People 5 minutes 20 March 2024

2024 MICHELIN Sommelier Award: Jinho Kim of Vinho

Here's the story of Sommelier Jinho Kim of VINHO, who won the 2024 MICHELIN Sommelier Award.

Korea's dining culture and industry undergo dynamic changes annually, garnering global attention for their significant qualitative advancements. With the inclusion of Busan this year, patrons can explore the allure of an even more vibrant and exceptional culinary scene. Once again, the MICHELIN Guide Seoul & Busan 2024 Edition highlights sommeliers as indispensable partners to chefs, deeply engaged in curating the year's finest gastronomic offerings. Sommeliers play a pivotal role in elevating the restaurant experience by meticulously researching and harmonizing various beverages to complement cuisine, thus contributing to the continuous enhancement of restaurant quality. This prestigious award recognizes sommelier Jinho Kim of Vinho, newly honored as a MICHELIN 1-star restaurant this year.Korea's dining culture and industry are dynamically changing every year, attracting the world's attention for their high level of qualitative growth. With the addition of Busan starting this year, you can discover the charm of a more colorful and excellent restaurant. Once again, the MICHELIN Guide Seoul & Busan 2024 Edition spotlights sommeliers as partners of chefs who are immersed in the best food of the year again. The restaurant experience can take a leap forward thanks to the role of sommeliers in providing customers with a high-quality experience of dining by silently researching and combining various drinks that go well with cooking, and contributing to the restaurant's quality growth. This special award honors sommelier Jinho Kim of Vinho, which was also newly minted as the MICHELIN 1-star restaurant this year.

Frantz Hotton, CEO of Pernod Ricard Korea, expressed, "We are thrilled and honored to present the 2024 Michelin Sommelier Award. Sommeliers, through their consistent exploration and pairing of diverse beverages to enhance culinary delights, collaborate closely with chefs to deliver exceptional dining experiences. They are instrumental in driving the qualitative advancement of restaurants. RSRV extends heartfelt gratitude and respect to all sommeliers within Korea's dining scene. Alongside Michelin and in collaboration with all of you, we aim to showcase the rich history of this premium Champagne, which has long been intertwined with gastronomy, through various partnerships."

Sommelier Jinho Kim of Vinho initially harbored dreams of becoming a chef during his childhood. How did he, then, secure the prestigious MICHELIN Sommelier Award, becoming one of the most prominent sommeliers in Korea? Let's delve into his journey and insights.

Congratulations on winning the 2024 MICHELIN Sommelier Award.

Thank you! Honestly, when I was invited to the MICHELIN Guide event, I never expected to receive an award. The moment they called out my name at the ceremony was unforgettable. It felt like a validation of all the hard work I've put in. I couldn't hold back tears as memories of tough times flooded in. It was only when I spoke to my parents and girlfriend on the phone that I finally let myself cry.

How did you find your path to becoming a sommelier?

I originally dreamed of being a chef. I pursued that dream by joining the military as a cook and studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia. I spent four years working in kitchens there, hoping to cook and live overseas. Then, fate led me back to Korea, where I heard about an opportunity at Mingles before its official opening. Meeting Chef Mingoo Kang changed everything. I was drawn to staying in Seoul despite my plans to return to Australia. Initially hired for the kitchen, circumstances led me to try my hand in the front of the house. I enjoyed it so much that I never went back to the kitchen. Eventually, our general manager suggested I dive into FOH service, and that's when my dream shifted. It wasn't easy letting go of my lifelong dream of becoming a chef, but I found real joy and fulfillment in the service industry, especially at Mingles. As the restaurant grew, so did my role. Feeling the need to expand my knowledge, I delved into studying wine, eventually undergoing intensive training at the MICHELIN 3-star restaurant Geranium in Denmark. Returning to Korea, I pursued a career as a sommelier, achieving top results in the CMS Certified exam.

What do you find most appealing about being a sommelier?

Where else can you work while enjoying a glass of wine? (Laughs) Seriously though, the charm of this job lies in connecting with people through wine, offering them joy and new experiences. Fundamentally, our role is to provide exceptional service, prioritizing customer satisfaction. I like to think of myself as the flower of the service industry, communicating through wine and delivering top-notch service. It's a delight to interact with individuals from diverse backgrounds every day, sharing the history, culture, and philosophy behind each wine. When I introduce a wine paired with a dish at Vinho, I love to start with, "Now, where in Italy shall we venture?" It's like taking a journey through wine with my guests, and it truly excites me.


Could you share your perspective on the significance of wine and liquor in the dining experience?

At its core, wine and liquor serve the purpose of enhancing the dining experience by providing a means to unwind and elevate one's mood. However, they also play several other roles. They act as a lubricant, making meals more enjoyable and facilitating smooth conversations. Like a well-chosen seasoning, they complement the flavors of food, enriching the overall taste experience. Moreover, they serve as a bridge, breaking down barriers between people and fostering connections. As you savor your meal, accompanied by stories of exquisite alcoholic beverages from around the world, it feels as though you're embarking on a culinary journey across the globe. When used in moderation, wine and liquor have the power to elevate the dining experience, making each dish shine even brighter.

Undoubtedly, your journey here must have been quite challenging.

Absolutely, there were times when the pressure felt overwhelming. I faced severe reprimands at work, dealt with unfair treatment that left me in tears alone in the bathroom, and battled constant self-doubt due to starting my career later than others. I experienced burnouts to the point of panic, often feeling the urge to escape overseas multiple times a day. Mastering English was another hurdle; while I could speak the language, serving in English, understanding its nuances, and even making jokes to please customers presented a significant challenge. Being the only Asian employee in the restaurant, I constantly pushed myself to maintain my self-esteem and confidence, despite being occasionally ignored or scolded by some patrons. Thankfully, I have a knack for letting go of negative experiences easily. Looking back, those struggles shaped me into someone who could guide and mentor new employees. But reminiscing about those days still stirs up emotions within me.

What stands out to you as the most meaningful memory thus far?

Passing the CMS Certified exam with flying colors remains the pinnacle of my sommelier career. Prior to that achievement, I lacked formal education in the field to the extent that I felt hesitant to identify myself as a sommelier. However, achieving top marks in the qualification exam boosted my confidence significantly. It marked the first instance where I was recognized as "Jinho Kim," a professional sommelier, rather than just another employee at a restaurant. And of course, receiving this year's MICHELIN sommelier award holds a special place as the most significant moment of my life.

Given your profession, do you have a personal affinity for alcohol? What types do you enjoy?

Absolutely, my transition from chef to sommelier wouldn't have been possible if I didn't enjoy alcohol. It's a source of solace, especially after enduring long days of intense labor and emotional strain. For me, there's nothing quite as comforting as winding down with a glass of wine after a demanding shift.

What wisdom would you impart to aspiring sommeliers?

While I don't consider myself wise enough to offer advice, I'd like to share that the world offers countless paths. I encourage you to leverage your abilities and talents to discover the right one for you. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a sommelier. Forge your own style of service based on your beliefs. Initially, you may face judgment and self-doubt, but don't let that deter you. Keep pushing forward, and eventually, you'll find your way. Believe that hard work leads to brilliance.

What do you believe is the essence of wine service?

I believe it boils down to simple yet essential principles: greeting customers warmly, wearing a genuine smile, showing kindness, dedicating yourself wholeheartedly, maintaining professionalism, and always engaging with customers honestly, meeting them at eye level.

Any favorite wine-related books or movies you'd recommend?

I highly recommend the documentary "Somm." It chronicles the journey of individuals striving to become master sommeliers. Watching their pursuit of dreams was profoundly inspiring and transformative for me. It sparked a desire to challenge myself in the same way. Currently, I'm immersed in preparing for the master sommelier exam, fueled by the enduring inspiration from the film.

What do you foresee as the future trends in restaurants and wine?

With the accessibility of direct wine imports and the increasing knowledge of wine enthusiasts, I believe future trends will lean towards unique and exclusive wine experiences only found in restaurants. This might include personalized pairing menus that reflect the sommelier's personality. Additionally, there's a shift in wine consumption among the younger generation, indicating the need for a broader beverage knowledge base encompassing non-alcoholic options, cocktails, traditional spirits, and domestic wines.

Could you share your aspirations and dreams for the future?

Receiving the sommelier award and being part of a MICHELIN-starred restaurant filled me with gratitude and joy, but also a sense of responsibility. I believe it's essential to strengthen our team's unity and elevate our service standards further. I aim to create a new benchmark where both loyal patrons and new visitors with high expectations leave satisfied. There's still much we have yet to unveil.
Furthermore, I'm committed to pursuing my dream of becoming a master sommelier. I aspire to be a supportive mentor, offering guidance and inspiration to younger colleagues in the service industry. I want to share my knowledge and experiences generously, fostering growth and advancement together.


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