Mirko Pastorelli: The Disabled Sommelier
Join host Peta in a captivating conversation with Mirko Pastorelli, a disabled sommelier with an extraordinary passion for wine. Discover his inspiring journey and how he's reshaping the world of wine as a disabled sommelier.
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Peta [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host. This week I have Mirko Pastorelli on the podcast. He's a disabled sommelier. I really enjoyed this conversation and I hope you do too. So without any further ado, let's hand over to Mirko.
Mirko [00:00:43] My name is Mirko Pastorelli. I'm 38 years old and I'm Italian and I was born with spastic paraplegia because of a childhood trauma because I was born about six months. Thank you, Wolf. But I got the balance. I've been using the wheelchair since it was 14 years old. And for the rest that I'm a sommelier, I'm a consultant for a restaurant and bars selling wines beers and spirits.
Peta [00:01:19] I'd love to know. Why wine? Where did that start for you? Why do you love wine?
Mirko [00:01:28] You know Peta, wine represent, represent a strong passion for me. Ten years ago, I was a software developer. But my passion for food and wine was stronger. And I proved myself in this industry and the initially was just the passion. I decided to turn it into a job. A overview is crucial to develop your pate first. Then the nose. Sometimes the nose can lie. If you have a black glass and the if you smell the liquid, sometimes the nose can lie to you. If you brought that into your pate, the pate is never wrong. In general, wine is not judge it on the basis of so many aromas we perceive in the nose, but on how it behaves in the mouth in order to be able to pair it, to pair it with the right food. Pairing in general is the most important thing in in our industry because, you know. So, for example, there are four points to be a good Sommlier. Service in our restaurant if you work in a restaurant. The the managing how to buy wines, how to serve wines, the pricing, etc.. Tasting and and walking is the pairing. we talk about food wise pairing is really important to pair the right food with the right wine. This is my personal opinion and an honest, a loyal person does not put profit first in this world. Will never we never make, a bad wine. So the most important thing is to put people in the centre of this indsutry. The most beautiful thing is to meet you people to get to know the people stories, their life stories. Because everything just about people is not about the product itself. When I talk to someone with the opening of a restaurant of a bar, I tell them this man's story not about the wines story. No. Our goal is to give emotion to the people.
Peta [00:04:06] Clearly you're very passionate about people as well as food and wine, like you've spoken about quite extensively, extensively how the right people who are passionate produce the right wine. So I'm interested to hear about how you went when you entered the hospitality industry as somebody who has a disability. Did you receive positive thoughts and support from the industry or were you warned about joining the industry? How did the industry overall accept you as a disabled person?
Mirko [00:04:39] I've had a lot of support from people inside the industry, especially from the United States, from Yannick Benjamin and other all friends in New York. I've always been a dominated and stubborn, and in the end I leave the what they want to do. Nothing is impossible. And you must follow your dream. Always. Today with the use of technology and the greater open mindedness in society, the disabled people can work in this industry, that 50, 50, 50 years ago it was impossible. If I did this, other people can do to. And I think is a beautiful thing. For example, there was a very difficult moment in my life seven or eight years ago when I when I leave the software development industry And I didn't know what to do because I was in a wheelchair, I studied to be a software developer. And I remember that one day I was in, I was bored in my office. I started my Sommelier course. One afternoon I tried to search on Google "wheelchair sommelier", "disabled sommelier" Something like this. And I found a picture of Yannick Benjamin, with his tray. And since that time and decided to follow my dream because this man inspired me. I decided to transform that passion into a job. It's really important to to read this type of story, positive story, to change the perception of disability in different societies and different people.
Peta [00:06:38] Exactly by saying a person with a disability as a Sommelier, you knew you could do it, too. And that's how powerful representation is.
Mirko [00:06:50] Yeah, exactly. And you know, we are not talking about disability. Think about a normal person will read my story. Your story, listen, your podcast and this person have some ideas inside his head and he wants to change his life in a different way. And, and I show that we show friends in another type of industry and industries. And they told me, you know, I follow you on on Facebook, on social media, I read your articles, I follow your interview, and you inspired me. So you know what? I want to do the thing. And before I didn't want to do because I was fearfull by it and now I want to do that. So that's a really strong thing because you can change the lives of all the people inside you, disability or not. But it's really important.
Peta [00:07:59] Very special. Absolutely. I'm interested. Like as a disabled person, of course, nothing is perfect. Even though we are progressing in society that disability and non-disabled people are saying is less less of a tragedy. But obviously, there's still so many barriers to becoming a successful Sommelier and being part of the hospitality industry. How have you gone with people's attitudes and physical barriers, like getting into to restaurants in your wheelchair? How do we go about overcoming all those?
Mirko [00:08:38] Yeah. You know, many European restaurant outside the city centre restaurants is difficult for a person who's in a wheelchair to move between tables, for example, and find accessible toilets. I know it's difficult for me as a employee in the restaurant. For example, in your country, there are a lot of acessible places talking about a restaurant, and it's not the same thing in Italy. Absolutely not. In Europe, you can find some accessible restaurant, but for me, the best place for that is the United States. In New York. Chicago. Las Vegas. Las Vegas, for example, is very, very accessible for the people with disabilities and Australia. It was a while in Melbourne. I didn't see Sydney unfortunately, but I found a lot of places accessible for the wheelchair.
Peta [00:09:44] You did come and live in Melbourne, but unfortunately it was very badly timed. Your choice to come to the city that I love. That happened during COVID lockdown. So you didn't get to see my city in the best light. That must have been really difficult living in a city that was foreign to you during lockdown. What was that like?
Mirko [00:10:08] It was really, really crazy because I took one of the last flight from Milan. I took the flight on March five. I started to work at Vue De Monde restaurant. In that moment, I really wanted to start my career as a Sommelier. After two months of thinking, in May Vue De Monde closed for the coronavirus. I hope that the thing will be reopened soon. I must stay here, and I don't care about the stay in this room and this city. Thanks to this experience, I was able to meet many people in the industry in Australia. And probably if I had continued to work as a sommelier at Vue De Moinde, I would not have been able to get to know the people so closely. So it was it was a beautiful experience, a very hard experience. For my head because, you know, I stay all the days inside this house and listen to music and sleep 12, 13 hours a day. I had lost 25 kilos. During the time I was not very balanced, inside me. With the solitude. Yeah. It was a really, really interesting experience.
Peta [00:11:50] For a strong disability community. I think you need to have strong pillars within those communities that start the momentum to have a positive outlook in the community. For example, the first person and you probably won't know this reference, which is fine, but the person that I look to as a pillar or the person that started the disability community for me here in Australia was Stella Young. And when I think about going back to the hospitality industry and the Sommelier industry, clearly Yannick Benjamin and yourself are the two people in the industry working with a disability that can be the example to increase people with disabilities in the industry.
Mirko [00:12:39] If you see the disability as an opportunity and not as something bad. You can use this opportunity to change the perception of your situation to other people. It's not a limitation. Is not a limitation because we have great power. Because you can change a lot people's lives. These are a great power. But first, you must accept yourself. Take your story, take your life story and share that with other people to inspire them. You have a wonderful opportunity. Use it. Do it. That's it.
Peta [00:13:22] Clearly, you're a very determined person, and I love how comfortable you are with your disability. I think it's great. And for the person that you are, I have no doubt that you have many aspirations and goals for yourself. So what do you hope your future will look like?
Mirko [00:13:43] In the short term, I intend to obtain the Master diploma the most important education for a Sommelier in the world. And continuing to be a beverage consultant in Italy and also being dealing with beers, spirits and cigars, as I said before. And, you know, these are all these allow me like many different stimulations, especially when you travel to other countries, no? For example, if you go to South America, you can discover the cigar world, or if you go to Belgium, you can discover the Belgian beer. If you go to Poland, you can discover the vodkas. It's all a big opportunity industry because to really work of a Sommelier is to be curious about everything. I live my life day by day. I have short term goals. I can't say if I would be here in ten years. You can't control life. I don't like to think about myself when I will be 60 years old. I don't know maybe I will be dead at that time. It is really important to get up in the morning for a short time goal, leaning into the life , day by day where they enjoy your moment. That's it. But it is really important to stay focussed on your short term goal now because if you want to to climb a mountain you need to do it step by step, step by step.
Peta [00:15:29] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it if you did. Can I encourage you to leave a writing and review wherever you listen to your podcasts? It'll help more people find the show. Or if you have a suggestion for a topic or a guest you'd like me to look into. Please get in contact. My email is. I can't stand podcast at gmail.com. Well, you can follow me over on Instagram. My handle is at Peter Hook, spelled at ah0ke. Thanks again for listening. And until next week. Have a good one, guys. Bye. I'd like to pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, but especially to the wrong people. Where this podcast was recorded.