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Restaurant pros study the finer points of fine dining

May 18,2017
Master sommelier Yoon Ha, certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers, demonstrates how to handle wine service during his seminars, which was followed by sets of tests that ended Wednesday. [WINEVISION]
It’s never pleasant to be presented with food you didn’t order at a restaurant, or find that your water glass is covered with a lipstick stain. To ensure that more people have memorable experiences when dining or drinking out, local service managers, as well as individuals looking to learn more about how to better cater to their guests at home, are seeking guidance from abroad.

The Court of Master Sommeliers, one of the best-known global organizations in the service sector, brought their test materials and seminars to Korea for the fifth time this week.

Originally created to evaluate wine professionals, the organization has decided to make a simpler test for the very first level of its four-level-system, in an attempt to attract ordinary, everyday food and drink aficionados.

The organization, which has granted only 236 people worldwide with its highest Master Sommelier honor, has dispatched two Master Sommeliers to execute the first and second level tests for total 25 applicants in Korea this year. The certification garnered much attention locally after Kim Kyung-moon of the restaurant Modern at the Museum of Modern Art in New York became the first Korean citizen to earn the highest honor last year, followed by Yoon Ha, of restaurant Benu in San Francisco, the first Korean-American to do so. This year, all test-takers passed the basic level, and 11 passed the second-level test on Wednesday.

“The spotlight on chefs in the food scene helped to make [jobs in service] a n even more legitimate profession,” said Ha, adding that people have started to take positions associated with the restaurant industry more seriously thanks to the rise in television shows and social media highlighting the creative minds of chefs.

The exam tests applicants on food and wine pairings, extensive wine knowledge and on how smoothly they provide service through demonstrations. Tests are all done in English and standards applied to judge applicants are all the same across the world.

“Taking this test is a way to give me more options in the bigger job market across the world in case I want to look for opportunities overseas or want to be more acknowledged in the local market,” said sommelier Kwon Kee-hong of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in southern Seoul, who hopes that the increasing number of certified sommeliers and restaurant managers can create better-quality, higher-salary jobs in the service sector.

Since the organization opens its tests to non-professionals as well, anyone can try to get their wine and service skills certified by the internationally recognized institution. It can be used as an educational tool as well for Scott Lange from the United States, who moved to Korea six years ago and currently teaches English.

“I want to move on to wine education from English education,” said Lange, adding that this global certificate will come in handy when he recruits people for his wine class, which he had already done a couple of times.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]