Food & Drink

Sake to Her

Sommelier Tiffany Dawn Soto has made a career out of rice wine.

Before becoming one of the top sake sommeliers in the United States, Tiffany Dawn Soto was not exactly a fan of the fermented, Japanese rice wine. “I didn’t think much of sake,” she says, while standing in the kitchen of her Ellicott City home. “I had the same associations everyone else did—hot battery acid, bad sushi at 3 in the morning, sake bombs—all those horrible terms that I now loathe and spend my life trying to undo.”

It was while studying advertising and philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2005 that Soto first discovered real sake. “I signed up for a wine class, so I could drink before my sorority meetings,” she cracks. “And there were a lot of Japanese students in the class, who were always asking about sake.” Her interest was piqued when she discovered that there were few resources for those seeking to learn more about the beverage that’s beloved in the Land of the Rising Sun. “There were all these Italian specialists and all these German specialists, so many French and Champagne specialists,” says Soto, 34, “but when I went into it, no one was specializing in sake.”

So she learned all she could about the fermented wine, eventually landing consulting gigs at Pabu and Azumi in the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore and developing sake training programs at hot spots such as Umi in Atlanta and Tao in New York City. On average, she racks up close to $1 million in sake sales annually in the United States.

“I had the same associations everyone did with sake. Hot battery acid, bad sushi, sake bombs.”

Soto not only enjoys drinking sake, but cooking with it, as well. “You can marinate anything in it,” she says, “and make it taste good.” This recipe for sake shrimp was inspired, in part, by Martha Stewart. “In 2007, right when I was coming up in the field, she had this recipe for sake butter to dip lobster into, and I use that in my recipe to make a drizzle over the veggies, shrimp, and rice,” she says.

Growing up with dozens of foster children in her home, Soto learned to cook for the crew at an early age. “My mom can cook in the most we-ate-like-the-Duggars-way,” she says. “But we also lived with my grandmother, and she was an amazing cook.” When her grandmother was hospitalized after a heart attack, Soto recalls, “My grandfather said to me, ‘If anything ever happens to your grandmother, no one is going to take care of the family—as the oldest, you’re going to learn how to cook.’”

Clearly, she has. As she whirls around her kitchen, chopping vegetables and sautéing shrimp, Soto triples the portion, so that when she’s on the road for work, her attorney husband Ryan Cianci and two daughters will still be well-fed. “It’s ridiculous how much Tupperware I have,” she says. “At any given moment, there are probably 20 meals in my kitchen freezer and 40 in the basement freezers right now. I make a lot of pasta, rice dishes, and curries. It helps me be okay with not being here all the time. Basically, I’m still cooking like the Duggars.”

Recipe: Sake-Steamed Shrimp


  • 1 ½ cups good-quality sake
  • 1 pound jumbo shrimp
  • 4 cups fresh vegetables (haricots verts, julienned carrots, snap peas, broccoli)
  • Kosher salt
  • Coarse black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups Nishiki brand
  • rice, cooked
  • Sesame seeds

For Martha Stewart’s Sake Butter:

  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into large pieces
  • 2 tablespoons peeled julienned ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • ½ cup plus 1 teaspoon good-quality sake
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • Coarse salt

Pour 1 cup of sake over the shrimp in a medium bowl. Refrigerate. Allow to absorb for 1 hour. Add vegetables to a wok over medium-high heat. Pour in ½ cup of sake and ½ cup of water. Cover. Steam until vegetables are tender. Drain. Set aside.While vegetables are steaming, drain shrimp and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Once vegetables have been set aside, increase heat of wok to high, and add canola oil. Add shrimp and garlic and cook until cooked through, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Place rice on plate. Top with vegetables and shrimp. Drizzle with sake butter. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serves 4.

For Martha Stewart’s Sake Butter:
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add ginger and shallots. Stir 2 minutes. Add ½ cup sake and bring to a boil; cook until reduced by ⅔, about 3 minutes. Add heavy cream, bring to a boil; cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add remaining butter in batches, whisking constantly. Once mixture is thick, remove from heat. Whisk in remaining teaspoon of sake and lime juice; season with salt.