Face of Flanders: Sepideh Sedaghatnia

Summary

Gault&Millau guide crowns Sepideh Sedaghatnia as Sommelier of the Year 2013

Sommelier says she often gets surprised looks

Last week Sepideh Sedaghatnia, known familiarly as Sepi, was named Sommelier of the Year for 2013 by the new Gault&Millau guide for the Benelux. After 13 years in Flanders, she’s achieved one of the highest accolades of a profession that doesn’t even exist in her homeland.

Her native Iran bans the sale of alcohol, but when she was growing up her father would make his own wine in the cellar. Perhaps the memory inspired her when she took a particular interest in the wine served during a holiday job here years ago. To the disappointment of her parents – she abandoned plans to study chemistry and go into the petrochemicals industry, instead following wine courses and working in various hotels.

When chef Viki Geunes advertised for a sommelier for his restaurant ’t Zilte – formerly  in Mol but relocated in 2011 to the top of the MAS museum in Antwerp – Sedaghatnia decided to apply. By then, she had not only completed training at hotel school, with a specialisation in drinks, she also had  a qualification from the prestigious Université du Vin in Suze-la-Rousse in the south of France.

She got the job, but, as the 30-year-old explained to regional broadcaster ATV, some customers can’t quite get it into their heads. “Some guests look shocked when I hand them the wine list, and they ask to speak to the sommelier,” she said. “Then I have to explain politely that it’s me. They are surprised – I see it in their faces – but then once we talk, it’s all OK.”

Geunes, who runs the restaurant with his wife Viviane Plaquet, did well all around in the new Gault&Millau guide. His restaurant was awarded 18 points out of a possible 20 – an excellent score. “You feel immediately when a person is ready to invest in themselves,” Guenes said of Sedaghatnia, after she won the award, “and a person like that is of enormous value to a business; you should cherish them. She’s continually setting the bar higher for herself.”