Jérome Aké Beda: From Abidjan to Geneva , the path of a gifted sommelier

By Coumba Diop-Delmas, Le Point, The African section (French)

This is the tale of the man designated by the Gault & Milliau as sommelier of the year 2015 in Switzerland. The meteoric rise of Jerome Aké Beda, born on the Ivory Coast, is told with lots of anecdotes.


First he hands you a glass of Chasselas, a Swiss grape he loves, requesting your view of his latest discovery; a rather pleasant introduction. Standing in a corner of his restaurant, his black sommelier apron tied around his waist, Jerome Aké Beda tastes different wines for an upcoming "winemaker evening," a food and wine pairing dinner, scheduled for a hundred people.

Aké Beda was awarded the title of: “Sommelier of the Year 2015” by the Gault & Millau in Switzerland. A reward he considers "a symbol, a strong signal" to the African he is. "To be recognized in this way gave me an immense pleasure”, says the one who already figured, in 2003 and 2005, among the top three French-speaking sommeliers of the Ruinart trophy. This shows the openness of Switzerland, who believes in the values of quality and hard work" he continues. And the guests of “L’Auberge de l’Onde” (an restaurant by Lake Geneva) will not contradict him. In this institution where Charlie Chaplin use to have have lunch with his family, and where lovers of good food and good wine like to come. Jerome Aké Beda has been working there since 2006.

A B permit... in Switzerland
Now in his fifties, Aké Beda, who was born on the Ivory Coast and became a star as a Swiss sommelier, admits having long been a fan of coconut milk and pineapple juice. "My story with the wine is made of misunderstandings," likes to say the man who arrived in France in 1989. After graduating in Abidjan’s Hospitality School, he became a butler at Wafou, a famous restaurant in the Ivorian capital.
In Sarlat, France, Jerome Aké Beda met his former management teacher. The Frenchman, who was working on a restaurant project in Switzerland, asked him to join his team. Our future sommelier was seduced by the idea and came to Switzerland the following year. His first stop will be at the “Auberge de l’Onde” restaurant where he had lunch with his mentor. While enjoying a fried chicken, "for this was what came closest to what I knew in Africa," he was far from suspecting that one day he would be the wine master of the house. 

The tests at his friend’s restaurant were positive and he already saw himself as a butler here. However he faced an administrative obstacle. "Jerome, said his mentor, unfortunately you can’t work in Switzerland without a B permit." Aké Beda quickly reassured him: "But I have a driving license I even have an international license!" Our future sommelier did not know then that a B permit in Switzerland is a work permit and not a conventional driving license...

A solution was finally found through a Swiss hotel school. Over the years, our man worked as a “maître d’hôtel” with seasoned chefs until his decisive encounter with Denis Martin, in 1997. Since then Aké Beda trained himself with wine gurus, such as Paolo Basso, world's best sommelier in 2013. "I am always tormented by thirst to learn and improve even more," he admits. Surprising words from someone who was mentioned by Robert Parker himself, who dined incognito at “L’Auberge de l’Onde” in May 2011; the famous American critic was literally spellbound by the Swiss wines suggested by our sommelier: a “Follissimo” 2006. Today, Aké Beda rules over 4,000 bottles in his cellar, eloquently reciting his informed choices to his enchanted customers. A ability he probably developed in acting classes during his youth in Abidjan!