'People of Sake' - Katie Gilarde
Katie Gilarde is the General Manager at Boston’s most popular sushi establishment - O-Ya Restaurant. They also have an impressive Sake list as well. We caught up with Katie to have a chat about what is happening with SAKE and O Ya in Boston.
Katie tell us a bit about O Ya and what you do there.
O ya is a small, 35 seat restaurant in Boston, MA that features contemporary Japanese cuisine. We offer a large range of unique small plates in both à la carte and omakase-style tasting menus whose intention is to “surprise and delight” our guests. It is the first project of the dynamic owners Tim and Nancy Cushman, who opened it nine years ago.
I know it’s hard to picture, but O Ya is an incredibly cool combination of seemingly disparate passions: rock-n-roll music played LOUDLY, fine-dining attention to detail, super-laid back vibes, supremely pristine fish, and the spirit of Japanese hospitality. It’s so much fun to work here.
I joined the team just over a year ago and am the general manager and beverage buyer.
Tell us about your background and how you became to be involved in the world of sake.
I’m originally from Southern California, and after college I couldn’t wait to move to New York to pursue a dream of working in the sexy, mysterious world of food and restaurants by way of culinary school.
I started fresh from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America, not the Central Intelligence Agency) at local Chef Barbara Lynch’s No. 9 Park in Boston as a line cook and eventually moved into service roles as bartender and server at her wine bar called The Butcher Shop. Under my mentor Cat Silirie’s tutelage, I helped create a wine-specific role for myself as a buyer, director and educator for the group as it expanded to multiple concepts. I loved it and worked for over a decade there, it really was the foundation of my experience in the restaurant industry.
I left the Barbara Lynch Group after 12 years in 2014 and came on board at O Ya, thrilled to try my hand at some very new things for me, namely: Japanese cuisine, restaurant management, and the very new world of sake. I’ve been happily encouraged by the Cushmans to learn about this new world of sake in taking John Gauntner’s Sake Education Council SPC I course last December in New York and I have just completed the subsequent SPC II course in Japan this past February, so I’m ALL about the sake right now.
You guys have a pretty amazing menu – who decides what sake is paired with your Omakase?
I select the pairings each evening for the menus; often my recent studies or fascinations will steer them this way or that but there are a few tenets that I keep from both my experience and personal taste in mind. I won’t disclose all the secrets, but I’ll say my choices are guided most often by these three things in mind for our guests: Progression, Range, and Discovery.
What is the most popular sake that is ordered in your restaurant by customers and why?
If I had to guess I would say our Kubota Manju Daiginjo Junmai sake is among the best-sellers. It’s sake all our staff loves to drink, loves with the food, loves to talk about. It’s pure, precise Daiginjo with this delightfully smooth texture. It’s at once impressive and reserved, like a….Rolex.
You guys have a pretty extensive sake list, do you switch up serving vessels depending on sake types?
For sakes offered by the glass, we’ve sourced stemware from Korin, the Japanese crystal company. They’re small but appropriate to the size of a portion, and the glass is thin and feels great in hand. For bottles of sake, we offer a selection of hand-chosen small pottery sake cups (o-choko); each one is different, and some are from our owners’ private collection, memories of trips to Japan. We offer a selection on crushed ice tableside for each guest to choose. It’s a great way to start off the convivial rituals of sake-drinking.
Do your customers actually have a good knowledge of sake or is it up to your sommelier to help them out?
Many of our repeat guests are sake enthusiasts and have their favorites. I will say, however that most of our guests are relatively new to sake and our servers guide them through the list. We don’t have a single sake sommelier, it’s more fun to have everyone in on the recommendations.
What is your most memorable sake experience?
This one time, at sake camp…
Our recent SPCII trip to Japan was an incredible experience. I met so many wonderful, interesting people and truly got to know sake from the intellectual and business side as well as the pleasurable side of seeing it made and enjoying it with food and friends. A very special memory is of a bus ride back to Tokyo from a brewery, when the sake flowed freely, and an impromptu karaoke session erupted (because buses are wired for that sort of thing there).
Do you have a bottle of sake in your fridge at home now – if so what is it?
I do! - It is Dassai ‘Otter Fest’ 50 Daiginjo.
You’ve already done John Gauntner’s advanced sake course in Japan - what’s the next step for you as far as getting deeper into sake?
I’ll be leading some more in-depth classes in the future for our O Ya team and the other restaurants in the group. I can’t wait to re-taste lots of sake from our current list and source some new ones for our collection, and continue to taste them with all different types of food. And I hear there may be a SPC alumni-sake-exploration-reunion-tour in Japan percolating for 2017… If so, I’m in.
You can find more info on O Ya Restaurant in Boston by visiting their listing.