Marie Cheong-Thong has judged spirits in the UK, Europe and the Far East for over 15 years. As a food and beverage researcher, the WSET-certified educator has visited wineries, distilleries, and breweries worldwide. Sabi Phagura tracked her down for a chat about indigenous ingredients of different cultures around the globe.
Luxurious Magazine: Let’s start with your background. How did you get involved in food and beverage?
Marie Cheong-Thong: After a few years of Marketing and PR, I decided I’d better learn how to boil an egg and enrolled at the Cordon Bleu. At the same time started to learn about wine and spirit for fun. It was a new direction my mind was going in, and I wanted to get involved in food and beverage on a deeper level.
LM: You often travel internationally to acquire a more profound knowledge of food and drink. What’s one of the most interesting places you have been to?
Marie: Brazil is definitely one of them, right there among one of my favourite places. At first, I struggled to understand the culture, the ingredients and cooking, but once I started to learn more about their history and how food and drink styles have adapted, I loved it. It’s so invigorating to visit such an amazing country with the help of friends and locals. I have learnt so much. It goes to show how much more interesting culinary life can be when you delve deeper into the roots of it.
LM: What is the most fascinating thing you have learned about a particular food/drink and culture?
Marie: Hands down, it has got to be the Japanese food and drink. I am so fortunate to have made native friends who threw me into the deep end and educated me. Japanese cuisine is none like I have ever tasted or learned about before. For example, who would have thought of eating raw abalone liver or the intestine of the sea cucumber? It’s a total minefield, and I am still learning.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention I’m incredibly passionate about crazy fly fishing and travel around the world fishing. As a result, I get to learn so much about sea life and its creatures.
LM: We understand you also run courses to educate others on food and beverages. Could you tell us a bit about those, please?
Marie: So yes, I teach several courses. Firstly, I teach the WSET level 1 and 3 sake in the UK. I also teach the Sake School of America’s Sake advisor course and the Shochu Advisor course and am their only educator outside the USA. In addition, I run masterclasses for private companies and lecture on wines, spirits, and anything else that I have found interested that I believe others will be interested in.
LM: And you also offer masterclasses on food, dishes and ingredients around the world. What does a masterclass look like?
Marie: Masterclasses can vary somewhat depending on whether they are for private companies or schools. You need to make them engaging for children so they may be a bit more interactive. They can range from being very structured lecture-style courses to being fun workshops or huge presentations at food and drink fairs.
I once ran a workshop at a pharmaceutical firm where participants blended their own wines with pipettes and beakers. They then pitched their marketing plan to launch their self-made wine. Food and drink essentially bring people together and get people talking, and that is the beauty of holding such classes.
LM: You have been a judge ion wine and sake for over a decade. What are you looking for when judging such beverages?
Marie: All competitions I judge are based on taste and perceived style of the wine or sake as indicated in its specific flights. Samples are all blind tasted, so I judge every sample based on the information given on the sake or wine. It’s great fun and taxes the brain heavily. Experience does help.
LM: If you were to pick just one of each, which is your favourite food and drink?
Marie: I have no favourites. For me, life is colourful through the appreciation of food and drink. Everything is delicious depending on where you are and what you are doing. Fish and chips on Brighton pier at sunset on an autumn evening catching the last rays of the sun with a can of coke tastes just as good as a freshly steamed new potato with a dollop of crème Fraiche anointed with a little horn spoonful of beluga, twist of lemon with the other hand holding a flute of perfectly chilled vintage Krug in no particular city.
Marie Cheong-Thong Classes – Where and How?
For more information on Marie Cheong-Thong and her masterclasses, visit www.thelarderat36.co.uk.
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