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Encore, Maestro!

For Guinness World breaking mixologist, Salvatore Calabrese, the bar is a theatre and hospitality is the ultimate art form.


BY GIOVANNA G. BONOMO

June, 2024



Salvatore Calabrese at Velvet Bar in London


MAESTRO. Etymologically linked to teaching, music, and mastery, this word encapsulates the notion that an individual who attains mastery in their craft possesses an almost otherworldly gift. In the world of mixology, Salvatore Calabrese, widely known as “The Maestro”, exemplifies a nonsoché* quality that transcends bartending.


The inventor of the Breakfast Martini, and not only, regarded as a force of excellence in the modern drinks industry, has crafted cocktails for royalty, champions, presidents, and celebrities worldwide in search of a new emotion, a thrill of excitement, a fleeting moment to savour.


Like an orchestral conductor wielding a baton, Salvatore shakes up libations that captivate the senses and transport us from the bar to a theatre, crafting liquid masterpieces that transcend time itself. His ability to evoke awe and emotion through a drink raises the questions: Who is Salvatore Calabrese? Who was his first Maestro? And, what lessons can we learn from his extraordinary success?


Salvatore’s immersion into the enchanting world of hospitality began at a mere 11 years old, a pivotal juncture orchestrated by his father to steer him away from the Southern Italian streets of idleness. The gateway to this transformative odyssey unfurled at the illustrious Hotel Regina, ensconced along the sun-drenched shores of the Amalfi Coast in the picturesque town of Maiori.


Town on the Amalfi coast
The town of Maiori, on the Amalfi Coast

Salvatore quickly found himself immersed in La Dolce Vita, where dreams took flight on the wings of possibility. In these times, and within the opulent confines of Hotel Regina, Salvatore meets a mysterious luminary, Mr. Raffaello. A Humphrey Bogart type, a well-travelled polyglot, shrouded in enigmatic allure and profound wisdom, who would present the foundational notes of what would evolve into a grand symphony of The Maestro’s burgeoning career in hospitality.



Salvatore Calabrese and a picture with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin

GIOVANNA: Why was Mr. Raffaello such an important influence in your career?


SALVATORE CALABRESE: My father passed away, one year after introducing me to Mr. Raffaello. I was 12. So he became a second father and mentor for me. He belonged to that culture that placed hospitality above all else. You see, much is said about the so-called Dolce Vita of the Sixties. These were some of the best experiences in my life because I can truly say I experienced the Dolce Vita – it was a special time, and there was an elegance about having a drink. I remember the customers who came to the bar after the sea, dressed elegantly for the aperitif. It was within this kind of culture that Mr. Raffaello served as my mentor. He taught me many things, starting with the art of hospitality.



What is one lesson Mr. Raffaello taught you about the art of hospitality that you still cherish today?


S.C: This is a story that I will never forget because it taught me the key to hospitality. One day I entered, and the chef was not sitting in his usual place, he was cleaning a huge fish. I greeted him as per my usual sunny self, and suddenly, he grabbed the fish which was half the size of my adolescent body and hurled the beast at me.


So there I was flat on my back with this fish on my pre-pubescent chest! This shook me, and all morning I wondered what I had done wrong to deserve such treatment.


When Mr. Raffaello arrived, I told him everything that had happened. Instead of sympathizing with me or reprimanding Chef Alfonso, he taught me one of the most important lessons in hospitality: “Don’t try to bring the sunshine to those who don’t want it.” You must first understand the person. If they want the sun, bring them the sun. But if they want to be left alone, leave them alone.”This is the art and essence of true hospitality: it’s not about offering what pleases us, what we believe is good or beautiful, but rather about understanding what our guests desire, and trying to satisfy them. It’s about observing first and acting second. From that moment on, anyone who came to the bar, I tried to figure out their character.


Mr. Raffaello also taught me the secret of the three scales . This means shaking the shaker first higher up, then in the middle, and then lower down, with a rotating motion and not pounding. I still see many bartenders who make these pounding movements, breaking the ice. With the “three scales,” however, the result is completely different.



 

Unlock the full experience now! Purchase the Dolce Vita Issue to continue reading this article and other Rare and Wonderful stories featured inside.


 



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