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What Does it Take to Be a Water Sommelier?
Ray’s & Stark Bar introduces a water menu.
Starting next week, when you dine at Ray’s & Stark Bar—which is located in the lower atrium of the Los Angeles County Musuem of Art—one of the menus your server will hand you will be a multi-page booklet of different kinds of water. You may, for a minute, think you’ve landed in an episode of Portlandia—what ever happened to “still or sparkling?”
And what, anyway, is really wrong with tap?
Martin Riese, Ray’s general manager and water sommelier says that “the problem with L.A. tap water that there is a lot if chlorine in it. The chlorine overpowers the taste of the actual water.” He would never drink L.A. tap.
Riese is largely thought of as the world’s foremost certified water sommelier. His certification comes from the German Mineral Water Association. He’s even written a book on his work, entitled Die Welt des Wassers (“The World of Water”). So we had to chat with Riese, who doesn’t just have a picky palate; he’s a true expert on water—something Southern Californians think a lot about.
What goes into becoming a water sommelier?
A lot of drinking! I come from the Danish border in Germany, right in front of me was the North Sea, so I was always surrounded by water. As a child, when my family went on vacation the first thing we would do in a new city was try the tap water, because I always felt that every tap water has a different taste. In 2005, I started to work at the one Michelin star restaurant “first floor” at the Hotel Palace Berlin. A customer came up to me one evening and asked me for a different water because they did not liked our house water brand.
That encounter reminded me of my childhood and that water has different taste everywhere you go. I realized that in a restaurant, to really satisfy every customer, you should have a selection of different waters. That’s why I created a water menu for Ray’s & Stark. We ended up with a list of 40 different brands. I loved having the opportunity to taste so many different waters from all over the world and then pair and recommend them to go with wine and food. In 2008 I wrote the book “Die Welt des Wassers” (The World of Water) which is a 200-page book about the amazing topic of water. In 2010 I became a certified mineral water sommelier from the German Mineral Water Trade Association.
In 2011 I decided to come back to Los Angeles to work for the Patina Restaurant Group. My Visa is a O-1, a VISA that is given for Extraordinary Ability. My Visa is for my expertise on the topic of water.
What inspired you to study water?
Water is the most important element in our lives. Nobody on this planet can live without it. From water comes life. It’s a clear liquid which can change its shape. Even when the chemical formulation is always the same (H20) it has so many different tastes and has an impact on the taste and flavor of food and other beverages. Its all depends on the TDS Level, (total dissolved solids). So the different mineral content of each water gives the waters a different tastes, It can go from sweet to salty and smooth to complex.
You have your own brand of water on the menu, Beverly Hills 90H20. What goes into making it? How did you create it? Where is it bottled?
Every single sommelier’s dream is to create his own wine. For me this was a dream come true. A year and a half ago Jon Gluck and his family approached me via email. The Glucks always thought it was too bad that you go to restaurants and get amazing wine, amazing food, great service but when it comes to water, you are been served water that you could find in any gas station and may not even come from America. Something doesn’t fit in that experience. They came up with the idea to create a premium water brand from California. We started to talk a bit about the concept and we realized very fast that we had to create something completely new: A sommelier-crafted water.
Our water comes from a mineral water spring from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is our base water and I come up with the perfect natural mineral mix which we add to create a perfect crisp, smooth and refreshing taste, and most importantly a water that pairs perfectly with fine wine and food.
It took us over a year to come up with the perfect mineral mix, we tried and tasted in so many sessions but we are very proud of the result. We’ve even patented our water formulation and bottle shape. Every blend is limited to a 10,000 bottle run.
What would you say to the person who doesn’t think water is anything special, and usually drinks tap water?
Every water has an unique taste, even tap water. The problem here in Los Angeles is that the tap water has been treated with chlorine. Therefore the chlorine is overpowering the taste of the water. Every person who is skeptical and does not believe that water has taste should come over to Ray’s & Stark Bar and I am more than happy to surprise them.
What would you recommend the home consumer seek out for water they can consume on a daily basis?
It really depends what you want to do with your water. I have at least four different brands at home. A water with lower mineral content is my water for regular drinking, water with a higher mineral content is a perfect water for exercise because I lose a lot of minerals when I sweat. For me it’s the same with wine, I do not want to always drink the same white or red wine therefore I have different waters as well.
Do you think other restaurants in L.A. will show an interest in having a water menu?
I had two guests Friday who ordered three different waters from the menu. They were so surprised at how different water can be. Ray’s & Stark Bar now has the largest water selection in Los Angeles. I would think other restaurants would want to offer a selection of waters. It’s just like offering more than one white or one red wine.
Ray’s & Stark Bar, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., 323-857-6180