Updated : 2017.5.29 Mon 13:53
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Rice sommelier Park Jeong-woon’s palate distinguishes finest tasting rice
2017년 02월 28일 (화) 16:09:19 Jang Min-jeong minjeongjang@ewhain.net
   

As a rice sommelier, Park Jeong-woon expertises in assessing and managing rice gains in manufactured food., His professional palate decides the best way to harvest, prepare, and consume the rice. Photo provided by Park Jeong-woon.  

Convenience stores at lunch hours are crowded with students buying ready-made meals. A variety of meals, each varying in its composition, provide hearty food for the students. The increased popularity of such ready-made lunches can be attributed to a secret revolving around the flavor of the rice packed in them. The flavor is managed by rice sommeliers, experts whose job is to strictly assess and manage the production of the rice. Park Jeong-woon is one such person and is currently in charge of the rice used to make ready-made meals for the CU convenience stores. 
Park started his career as a rice sommelier after realizing the importance of the taste of rice when he was working in CU’s factories that produced ready-made meals. He soon came to know about annual exams for rice sommelier certification. He studied for the exam and received a certificate in 2013.
To be a certified rice sommelier, a position first established by the Corporation of Rice-Cooking in Japan, one must learn how to analyze different types of rice, the ideal number of times to wash rice, the appropriate temperature for storage and cooking, as well as the appropriate cooking time.
 “The books I used while studying for the exam provided me with information such as the origins and various types of rice, which I thought would be useful for producing delicious rice,” Park said. “The hardest part of studying at first was learning professional terms in Japanese. Fortunately, an acquaintance of mine helped me with the translation, and I studied with a coworker who was preparing for the same exam. We studied for roughly three hours each day, drilling each other and memorizing the materials together.”
After becoming a rice sommelier, Park has spent a lot of time testing the quality of rice, which has increased his affection for it.
“I often have to eat rice for testing,” Park said. “Although my family tries to stop me from eating too much rice out of fear that I may gain weight, I really enjoy eating it on its own.”
The process of selecting rice is not an easy task as Park has to examine numerous factors involved. He first selects rice and chooses which companies he will receive the rice from. Next, he checks if the rice fulfills CU’s criteria. He also verifies that he has received the correct rice from each company.
“I am currently managing all the rice used around the nation, and I feel a lot of pressure as I have a sense of duty to serve the best and most consistent taste of rice for our customers,” Park said. “However, when I heard that the overall satisfaction for rice has increased, and people tell me that they are enjoying the taste of the rice, I forget about all the hardships and think that my efforts are finally paying off.”
Although the wine sommelier is a widely known vocation, the existence of other types of sommeliers is less awknowledged by the public. In that sense, rice sommeliers are possibily unfamiliar to many. However, rice sommeliers are gaining more recognition nowadays, even outside the field of rice-related jobs.
“Unlike in the past, when only those working in rice-related fields sat for the rice sommelier certificate exams, the range of people who take the exams is now expanding to include those who are simply interested in rice,” Park said. “I try to advertise my career whenever I get a chance.”

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