Simone Sylvestre, business development manager at wine merchant Jeroboams, credits her mentors for inspiring her and thinks a job in hospitality should always be fun. Lisa Jenkins meets her.
Did you study a hospitality-related course at college or university?
Yes, I studied two years of hotel management in Brazil prior to coming to London in 2003.
Did you do an apprenticeship in hospitality?
When I first arrived in London I worked as a chef, but I also worked in a few restaurants during my days and nights off to learn more about wine and start my career as a sommelier.
Did you do any work experience in the industry at a young age?
Yes, I worked with Compass when I was 19 as a chef.
What was your first job?
My first job was in Brazil working behind the bar in a club, making cocktails and organising events.
What initially attracted you to working in hospitality?
My love of cooking and I enjoyed the social interaction with people. Then I found my passion for wine and decided to give that 100%.
Who was your first role model in hospitality?
[Master sommelier] Yves Desmaris. I met him in 2008 and he became my mentor, and someone I admired. He has a great knowledge and passion like no one else in the industry.
How did you decide on your career? Were there any influences, influencers or experiences that encouraged you?
A big step was when I was a catering manager and entered the Acorn Scholarship competition. Winning the scholarship with my dream of becoming a sommelier changed my life and my point of view completely. I met so many professional and amazing people; I knew then, for sure, that I was in the right industry.
What industry networks have you been part of that have supported you in your career progression?
I am still involved with Vini Italiani, also known as the Wine Place, and I worked for Melanie Brown to open the Laundry and to manage the Specialist Cellars at Pop Brixton. Most recently, before taking on my latest role with Jeroboams, I worked with Xavier Rousset, Steve Pineau and Phil Bartley to open Old Brompton, their new wine and cheese shop in South Kensington. That was a wonderful experience.
Have you embarked on any additional personal career development?
Yes, the Languedoc Master Classes organised by the Academy of Food & Wine, the diploma of international sommelier, Fondazione Italiana Sommelier, and the Level 2 with the Wine, Spirit & Education Trust.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced while working in hospitality?
We had to close the Vini Italiani site in Greenwich and one year later we closed the South Kensington site too. We have since rebranded the Vini Italiani site in Covent Garden to the Wine Place. My life, time and passion was completely dedicated to Vini Italiani at that point and it was the hardest experience in my life to let it go.
Do you have any regrets or things you wish you'd done differently?
No. I think I have tried and taken risks to embrace every single opportunity I have had.
What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Do it for fun and pleasure, not for money. It's not easy but the experience is sensational!
What are your future career goals?
I want to settle down now, sell wines to restaurants and be a brand ambassador.
Would you recommend a career in hospitality to your friends and family?
Yes. I think everyone should have to experience the hospitality world. You grow with it.
I think everyone should have to experience the hospitality world. You grow with it
Who inspires you in the industry?
I've been so lucky to meet incredible people: chef Michael Caines, who I met when I first won the Acorn Scholarship competition, is one of the reasons for my success. I met Xavier Rousset in 2008 when I walked into his first restaurant, Texture. Since then, he has been one of my greatest mentors and friend.
Bruno Cernecca, who I met in 2010, is still my business partner at the Wine Place. He is an incredible creature and my favourite loud person in the world. And again Steve Pineau and Phil Bartley. Steve is a machine, and can turn a place into a bar and restaurant in one day and Phil is calmer but so focused about his sites.
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