Meet Lisa Ali - Gelson's Tastemaster
October 03, 2018
Lisa Ali has a food lover’s dream job. She’s a Tastemaster: The person to call if you want help with food and wine pairings, catering ideas, small and large event planning, and even flower arrangements.
The thing we admire about Lisa is that she has a deep knowledge of food and wine and a keen eye for trends — knowledge she’s acquired over many years of working at Gelson’s, and keeps building on with training, research, and food and lifestyle magazines. “And many trips to the cheese shop,” she laughs. “That’s where I spend all my days off.”
A native of Santa Monica, Lisa has worked for Gelson’s for 25 years. “That’s when I really learned to love food,” she says. “I started in the deli at our Marina Del Rey store, and from there, I spent a lot of time looking into the other departments, visiting the kitchen and the wine department, learning from our chefs and buyers, and hanging out in the wine bar, talking with our customers.”
Over the years, she has been consistently drawn to the Gourmet Cheese department — and not just for tastings. “I was fascinated by the wrap program,” she says. “We buy all of our cheeses in blocks and wheels, and then cut and wrap them, and there’s a real art to that.”
And so, in 2017, she decided to get more serious about cheese and earn her American Cheese Society (ACS) certification, a rigorous process that includes a test. “It’s like the bar exam for cheese,” she explains. “It takes three hours, and there are 150 questions.” Perhaps that’s why there are fewer than 1000 across the United States.
Since then, the ACS continues to be a big part of her ongoing training. Each year, she attends their annual conference, where she takes classes and attends pairings. “I learn so much, like pairing sake with cheese, which I would not have thought of,” she said. “For example, sake with Japanese plums and soft goat cheese — or a nori-wrapped camembert.”
Another new favorite: A pairing of apple ciders — bubbly and flat, sweet and dry — with cheese.
She also builds learning into her day-to-day work at our Century City store, where she’s now based. At the moment, she’s really excited about Gelson’s new charcuterie program, and salami in particular has been a revelation. “It’s so interesting how salami from different regions, like Spain and Italy, have such different textures and flavors,” she says. “And now that we have our own rosé, I’ve been working on pairings. The rosé is so light and crisp, it pairs beautifully with the salami, even if it’s spicy.”
“In some ways, meat is just like cheese,” she adds, thoughtfully. “The animals — whether they’re pigs, goats, or cows — are bred and fed so specifically for each meat. In Spain, the iberico pigs they use for chorizo only eat acorns, and that’s what gives the sausage its nutty flavor.”
And then she laughs again: “Doing the homework for my job is so much fun — it’s the best part.”