When Miguel de Leon first came to the US more than two decades ago, he never dreamed he would be shaking things up.
"I got into university and then just really needed to pay my way through and so out of necessity, I worked at a restaurant and I was lucky that it was like one of the best restaurants in the country," de Leon shared.
That experience gave him a taste of what was to come and now, he is a well-respected wine professional while drawing from his Filipino roots.
"I was tasting things from my childhood, right? I was tasting things like sampaloc and I was tasting things like curry leaf in the things that I was drinking and I was tasting langka in Chenin Blanc. I was tasting tamarind in Cabernet Franc."
Currently working at the Michelin-rated Pinch Chinese restaurant in New York City, de Leon is seeing the accolades pour in. He was named the New York Sommelier of the Year in 2021. This year, de Leon bested established food writers to win the James Beard award in the media category for his writing about being Filipino in the wine industry. Winning a James Beard is a lot like winning an Oscar, but for those in the culinary industry.
"I hope my being [in the wine industry] inspires some other Filipino to consider this as a career," the sommelier said. "I’m not a nurse. I’m not an engineer. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an architect; doesn’t mean that I can’t be successful... On top of me being American, of me being who I am, it’s especially the fact that I’m Filipino that’s brought me [in the wine industry]."
De Leon hopes that the world of wine will soon have more people of color.