Yukari Sakamoto 坂本ゆかり
Born in Tokyo and raised on the shores of Lake Wobegon, Yukari Sakamoto trained as a chef and baker at the French Culinary Institute. Following that she trained as a sommelier at The American Sommelier Association and worked as a sommelier at the New York Bar and Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. She also worked at Takashimaya’s flagship store in Nihonbashi as a sommelier in the saké department of the depachika. While at Takashimaya she passed the exam to be a shōchū advisor. Shōchū is a distilled spirit native to Japan. Yukari apprenticed at Coco Farm and Winery in Ashikaga, Tochigi. Yukari also offers market tours with Elizabeth Andoh’s Taste of Culture. Yukari’s writing can be found in Food & Wine, Saveur, The Japan Times, and several other publications. She is a regular contributor to Metropolis magazine in Tokyo.
Let’s chat to Yukari now and find out a little more about her…
How long have you been working in the Food & Beverage industry?
How long did you work as a sommelier in the sake department at Nihonbashi store?
I was there for two years.
What is a “Shochu advisor”?
Basically a shochu ‘sommelier’.
What do you have to do to become a “shochu advisor”?
You have to complete the following: studies, a written exam, and a blind tasting, all done in Japanese. Part of the studies include learning about regional cuisine as it goes hand-in-hand with shochu.
Can you describe your typical work day whilst you were working as an apprentice at Coco Farm & Winery?
It was the best experience for anyone who loves wine. My apprenticeship was in the autumn, so a day there would include picking some grapes, crushing the grapes, and connecting many hoses from the crusher to tanks.
What would be your suggestion to the public in choosing shochu?
Look for honkaku shochu, single-distilled shochu. Maybe start out with a kome jochu (rice shochu) like Shichida or Torikai. Have it on the rocks with water, about 50/50 shochu/water.
What are the different types/styles of shochu?
Major types: imo – sweet potato, mugi – barley, kokuto – black sugar, kome – rice, and awamori – jasmine rice.
You are offering market tours, which market is your favorite? And why?
I love the depachika, the basement food floors in department stores as there is everything under one roof, from seafood, marbled wagyu beef, sake, shochu, to a colorful display of prepared foods, both sweet and savory.
What is your preference in food: fruit, vegetable, fish or meat?
Vegetables! I love vegetables and Japan offers a wide variety throughout the year.
If you can pick one flavour to describe yourself, what would it be and why?
Yuzu – it’s ‘outgoing’ and hard to forget.
What is your favorite flavor to cook with?
Anything tart and acidic. Japan has great citrus like yuzu, kabosu, and sudachi which all brighten up any dish (or cocktail).
Thanks Yukari! We really appreciate your time! For more on Yukari – please follow her on Twitter!