Water has enjoyed a pride of place as an elixir of life. It is contended that humans can survive weeks without solid food, but can only survive a few days without water. Experts would also have us believe that drinking three or four litres of water every day is important for good health. While those of us who work outdoors (somehow) manage to consume this amount, the rest of us — operating from our airconditioned bliss — find it rather difficult to consume adequate amounts of water. Outside its essentiality to our survival, water also deserves an epicurean place on our dining tables, says Allison Poerner, GCC’s first water sommelier.
Water sommelier might seem like a new area of expertise. It isn’t. Allison is 102nd water sommelier in the world and her work revolves around curating water menus for restaurants and organising water tastings. But, but… did we not tell others — and sometimes ourselves — that water does not have taste? “All the different sources the water comes from gives it different taste. Even the minerality of the water contributes to the taste,” says Allison, who was an executive chef who went on to graduate from Fine Water Academy in order to specialise as a water sommelier.
Allison is aware of the unique spot she enjoys at the moment as the GCC’s first water sommelier. She has already done a couple of water tastings for hotels and restaurants. Why water, though? “With high incidence of diabetes in the GCC, water was a natural choice for me.”
So what does it take to create a water menu for a restaurant? “First, you look at the theme of the restaurant. For example, if it is a seafood restaurant, you will need water with low minerality because it pairs well with seafood.” On the other hand, if it is a barbecue restaurant or the food has strong flavours, you will need something with high minerality. Allison explains the why of it. “For instance, if you have vegetable egg rice, you can concentrate on the lightness of the egg, and pair or contrast with it. But I have found that of the 32 naturally sourced mineral waters, some of the iconic ones are available here too, which makes it easier.”
An important aspect of a water sommelier’s job is to detect water quality and taste. Allison says the key is to choose water from a natural source — whether it is spring, well, artesian, iceberg or glacier water. “In Tasmania, New Zealand, they harvest rainwater. That water has not been through any permeable rocks or been around for a long time. They harvest it quickly so that there is no contamination. The TDS could be very low in it. The TDS (or Total Dissolved Solids) generally comprises magnesium, calcium, potassium, among other minerals, and is determined on the basis of how long the water has been around.” It’s the history of the water and what is absorbed from the grounds or the glaciers.
Water, says Allison, could also be the next big trend in food. “The days of still and sparkling are gone — people want choices now. They want to choose what kind of water should be paired with food,” she says. “We deserve choices. And that’s why I want to introduce water menus in the GCC. It’s a part of my portfolio to elevate dining experience with water. I started my company in February, so I am really new to it. We have so many diverse nationalities being represented here, especially Arabic people tend to consume sugary drinks and juices. Water can be a great alternative.”
But how do you choose the right water? Allison recommends reading the label first. “The water labelling in the UAE is fantastic — it tells you where the water comes from and which minerals are there in it. Ultimately, you want to drink waters that are good for you.”
At the moment, the very concept of pairing or contrasting water with food is relatively new. One of Allison’s immediate objectives would be to train staff on how to serve water. “There is one brand, San Pellegrino, famous in the UAE, which is a great natural water. But people need to know they have these choices.”
While plain water commands its own following, sparkling water has had its fair share of takers as well. Allison says the effervescence in the sparkling water is really soft and gentle bubble. “But once you go on to bold bubbles, it’s ready to use in cocktails, like Perrier. A lot of people say they don’t like Perrier because of the big bubbles. So I introduce them to another water — Hildon, for example — that has really fine carbonation. Carbonation is basically bubble — it either pleases you or it doesn’t please you.”
The vessel from which you drink water is as important as the type of water you are drinking. For example, many of us tend to consume water from plastic, which, in turn, alters the taste. “Because of the kind of heat we have in Dubai, if you look at the shops below your buildings, so many gallons of water bottles are kept outside. And once the heat reaches a certain temperature, it changes its properties and releases that taste into the water.” Allison’s solution to that is drinking water from a water glass. “A water glass is similar to a wine glass. It can actually be even 2-3 cms higher. And you will see it has straight edges because you don’t need to swallow to get the nuance.” She admits it is not always a practical choice when one is in the desert or even a pool area. “If I had to have this in a takeaway coffee cup, I am not sure how it would taste,” she says. “I definitely think water tastes different when it is prepared beautifully or served beautifully.”
1. A well-known fact but Allison reiterates breaking your fast with dates and naturally sourced water. “If you drink juice, you are likely to feel more thirsty. Drinking naturally sourced water will replenish your body with minerals.”
2.She also warns against being carried away by pH levels of water. “Alkaline water, it is said, is not good for you. But it does not make any difference what the pH of the water is. Look at the label — if it has TDS, it is natural water. If it does not have any of this, it is processed water.”
HOW TO PAIR/CONTRAST WATER WITH FOOD
When preparing her water menus, Allison says she looks at the type of restaurant and what kind of clientele it has. “Low minerality water is what you have with seafood, sashimi, ceviche. Whereas bubbled water is what you would serve with curries and barbecues. Say if you are doing a fish dish, you could even pair the water with the sauce of the dish.”
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