asia title.

Earlier this month, at Sofitel hotel, the four Singapore finalists came together from varied restaurant backgrounds. In addition to Liu, Sanjay Kumar Nayak, who finished runner up, hails from the famed 67 Pall Mall; fellow competitor Benedict Pang leads the wine programme at modern Chinese restaurant Mott 32 and Wyman Kok brought his expertise from Zeniya, a fine dining Japanese restaurant.

The afternoon session was conducted by Richard Krystkowiak, Hopstoch-Sopexa managing director, as a panel of eight judges assessed the candidates through six timed workshops comprising service skills, wine knowledge, blind tasting, cocktails, and cheese service.

Odette's Lesley Liu named Singapore's Best Sommelier in French Wines

The sommeliers completed most of their wine workshops, including decanting a magnum in record time, but the cocktail service trumped them with unfamiliar spirit labels. The cheese service workshop proved yet another hurdle with some uneven cheese cuts and mixed-up orders.

From the judge’s viewpoint, all candidates showed a strong knowledge of French wines, a mainstay of most Asian wine lists, but in the end, Liu clinched the title with her unflappable demeanour.

She managed to win over the judges with her impeccable service standards and retained her sense of humour despite the competition pressure. The judges credited her for her strong communication and systematic planning of tasks despite the time constraints.

Born in Taiwan, Liu started with Odette in 2019 as assistant sommelier and has risen through the ranks of head sommelier in less than five years. Her recipe for success, as she later shared with db, was “enjoying the process, embracing the positives and overcoming my fears during the competition”.

Odette's Lesley Liu named Singapore's Best Sommelier in French Wines

This will be the second time Liu will compete in the semi-finals for the Best Sommelier in French Wines Asia title, as she was the Singapore winner in 2021. Preparations for the November finals, she says, have already begun. “The preparation is quite hard as it’s about everything of France, not only beverages but also cheese, speciality cuisine for certain regions. I study them by regions and maps. It helps a lot.”

Along with Liu, runner-up Sanjay Kumar Nayak will represent Singapore in the semi-finals. From there, the top three candidates will compete in the finals to be held on 30 November in Singapore.

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