Salvatore Castano recently earned the title of ASI Best Sommelier Europe & Africa, besting a group of talented sommeliers in the process. Yet despite being the just the 14th person to achieve the title, Castano’s humility continues to resonate. It was Castano’s gracious nature, and self-effacing humour that won over the crowd at the Rialto Theatre, in Limassol, at the finale of the contest held last month in Cyprus. ASI asked Salvatore about his achievement, and how he prepared for the contest.
ASI: What prompted you to begin working in the world of hospitality?
Salvatore: I started to work in hospitality in Sicily at the age of 15 years old, only during summer, of course, as I was still going to school. I really liked to work in this industry, at the time, so after graduation, I made the decision to travel and work at restaurants around the world. By working in several top hotels and restaurants, I naturally became very curious about wines and spirits, so I decided to take few courses and improve my knowledge about them.
ASI: What inspired you to take the next step and study for the Court of Master Sommelier exam?
Salvatore: When I arrived in London, I was working with a few sommeliers who had started the Court of Master Sommelier program already. Because I like to challenge myself, and I knew it was a hard exam, I decided to go for it. I like to challenge myself every day. I hope one day I will become one of the less than 300 Master Sommeliers in the world.
ASI: Describe how you trained in preparation for the ASI Best Sommelier Europe & Africa?
Salvatore: I was waking up very early in the morning to study before to go to work. Almost every day I was doing blind tasting of wines and spirits. To do this, I was thankfully supported by several industry friends around London, where I now live. With a few weeks to go until the contest, I started training for service scenarios, just to be ready to any sort of task that might be asked of us.
ASI: You seemed at ease during the semi-finals and finals. Was this, in fact, the case or were you inwardly nervous?
Salvatore: Of course, I was nervous, but I just wanted to have fun and enjoy the moment, so maybe that was the reason why I outwardly I seemed so relaxed.
ASI: A lot of people commented that you were a sommelier they would like to have serve them. How would you react to this comment?
Salvatore: I am very happy to hear this comment. I was just trying to be myself and perform as if I was serving real customers in my restaurant. I wanted them, like any customer, to have a good time.
ASI: How will you be preparing for the Best Sommelier of the World?
Salvatore: I know I will need to train even harder than for the ASI Contest Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa. I know already it is not going to be easy, as all the ‘best of the best’ are going to be there, but this also gives me massive motivation to push myself harder.
ASI: What’s next for Salvatore?
Salvatore: Winning this title means a lot to me, as after a lot of very hard work and a long time studying I have finally achieved something notable. That said, I think that I need to keep my feet on the floor, because this title does not change who I am or where I come from. The first thing that I learned when I became a sommelier was to always be humble and never forget the past.