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Sake Samurai Elliot Faber Chats Sake, Japanese Cuisine, and Hong Kong
by: Rubin Verebes
May 17, 2022
Toronto-born, Hong Konger Elliot Faber knows his sake. The founding beverage director for powerhouses F&B brands Yardbird and RONIN, founder of Sunday’s Distribution and Sake Central, and the brains behind AWA AWA and HATCH has mastered a dedicated relationship with Japan’s favourite beverage.
The Beat Asia sat down with the friendly WSET Educator and Sake Samurai to explore his story in the city, his love affair with sake and Japanese food, and the future for his F&B brands.
Thanks for sitting down with us, Elliot. Tell me about your background and career history.
"I was born in Toronto and grew up in Calgary, Canada. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life after completing university, so I became a sommelier because I loved how food and drink varied depending on where you are in the world, but they always bring people together!"
What drew you to Hong Kong and what is so special about this city to you?
"I was invited by friends from Calgary to open and manage the beverage program at Yardbird Hong Kong in 2011. It was a very different world at first, but we became busy, successful, and ultimately those early years set the path for the rest of my career. I loved the energy of Hong Kong."
"Coming from Canada, there are only so many eyeballs to watch what you are doing and only so many people to collaborate with. In Hong Kong, someone is always watching and if you have ambition, there is an endless flow of passionate people to share ideas with and learn from."
What began your interest and subsequent exploration of Sake?
"I first learned about sake in Vancouver, Canada where one of the first sake breweries outside of Japan are located: The Artisan Sake Maker. It is here where I met Masa Shiroki and he taught me the basics of sake. When I came to Hong Kong, I had a good foundation and as Yardbird got busier and I kept selling more sake, my interest and dedication to the industry grew too!"
What is a Sake Samurai?
"Sake Samurai is an award of recognition from the Japan National Brewer's Association Junior Council. A panel gets together and contributors to the sake industry are nominated for the award by individual panel members. Lucky for me, I was awarded this honour after publishing my book entitled SAKE."
What is Sunday Spirits and what compelled you to co-found this project?
"Sunday's Spirits was founded by myself, Matt Abergel, and Lindsay Jang. They are the same people who invited me to work at Yardbird and they are family to me. To this day, we are always together, sharing ideas, having a laugh and a drink or two or three!"
What success have you seen opening Sake Central? Has it pushed more Hong Kongers to adopt the drink?
"Sake Central exists to showcase the world of sake in a way that can bring accessibility to enthusiasts and newbies alike. We want to showcase the diversity and versatility of sake through events, education, retail, and a great menu. Our current chef, Vincent Ladislao carries that vision by working into our menu a mix of traditional and modern ideas and flavours."
When you opened AWA AWA, what did you envision the restaurant would offer in Hong Kong’s F&B space?
"AWA AWA takes the dream of Sake Central one step further by showcasing a small subsection of the sake world: Awamori and a prefecture that deserves way more recognition than it gets: Okinawa!"
"A true fusion of culture and history, Okinawa is not always understood so AWA AWA was opened to celebrate that culture and bring it to the front of the stage, right on Peel street in Central!"
Why did you write SAKE and what prompted you to explore the drink in a more detailed level for a print publication?
"There is so much about sake that we don't know - so much that is unregulated or can't be understood by looking at the label. In that respect, the wine world is lightyears ahead. SAKE was written to focus on what we DO know and highlight the artisans of sake. Learning their stories, along with a basic, concrete introduction into the world of sake, shochu and Awamori was my way of guiding readers to learn tangible aspects of sake."
"I hope to encourage people to discover their favourite makers and dive deeper into what makes each sake taste the way it does. Most important: There is no real correlation between price and quality, just price and processing. This means that price doesn't drive the quality of sake and my job (our job at Sake Central) is show that to guests, one by one."
What is the future for Elliot Faber in Hong Kong, sake, and food?
"Hong Kong is home to me. It's location and (pre-COVID-19) ease of getting in and out has made it so attractive not only to me but the millions of tourists and residents alike who treat Hong Kong as a key hub."
"It will be very interesting to see how things develop in the months ahead and I do believe Hong Kong people have a very sophisticated palate. I look forward to creating food and sake memories with everyone who visits and lives here - the party is just starting!"
Thanks for the chat, Elliot!
You too, Rubin!
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