Miguel de Leon

Miguel de Leon

General Manager and Wine Director at Pinch Chinese

Learning doesn't stop just because you have a certification. In fact, it almost warrants that you continue to better yourself by keeping up with the news and errata of the wine world on a daily basis. But limiting yourself to your field also narrows your scope; I find it more interesting and valuable when the spaces where we intersect with other industries, like farming and regenerative agriculture, or immigration and migrant labor and fair wages, can provide deeper context and more human connections that not only bring knowledge to the forefront, but also an awareness of the injustices and shortcomings our industries suffer.

I learned very quickly that office work during college was not right for me! Sitting behind a desk doing math for an architectural firm made me completely reconsider my career path, and stumbling into hospitality was a way for me to exercise my strengths with people and to realize that the culture of hospitality is rooted in taking care of one another, something I still take very personally to this day.
There was a crucial factor in self-improvement and self-reflection that Momofuku instilled in me when I was working for that group. It gave space to learning from mistakes rather than getting it right the first time, and that such mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow instead of something to beat yourself up over. There is always room to improve, and always room for better ideas; if it so happens that the people making these decisions also have personal stakes due to their race, sexual orientation, or really anything else personally that makes them feel othered, then the space itself is already enriched by having different viewpoints that wouldn't have been considered otherwise.
The one thing I can’t live without is a good wine key. The fact that I get to wear whatever I want is a bonus.
The best piece of advice that I have received is that saying "No" is much more valuable than saying "Yes". There are times when saying "No" can lead to more crucial decision making and better outcomes not just personally, but also professionally. We as a society over-value and romanticize the idea of always being busy and we don't need to work ourselves down if we're not able to fully benefit from the work we already do; complicating situations with a "Yes" can sometimes be detrimental. It also provides you with integrity: saying "No" means that you don't compromise your dish, or your restaurant's vision, or your group's identity in the bigger market.
I’ve learned to create a healthy work/life balance by learning to take my time and delegate work where I know I can't be productive. Just because I can do inventory by myself doesn't mean I should; in fact, I use these opportunities as teaching moments to provide someone else who hasn't been privileged enough to be able to understand the full scope of the position that I do, and to also show them how these systems can benefit them in the future - whether it be inventory management, computer skills, or something that seems as simple as note-taking or spitting during tastings.
The most important skills to possess in this industry are honesty, integrity, curiosity and a willingness to take risks. Language is an obvious choice here as well, as we have to be mindful of how we contextualize our wine program, but earnest communication and building the right expectations with our guests is more critical than having an encyclopedic knowledge of wine regions and styles. I'd rather build a team that understands its own limitations and knows when to ask for help instead of losing the focus of its purpose, which is to make sure that our guests understand not only why we've picked the wines we have for our menu, but also to have them enjoy those choices for their benefit and pleasure.
A team is only as useful as you let it be. Trust is a major factor in keeping your team inspired, motivated, and educated. Involving them in all aspects of each position empowers and educates them about the real responsibilities of what they might want to pursue in the future. When they taste with our vendors, they can develop a more critical eye on how to edit selections for a wine list; when they manage inventory with me, they can see the importance and financial impact of careful bookkeeping; when they travel to nearby wineries with cherished winemakers, they see the familial aspects of our relationships and experience a tiny bit of the massive responsibility of what it means to steward the land for the future.

Disclaimer: Individuals featured in the Inspirational Career Timelines section have been nominated by peers, colleagues and/or other members of the hospitality industry. It is to the best of our knowledge that each individual has demonstrated leadership and acted as a positive role model for others.

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