Bryant Mao from Vancouver’s Hawksworth Restaurant: 2019 Maverick Chef
Every October, we announce the Canadians that have changed up the culinary scene. Our 2019 Maverick Chefs connect people in a unique way. Suzanne Barr is active in her community. Among other things, she uses her success as a chef to give others a start in the industry by helping them learn valuable kitchen skills. Marcel Larrea brought Nikkei to Montreal, and the cooks out of the kitchen. Jean-Christophe Poirier created a piece of his Quebec home town in Vancouver to give the West Coast a taste of the East. Our Mav Sommelier Bryant Mao connects with people every day, introducing them to wines and drinks made by Canadian producers around the world.
Our final 2019 Maverick Chef is not a chef at all, but a Sommelier. Bryant Mao shares his take on connecting people through food and wine.
Hawksworth Restaurant, Vancouver
Bryant Mao entered the drinks industry in 2006 as a bartender for River Rock Casino. At the same time, he earned his Sommelier Guild Diploma. Since then, he has played a major role in the wine and bar programs of elite restaurants like Vancouver’s Brix and George Ultra Lounge. He also spent four years in London, England, working under the guidance of Wine Director Terry Threlfall at Chez Bruce, a Michelin-starred restaurant. Now, he leads the award-winning wine and drinks program at Hawksworth Restaurant. He approaches wine service with a calming presence. He asks his clientele a series of questions to understand their preferences and build trust. This helps him establish himself, and Hawksworth, as a go-to place for wine and drinks.
What inspired you to become a Sommelier?
The pursuit of knowledge, to learn more about the wine, the product, the people and the story behind the product that we introduce to our guests every day.
You moved to Vancouver from Taiwan when you were in your teens? How has that shaped your journey of becoming a certified Sommelier?
My father was the food and beverage director at the Grand Hyatt in Taipei, Taiwan. I think growing up in the hospitality industry, surrounded by food, wine and spirits, inspired me. My mom is also an amazing cook and introduced me to new and exciting cuisine.
What is one of the most important things you learned working for Terry Threlfall at Chez Bruce in London?
Service. It doesn’t matter how much wine knowledge you have. If you can’t provide good service, everything else is irrelevant.
How do you approach a wine pairing or drink suggestion for a customer?
Listen to the customer. Choose based on the customer’s preferences, not the sommelier’s.
In your opinion, how do food and wine connect people?
Food and wine create an experience — they take people places and create memories that link people to places or time. People don’t dine out to feed their hunger, they do it for an experience, to share a moment and create a memory with fellow guests.
What experience do you want to offer when you suggest a wine or drink?
It depends on the guest, but we want all guests to feel special and leave happy with the desire to come back to experience something new or different.
What is the service like at Hawksworth?
It’s a team effort. We can’t provide and maintain the standard that we do at Hawksworth individually. I’m very lucky to have a very well-trained and dedicated sommelier team at Hawksworth. My role is to guide and make sure the standard of service is well executed by the team and to provide all the resources that the team need before they step onto the floor.
What is your goal when developing your wine list and cellar at Hawksworth?
My goal is to find the best producers from the best wine regions all over the world. I also list wine during its proper drinking window. We have the privilege of serving 20 to 30 percent of the wine that we purchase for short-term to mid-term cellaring.
How important is it to you to include local BC wines in your wine list at Hawksworth?
It’s very important. BC is still a young and upcoming wine growing region. We like to find and work with new, small boutique wineries in BC and ones that are well established yet continue to push boundaries to push BC to the next level.
What is your favourite wine pairing when you’re having a group dinner with friends and family?
Champagne. It’s very versatile and matched with so many different cuisines. Plus, champagne offers many different styles to choose from.