On the Job With a Salt Sommelier

From pink Peruvian salt harvested in Andean springs to Welsh salt with hints of vanilla, the ubiquitous seasoning is such a centerpiece of the menu at Anantara Phuket Villas’ Sea.Fire.Salt restaurant that a saline-savvy expert was brought on board to oversee it. Meet Sommai Wooniem, the resident salt sommelier whose job it is to ensure that each meal is paired with the appropriate salt—or is it the other way around?

A typical day involves…making sure that the restaurant is properly set up, the music is on, and my salt jars are clean and filled. During lunch and dinner service, I learn the guests’ names and what they ordered before going to their tables, presenting the different salts, and helping choose the one that best suits their food and palate.

If someone told me I would grow up to be a salt expert…I would have just laughed. I wanted to be a surgeon or a businessman, maybe famous like Steve Jobs, but I have a passion for fine food, and discovering the world of flavors of different salts was a revelation.

Salt is like…wine. It goes through the same careful selection process when being matched with food—tom yum salt with seafood and white meat, for example, or green tea–infused salt with salad—because when the different salts and their flavors are used correctly, they can shape a dining experience.

Few people know that salt…was sometimes used as currency to pay Roman soldiers. This is where the word “salary” comes from, as well as the expression “to be worth one’s salt.”

The most challenging part of my job is…picking the right salt not only for the right dish but also for the right person. The salinity and the seasoning flavors of a dish are a question of personal taste, and choosing them is an art.

Working in hospitality is…not a job where you can look at your watch and clock time. It naturally requires long hours, but the shared story that has been created between my colleagues and me is one of the continual high points of my career. –Gabrielle LIpton

This article originally appeared in the December/January print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Worth His Salt”)

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