Martin Riese is a sommelier, but he doesn't know a lot about wines. That's because he is a professional water sommelier, the only one in the United States.
German-born Riese has been fascinated with the different tastes of water since he was a toddler. His parents, who worked in the hospitality industry, would take him vacationing all over Europe, and the first thing he always did was try the tap water. Later, he would learn that he had been blessed with an exceptional palate that allows him to detect the subtle differences in the taste of different mineral waters. Luckily for him, there was a job that required just the kind of unique talent he has—water sommelier.
Martin admits that when people hear what he does for a living, they think he's a little crazy, which he says is “totally normal.” To them, all water tastes the same, but that's because they aren't familiar with the many mineral waters in different parts of the world.
As a water sommelier for the Patina Group in Los Angeles, Martin's talents have been recognized by the German Mineral Water Trade Association, which is also where he got his certification. He works in the US on an O-1 visa—a special permit only given to “individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement" and has made quite a name for himself, as the subject of several documentaries, special news reports, and talk shows.
Meet Bas de Groot, a man who should duke it out with certified water sommelier Martin Riese for the world's easiest-to-make-fun-of food job. De Groot's very niche area of expertise is milk; he's the planet's one and only milk sommelier, as far as he's aware.
De Groot has always been a big fan of milk, drinking 3 to 4 liters of it every day, but he truly became fascinated with it after tasting raw milk for the first time. The intense, layered flavors inundated his senses and left him wondering what milk from different regions tastes like. He now travels the globe, tasting raw milk, and educating people about its unique properties and benefits.
Bryan Fry can still hear the "dit-dit-dit" of the lizard's teeth scraping across the bones of his hand. The lace monitor was one of more than 250 lizards and venomous snakes living on his mountainside property near Melbourne. The bite split the knuckles of Fry's first two fingers, severing tendons and nerve bundles. On the ambulance ride to the hospital, it took two towels to stop the bleeding.
Fry, a zoologist at the University of Queensland, is obsessed with the world's most venomous animals, and he's not afraid to risk his life to study the evolution of their chemical weapons. After all, a monitor bite or two is nothing for a man who talks about venom and stings as easily as an oenophile describes wine.
The bite of a horned sea snake? That's "the feeling you get from an intense workout magnified a hundred times and lasting for a month." Getting stung by an estuary stingray? "Truly beyond belief, like hot metal dipped in acid." What about a bite from the Stephen's banded snake, whose venom depletes the body of fibrinogen, a protein that's essential for clotting? "There's nothing quite like bleeding out of your nose, mouth, and ass from an anticoagulant snakebite and being terrified that the same thing is happening in your brain," says Fry.
His daredevil approach may put his life at risk, but he does it because it has the potential to save others. Venomous animals have a history of inspiring essential medicines, including viper-derived treatments for high blood pressure and minor heart attacks.
Fry has been bitten by 26 venomous snakes and stung by stonefish, centipedes, scorpions, and box jellyfish. He maintains the physique of a former competitive swimmer, but his body is a walking inventory of injuries. He has no feeling in his right index finger after the monitor bite. And three of his vertebrae are capped with metal, after a backbreaking fall from a termite mound caused by "a sudden gust of gravity."
The world of sommeliers is a well-respected one. Whether you're drinking wine or even water, the knowledge of a "somm" can be helpful as you plan what to pair with dinner.
But what about the vast world of condiments? Enter Pierette Huttner, sommelier for iconic French Dijon mustard brand Maille at the company's first U.S. boutique in New York City, which has five mustards on tap (that's right, on tap) and more than 30 flavors in the store.
Katie Schnurr is the new “tequila goddess” at Fairmont Scottsdale's La Hacienda restaurant. While still a student at Arizona Student University, Schnurr wasn't your average Cuervo-swilling collegian— for her communications class exercises, she focused on studying tequila and hasn't stopped talking about it since. Schnurr, 27, is going through an exclusive tequila certification process in Mexico that includes step-by-step farm visits and blind tests.
As tequila sommelier and supervisor at La Hacienda, she manages all spirits, wine, and tequila offerings and creates special events like tastings, mixology classes, and Tequila 101 lessons.
Since 2000, a program is working to bring the same level of knowledge from wine sommeliers to the world of malt and hops by turning out batches of certified beer experts known as Cicerones.
Ray Daniels, a Chicago brewer, started the Cicerone Certification Program in 2008. And he jokes that he did so for a relatively simple reason: bad beer.
There are three levels of Cicerones, starting out with Certified Beer Servers (an online exam), Certified Cicerones (an in-person test, complete with a tasting component), and the top level of Master Cicerone (an in-person exam lasting two days). The tests focus on five primary components: keeping and serving beer, beer styles, flavor and tasting, brewing process and ingredients, and beer and food pairing.
This may sound a bit complex, and it is—only about a third of test takers pass (and the numbers are even lower for the Master Cicerone certification). So far, only a handful of people has achieved the top level of Master Cicerone. But about 900 have passed the regular exam, and an additional 27,000 have become Certified Beer Servers. And the beer world is taking notice. Many breweries now encourage employees —from brewers to servers to distributors—to study for the Cicerone exam, and some even pay for tests and study programs.
Noah Chaimberg quit his corporate job to take his love of hot sauce to the next Scoville level, reinventing himself as a "hot sauce sommelier" and opening a store devoted to the condiment. His now popular store in Williamsburg, Heatonist, sells small-batch sauces by independent producers and features the city's only hot sauce tasting room.
Think you don't like sake? Motoko Watanabe of Zenkichi says that's because you've been drinking mass-produced swill that's served boiling hot to mask its crappiness. Watanabe, a sake sommelier and co-restaurateur behind Zenkichi, a modern Japanese brasserie in New York City and Berlin, didn't start enjoying sake until living in the U.S., despite being born and raised in Tokyo.
While studying biology and working as a research lab assistant at NYU, she became fascinated with the different tastes and variations at a doorbell-only sake speakeasy in the East Village. According to the sommelier, figuring out the nuances of sake is no more difficult than learning the difference between an IPA and a lager or a Shiraz and Merlot.
Model and DJ Jaime Rascone has beat all of the sommeliers by holding a fantasy job that just sounds too good to be true—quality control in a brothel. Girls who are interested in working as VIP escorts for Fiorella have interviews, psychological testing, and a photo session. Jamie then has sex with them, one after the other (in one day), carefully evaluating their every move. His office boasts of a stripper pole and a suitcase that's filled with condoms.