He's not yet 30, but Steven Salazar is already very accomplished in a realm few Houstonians pay attention to: Sake.
Salazar recently returned from Japan, where he took a course and earned his Advanced Sake Professional Certification, making him one of the first 140 people in the world to hold that title. For the past two years, he's been at Kata Robata, serving as the assistant general manager and beverage director of an impressive sake program. Now that he's become a master of his craft, though, he says it's time to move on.
"I feel I have accomplished so much at Kata Robata," Salazar says. "I was allowed to rework the entire beverage program, and I feel like I have made a difference and learned so much. I've made the really hard decision to get out of my comfort zone, humble myself and keep learning and improving myself."
Saturday will be Salazar's final full day at Kata Robata, but he'll continue to do consulting work for the sake program there. After that, he'll start full time as a bartender at Anvil.
"I have always admired Bobby Heugel and Alba Huerta, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work at their flagship bar," Salazar says. "I look forward to immersing myself into cocktails and spirits at a James Beard-nominated bar."
Salazar admits that most people might be surprised by the move. After all, he's essentially moving from a position of power as the head of the beverage program at Kata to working under his peers at Anvil.
"I feel I will become a better person with this experience," Salazar says. "I love what I do, and being able to master more of my skill set with one of the most talented crews in the country is an opportunity I should go for, especially while I am still young. There will be plenty of time and opportunity in the future for higher-level positions."
Also in Salazar's future? Putting Houston on the map for sake.
Educating Houstonians about sake and bringing as much unique sake to Houston as possible is one of Salazar's goals.
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"When I am ready and Houston is ready, I will deliver a sake bar for us to all enjoy," Salazar says.
In the meantime, he's celebrating passing the test and earning his certification. Salazar describes it as a five-day course that includes classroom instruction and brewery tours. The final test includes 30 short-answer questions and ten blind tastings.
He's also asking his friends about their favorite cocktails so he can be ready to shake up some drinks when familiar faces come in.
"Hori (the chef at Kata Robata) is really excited to come into Anvil and order a piña colada from me," Salazar says. "It's his favorite drink. It reminds him of vacation."