Most taste-expert programs are modeled, in some fashion, on the venerable wine sommelier certifications; none have deviated radically from these. The term “sommelier” technically means a “wine waiter” or “wine steward,” a restaurant position dating to 18th-century France. “My purist definition of a sommelier is someone who works in hospitality, who serves wine in a restaurant,” said David Wrigley, international development manager of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, a London-based accreditation organization. I spoke with Wrigley last summer in Washington at an event called SommCon. There, the WSET presented its program to potential students alongside three rival organizations: the Society of Wine Educators, the Institute of Masters of Wine, and the Court of Master Sommeliers, the last being the subject of the popular documentary “Somm” and sequels. All of these programs offer a ladder of advancing levels, from introductory through master, increasing in price and commitment. WSET Level 1, for example, begins at just under $400 for six hours of course study, rising to Level 4. Level 4 alone takes up to 18 months and 600 hours of study to complete and costs more than $4,000 — and that cost can easily double as thousands more are spent on travel and acquiring bottles to taste. The WSET’s enrollment in the United States grew by 24 percent in 2017-2018. It now has more than 14,000 students, and worldwide there are more than 94,000.
I’m embarrassed to admit it to Marchese, but I’m exactly the type of consumer who keeps a plastic teddy bear in the pantry. As we taste a strange, dark buckwheat honey, with flavors like malty beer and pumpernickel and intensely funky, barnyard aromas — “horse blanket,” she says — the world of honey suddenly seems vast and overwhelming. Yesterday, I didn’t give honey a second thought. Today, I need to know everything.
Alright, the title's a little misleading. Technically only the No. 1 pick – Walt Disney World's famed Five-Diamond venue Victoria & Albert's – actually requires male guests to wear jackets. Some diners balk at restaurant dress codes, but when it comes to fine dining, wearing a special-occasion dress or cufflinks seems to level everything up, making an opulent evening out that much more sumptuous. Not that you'd call the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa's signature venue anything but. With up to 14 prix fixe courses available, dining at Victoria & Albert's is nothing less than a culinary experience, which is why reservations are best made well in advance. But lest you think the Disney realm is the only place in Orlando where dining is magical, be sure to investigate this roster’s other gems. Those looking for a classic steakhouse experience will find no fault at Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster where thick cuts are seared to perfection and the side dishes are as decadent as anything off the dessert menu. Celebrity chef Norman Van Aken's namesake at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes will delight those who enjoy Floribbean fare and if you're looking for something with more of a locals-only feel, check out his newer venture in Mount Dora: 1921. Its charming, walkable location boasts many options for pre-meal cocktails and window shopping to work up your appetite.
Chagrined, I become obsessed with acquiring another certification, in another realm of taste. I pay $120 to Ecole Chocolat, an online chocolate school, to enroll in its Mastering Chocolate Flavor certificate program. I enjoy good chocolate, and I was fascinated by the complexity and craftsmanship of chocolatiers on a trip to Brussels a few years earlier. I understand that chocolate can be “single origin” and demonstrate the concept of “terroir” just like wine and coffee — and honey. So I pay my money, unlock the study material, and am immediately overwhelmed with a dump of information: the origins of chocolate, cacao and cacao trees; how flavor works, both physiologically and in chocolate; the elements of chocolate flavor. We are encouraged to buy a textbook, co-written by Ecole Chocolat’s founder, titled “Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate.” The course is to be self-directed, with weekly tasting assignments — the first being a general exercise on sweet, sour, salty, bitter, fatty and umami, and the others comparing two or more chocolate bars. Students post to a group forum, with feedback from our Flavor Coach. “My primary question is how to classify ‘what is good,’ ” posts one of my classmates. To which our Flavor Coach replies: “Many folk in the industry have their own opinions about what ‘good’ chocolate is. Here’s mine (for the moment): ‘Good’ is a chocolate with no overpowering faults that is pleasant and sparks your interest. That leaves things pretty wide open, doesn’t it?”
This highly-rated restaurant off Sand lake Road bases its menu around fresh, seasonal produce (hence the name), and presents a nice mix of indoor and alfresco seating, with handsome views outback stretching across the adjacent lake. Seasons 52 also have an oak-fire grill and brick oven onsite, helping to bring out the natural flavors, as well as keep things healthy. Recommended dishes to try are the wood-grilled pork tenderloin, oak-grilled rack of lamb, Asian-glazed Chilean Sea Bass and duck wing ‘lollipops’. There’s also a sturdy lineup of local craft ales and international wines.
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Once you hit day three of a convention or a conference, you’re going to want to eat something that doesn’t weigh you down as you sit through four more hours of back to back powerpoint presentations. During your next break, head to Da Kine Poke. This former food truck now has food stalls at both downtown’s Market on Magnolia and at The Local Butcher and Market in Winter Park. There are a few signature bowls on the menu, or you can make your own, with a variety of fresh fish, vegetables, sauces, condiments, and bases to choose from.
We all know the only thing better than a standard hand-tossed pizza crust is a stuffed crust. We flavored this cheesy ring of bready glory with a seasoning blend inspired by the masters—Domino’s—and served it up with a delicious blend of the two most perfect crust dipping sauces: ranch and marinara. Get the Recipe: Cheesy Stuffed Pizza Crust Ring How to Make Lasagna Dip with Pasta Chips How to Make French Dip Pizza
When I move to the evaluation portion, however, I immediately realize I am in way over my head. Any hubris I had cracks when I pop my first sample, a soft-ripened cheese, into my mouth. I chew. It just tastes like … soft cheese. I am supposed to evaluate this based on 70 characteristics and flaws in four categories (appearance, aroma, texture and flavor). And not just the presence of, say, a nutty or herbal aroma or an animal or grassy flavor, but “much too little,” “too little,” “just about right,” “too much” or “much too much.” At the table in front of me I see another candidate spit into a bucket. Wait a minute! I think. Are we supposed to spit cheese when we taste it, like wine? I spit my soft-ripened cheese into the bucket on my table (which is gross, to be honest). Still, I gamely trudge on for almost three hours. When I get to the evaluation sheet for Emmental-style (i.e., Swiss) cheese, there is a category for “Eye Development,” with characteristics such as blind, underset, irregular and dead/dull eyes. So cheese has eyes? When I approach the cheesemongers for a sample of cheddar, I steal a glance at the clipboard of a bearded guy in a Hawaiian shirt and Birkenstocks standing next to me. He marks “seamy” on one of his score sheets. What does it mean to have a seamy cheese? I am so out of my league, I don’t even know what I don’t know.