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Get to know Singapore's youngest head sommelier: Marcus Chen from Lucali BYGB

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin • 6 min read
Get to know Singapore's youngest head sommelier: Marcus Chen from Lucali BYGB
Meet Marcus Chen, the youngest head sommelier in Singapore and top ‘wine guy’ at Lucali BYGB
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At only 24, Marcus Chen has a natural talent for selecting some of the best and rarest wines in the market. Yet even with a rich portfolio of the world’s finest restaurants under his belt, and current role as head sommelier at Lucali BYGB, he is still not yet ready to accept the distinguished title of “sommelier”.

“I wouldn’t call myself a wine somm as it’s a big word to live up to. I’m more of a wine guy or wine enthusiast who likes to use wine to connect people. I’m still learning and growing every day. It’s impossible to know everything at my age and experience,” he humbly replies.

Born in Perak, raised in Brunei and schooled in Sabah, he ventured to Switzerland in 2014 to pursue a hospitality degree from the Business and Hotel Management School in Lucerne. “After completing high school back in Malaysia, most of my friends had plans to further their studies in the UK, US or Australia, but I wanted to experience something completely different,” Chen says. “I’m not the brightest when it comes to studies, so I thought maybe Hospitality Management might be easier and more fun, and where better to learn hospitality than from the Swiss themselves? So I picked up some German and went there to study.”

That leg up, thanks to the generous support of his parents, opened up a world of opportunity for the eager young lad, who found himself interning for upscale restaurants and hotels in Switzerland such as the Grand Café Restaurant Schuh, Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa, and Apart-Hotel Zurich.

“I was only 17, I had never worked before, had never done anything F&B-related, had never waited on tables, had never lived apart from my family. The first few months were probably the hardest of my life, learning everything from being a waiter to polishing silverware and clearing tables. But it’s very important for everyone in this industry to start at the bottom to fully understand the business. My time in Switzerland really helped set the foundation for my career,” he says.

Even then, Chen realised he had a natural talent for memorising grape varietals and deciphering different taste profiles through blind tests. “There’s just so much to learn about wines and I’m reading up on them every day. Producers will always produce a new wine, a new vintage, so every day is a new day for discovery,” he says.

After graduating, he flew to Dubai to work at Bleu Blanc in Renaissance Hotel for almost two years, where he was exposed to some of the world’s best wines. “One of the managers there really got me interested in wines — I only ever drank gin and tonic — so I’d say Dubai is where I really got my feet wet in the wine business,” he shares. It was there that Chen also met his future boss of Lucali BYGB, Gibran Baydoun, who was doing consulting work with the restaurant.

In 2019 and at only 22 years, he relocated to Singapore to become assistant head sommelier for Jaan by Kirk Westaway, at Swissotel the Stamford. It was there that he was able to discover more about wines from his head sommelier and the diners themselves who, he confesses, knew more than him. As icing on the cake, Marcus became one of the finalists at the World Gourmet Summit Rising Sommelier of the Year 2020.

(Left) Pierre Beauger VdF “PN17”100% Pinot Noir from Auvergne, France. Pure juice with intense and bright clarity resulting from a short maceration. (Right) Momento Mori “Brutal” from Australia. 100% Schioppetino that is light yet complex and buzzing with energy. Best served chilled.

In June last year, Chen joined Lucali BYGB as the head sommelier, bringing his international credentials and experience to the Singapore branch of the famous New York pizzeria. Known for its mouthwatering pizzas and calzones, Lucali BYGB also prides itself in its extensive collection of unusual wines that oscillate between natural wines and cult favourites, with a focus on small production labels.

Designed to be approachable and unpretentious, Chen’s wine selection reflects quality and individuality, offering people an opportunity to discover impeachable originality from across the world. He curates based on balance, discovery and accessibility, offering over 130 labels that he will refresh from time to time. The wines are priced between $80 and $1,000.

As head wine guy, Chen will continue to source for hidden gems and lesser-known growers, but is tight-lipped about the labels he intends to bring in. However, he is happy to share that they will include vino from Portugal and Greece, and exclusive labels from Bandol, Provence. There are also plans to bring in more American labels, more specifically from wineries in New York and Long Island.

Chen assures that all the wines at Lucali BYGB pair well with the eatery’s wholesome Italian offerings, especially their very own Lucali Original wine created in collaboration with the L.A.S Vino winery in Margaret River. “Our in-house red wine is phenomenal. It tastes like a Malbec but lighter than those Argentinian or French variants. It’s very smashable!” he enthuses.

The term “smashable” is a reference to diners who enjoy their wine so much they hardly notice that they have “smashed” through their bottles so quickly. “‘Smashable’ is also an approach to red wine where it is served slightly more chilled than usual to suit a warmer climate like Singapore, so that people can enjoy it better,” he reveals.

Chen’s thoughtfully curated wine selection, paired with different dishes, has been a key part of Lucali BYGB’s trademark Smashable Sessions — an ongoing monthly themed wine masterclass, which went virtual during the dine-in ban and had diners enjoying a food and drinking session from the comfort of their homes.

More recently, Lucali BYGB launched Smash Bags, consisting of four to six wine kits thematically curated with a playlist and tasting notes for wine enthusiasts to sip vino while listening to hit songs. They even come with catchy names like Mambo Italiano, The One That Rachel Would Drink, No Way Rosé and Cali-For-Ni-Yay. Watch this space for more Smash Bags to come.

Lucali BYGB is located in the laid-back neighbourhood of Kampong Bugis, in a space once occupied by Kilo Kitchen

The 18” Original Pizza Pie is a bestseller

The Lucali Original Smash Bag features three bottles of in-house vino made in collaboration with L.A.S Vino from Margaret River, together with a curated playlist with instructions on when to play each track based on the bottle you drink

LUCALI BYGB | 66 Kampong Bugis, Level M, Singapore 338987 | Tel: +65 8284-1325 |

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