Pathways: Jiachen Lu, assistant head sommelier, Dinings SW3

06 September 2023 by
Pathways: Jiachen Lu, assistant head sommelier, Dinings SW3

After just 12 months in hospitality, the assistant head sommelier of Japanese restaurant Dinings SW3 in London's Knightsbridge is already hitting the heights

What was your first job?

I started my first job in Chicago after graduating from law school and passing the Illinois bar exam. I had my first taste of a criminal jury trial straight after. Clearly, it was not the hospitality industry.

Did you do any work experience in the industry at a young age?

The closest I got to the industry was applying for a summer position at a fast-food chain when in junior high school – I was rejected for being underage.

What initially attracted you to working in hospitality?

When I paused my legal career in 2018, I studied in the wine, gastronomy and management diploma programme at Le Cordon Bleu London with master sommelier Matthieu Longuère. At that time, I pictured myself helping in the wineries in Sonoma, California, to learn more about vinification, or working for wine distributors or educational institutes.

After obtaining the diploma, I returned to the US but did not have the chance to intern at any winery. Instead, I did a three-month sommelier course at the Little Nell hotel in Aspen, Colorado. Serving and talking about wine to guests on a daily basis in the fine-dining and casual restaurants of the hotel was a very important experience for my career. Not only did I realise that I could work as a sommelier and be comfortable on the floor, I also had a better understanding of the hard work associated with every position in hospitality.

I then went back to London to do a nine-month cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu London. While interning in the kitchen at Michel Roux Jr's Le Gavroche in early 2020, I passed the certified sommelier exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers (Europe) and started a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) diploma in wines. Although my wine career was suspended due to Covid, I kept learning while waiting for the right opportunity to appear.

How did you make the transition into a job in hospitality?

In April 2022 I was back in London for the WSET diploma. One day my chef friend told me that Angelo Altobelli, then beverage director at Dinings SW3, would like to meet me after she had told him about my passion for wine. I stopped by without expecting a job interview of any kind. After one hour of chatting about my journey into wine, he asked: "When can you start?" Five months later, I put the sommelier pin on my jacket and embarked on my first official job in hospitality. The transition sounds spontaneous, but I knew that it was the right decision.

If you want to take good care of your guests, take good care of yourself first

Talk us through your career in hospitality to where you are now

Since starting in September 2022, I have been promoted to assistant head sommelier. The head sommelier position is currently vacant, so I have the chance to manage the wine programme and gain some valuable experience.

During these 10 months in hospitality, I have been part of the winning team at the national final of the Copa Jerez and will represent the UK at the international final in October 2023. Also, I was recently awarded the 2023 Golden Vines Wine Scholar Guild Scholarship. I am indeed very lucky!

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in hospitality?

Reaching for a balance between work, study and my personal life – I am working on it!

What advice would you give someone new to the industry?

If you want to take good care of your guests, take good care of yourself first. This includes maintaining physical and mental health to cope with long work hours and stress as well as constantly improving your knowledge.

Would you recommend a career in hospitality to friends and family?

Only to the committed and hard-working. A job in hospitality might be easy but a career in it is hard and requires a lot of dedication as well as support from friends and family.

What are your career goals?

The short-term one is passing the advanced sommelier exam. I don't have specific long-term career goals. In fact, my journey in the hospitality industry has been full of serendipity. If I keep focus and work hard, I will land somewhere fantastic in the wine world!

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