Interviewing MªJosé Huertas: “Casino de Madrid” sommelier, mother and sportswoman

By Sergio González | 10:57

A very hot June morning in Madrid; nicely, the majestic door of the historic Casino de Madrid opens up and the inner marbled freshness from one of the most classy Madrid buldings welcomes us. Today we are meeting  María José Huertas, renowned sommelier of Casino’s rooftop restaurant, one of the fanciest places NH Hoteles proudly runs.

María José  has been leading the La Terraza at Casino of Madrid cellar for more than 13 years, the majority of them working elbow to elbow with Paco Roncero, executive chef of La Terraza. Both of them attended Ferran Adriá’s culinary school, who still works as a consultant for La Terraza. Paco and María José are closer than just mere colleagues, in her own words, “we are like siblings.”

In NH Friends, a new section of our blog we want to offer a close and warm view of those who day by day make NH possible; today we are sharing our time with a sweet sensitive woman, in love with her job.

How do you understand the relationship among social networks, your life, wine and the Internet?

“Nowadays social networks are essential to manage everyday life in a quick practical way. You can be in touch with people from your environment who happen to be away. To keep up with those relationships, I have a Facebook profile.

I also have a professional Facebook account, personal as well but completely public, where I have almost 3,000 friends. I use this profile on a regular basis to talk about interesting things going on at La Terraza and my work for  NH Hoteles. When there’s an important event, a riveting tasting or if I uncorked a special wine, I post it and so in this way I begin a closer relationship with all the friends who share their passion for wine.”

Some other colleagues of yours, such as Óscar Velasco or Paco Roncero, host a personal blog, do you feel like starting one?

“I understand the added value and the enrichening back and forth generated, the interaction and so vibrant conversations that come trough the feedback and comments… but it’s a matter of time. On Facebook, not being itself a blog, I get lots of questions and suggestions that demand some time to be answered. Managing a blog and trying to merge it with my life would be really demading, because if you run one, you have to keep it updated.”

When you have to choose among the wines you will be offering in La Terraza wine list and the best vintages, do you utilize the Internet as an essential tool?

“Absolutely! Even when wine references change from one vintage to another and I have to check out if they’ve used the same grapes as the former one, Internet is essential. It’s also crucial when I am going to create a new wine or cellar profile;  it’s a vital tool for my everyday work.”

 Do you know or are you involved in any sommelier community, nationwide or internationally? 

“On Facebook, I have been added to specific communities about wine related subjects, where I take part if asked a question.

I do have a close relationship with a heterogeneous group of sommeliers from Madrid, whom I consult with if I need to know who sells or distributes certain wine in which I am especially interested. Regarding this, I think it would be very enrichening if I could count on my Facebook friends to brainstorm about issues we are all interested in; I’m sure I will get very good replies. I would even dare to talk about more controversial subjects such as the quality of a specific wine and its evolution. No doubt it’s enrichening.”

Nowadays it’s important to captivate our clients trough stories created around brands. Do you think it’s important to tell your client the story behind each wine?

“Yes, it is, but it will depend a lot on the type of client and what he or she expects from a sommelier. Foreign customers are more receptive, generally speaking, to get to know the story around the wine they’re drinking, but some others are just looking for more technical data; it’s up to the client.”

Would you find interesting a social network for NH People around the world?

“Absolutely! I find it as a very appealing idea and I’m sure we’ll get very good results. Me myself, I would advise colleagues from restaurants which don’t have a sommelier on adding or not a new wine reference. In this field of mine we are very few so perhaps it would be more limited, but I’m sure among others, such as concierges or recepcionist, a very productive network could turn out.”

 We would like to know a little more about your personal preferences regarding the subjects we cover on our Blog:

“A wine – Sherry

A place – Greenland

An architectural spot – Zamora Cathedral

A book – Orbitales by Victoria Méndez

A sport – Fencing -which I practice, despite I have had surgery conducted twice on my meniscus I try to exercise it once a week.

A meal – Rice”

What things inspire you about the  following cooks: 

“Ferrán Adriá  – Respect and admiration because of his devotion and the way he has turned around how gastronomy is perceived by the gerenal public.  In this regard, I should also mention Karlos Arguiñano and some others for helping to reinvent traditional Spanish cooking.

Paco Roncero –  We are like siblings after 13 years together; I’m the sister he never had.”

Santi Santamaría – next 9th of July in Hesperia Tower Barcelona we’ll be paying tribute to his figure. Did you meet him?

“Yes, I met him, as a customer when he came to visit us at La Terraza, but not in a close way. He was charming and very charismatic.”

When did your passion for wine arise?

“While I was studying Agricultural engineering. I had  never shown any special interest before; actually, I didn’t drink wine. Once I got a deeper understanding and I started to know this world for better, I fell in love, specially with winemaking. It’s like science-fiction: there are no two wines alike. It’s really interesting since there are millions of wines, each one unique, changing and evolving every single minute, every year. I came to this world through the winemaking process.”

What’s the best education for a sommelier?

“In this job, the more, the better; that’s the education. Taste as much as you can, travel and learn anything you are able to during your training and your professional life.

The best specific training in Spain can be obtained in Madrid Chamber of Commerce Sommelier Course; it’s good, although it has its flaws. It’s important and convenient to have a good foundation gained through enology, agriculture and even chemical studies before you apply for a sommelier school course. Any knowledge of the most technical sides of wine is the perfect background before starting in the hospitality industry.”

Do you think the sommelier scope is affected by the world financial crisis?

“Not in a direct way, but consumption does. The restaurants that had sommeliers among their staff before the crisis still offer this service. Maybe our profession is more severely influenced by strict sobriety points that prevent alcohol intake outside home.

Is there a change in wine consumption because of prices?

“At La Terraza we haven’t felt the impact of the crisis because we have many foreign customers visiting us and their intake has remained the same. We do notice fewer orders during lunch time, a time for business meals. In managing the cellar I have become more prudent, sensible if I may. We used to have 900 wine referencies which have been reduced to 750 and I also try to store less stock per reference.”

How would you describe La Terraza del Casino clients?

“With a discerning palate and pretty heterogeneous: business people, families, couples celebrating their wedding anniversary, engagement parties, foreign toursits…this diversity is what makes the everyday work really interesting.”

How do you bring togehter hospitality industry opening hours and family life?

“I didn’t use to cope well, but since I asked for a 20% reduction of my working hours to take care of my daughter it’s easier. I have Sundays and Mondays off to spend with my family; I should have done this before.”

What summer destination would you suggest if I were to dig into wine and tasting world?

“No doubt it will be Jerez – Sherry- because of its quality and technical properties. Intensity, complexity, taste and longevity of Sherry wines are outstanding. And if you add the romanticism of the cellars, it’s the perfect destination to fall in love with wine. Another lovely one would be Vinhos do Douro.”

Thanks a lot for your time!!

 

 

 
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  • posted by Courtney Imel | 05 November 2013, 15:43,

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  • […] In 2000 chef Paco Roncero was promoted to Head Chef at the Casino, and currently occupies this position. He is considered Ferrán Adrià’s most outstanding disciple and continues to offer guests a modern kitchen with rigorous selection of only the freshest products on the market. Garden fresh vegetables from the garden, red Denia steamed prawns, and  fried fish with mojito mayonnaise are just some of the dishes you can enjoy on the latest Spring menu. With their wine list updated weekly, take advantage of the over 500 wines to choose from paired excellently with your meal by sommelier Maria José Huertas […]

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