INI GABRIEL UKO REFLECTS ON HER JOURNEY:
I fell in love with hospitality at age 19 while working as a college student. I was excited by the high-energy atmosphere, the diligence and creativity of my colleagues, and the vast array of personalities who would walk through our doors in search of a sensational dining experience. It would be five years, however, before my curiosity drew me to the beverage side of the industry. I especially appreciated the collaboration between the chef and the beverage management team, as I quickly discovered that the synergy between a restaurant’s menu and its beverage list is what brings the sensory experience to life for guests.
To further my knowledge, I went behind the bar to learn the foundations of cocktail development while beginning my wine studies. Meanwhile, my one-on-one interaction with customers helped me hone in on their desire to feel connected to their drinking experience. Nothing beats the satisfaction I get when I make wine and spirits come alive for them. My fervor to continue my education in food and drink so that I could provide even better hospitality led me to cross paths with a few sommeliers, who revealed to me how incredibly immersive the wine and spirits world can be during the tasting sessions I shared with them. They motivated me to achieve my career ambitions.
The more I delved into my studies and researched sommelier organizations, the more I realized there is always so much more to learn; it took some years and substantial expenses for me to become a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas. But I succeeded, and I could not be prouder to represent my beverage community, bridging the gap between producers and consumers with integrity.
I seek to be qualified to the best of my ability, and that calls for continued studies and advanced certifications. The path to accreditation at each level is an arduous one that requires consistent practice, the procurement of study materials, sacrificed time, examination and travel fees, and more. The financial burden of these requirements has at times been a deterrent in pursuing further certifications.
So it is an honor to be a recipient of the generous SommFoundation Scholarship for Black American Wine Professionals sponsored by Cooper’s Hawk, which has given me the confidence to keep pursuing my education, aware that SommFoundation aims to support sommeliers like me on my journey. The grant reminds me that I am not alone in my passion for training and hospitality; its timing is especially encouraging as the food and beverage industry tries to ride out the devastation the pandemic has wrought. Every bit of assistance helps, so I am truly grateful to SommFoundation and Cooper’s Hawk for their sponsorship. I can’t help but feel hopeful that I can continue to prepare for my future while we as a community bounce back and reform.