Allegrini 2018

Yannick Benjamin, resilient sommelier who has found the strength to start again from the wine world

In a wheelchair since 2003, the young sommelier tells Wine2Wine: “from hospitality I learned not to accept “no”, and to find solutions”

“The enology sector has saved my life”: with this simple and impactful phrase, Yannick Benjamin sums up his life experience, made of successes and hard moments, overcome thanks to his tenacity. And his love for hospitality, catering, and wine. Yes, because his confidence in knowing what to do in life, Yannick found the strength to get up again: born in 1978, he grew up in New York in the difficult district of Hell’s Kitchen, “which is not really the best place to grow - admits Benjamin in his communication, in Verona, at Wine2Wine, Vinitaly’s platform for business, updating and professional training of the international wine community - but the multicultural environment of my neighborhood and my building have introduced me to the welcome: kindness, helpfulness, warmth”. He is the son of immigrants, with a father who works in the restaurant industry, and who therefore sees very little, but who passes on his love for catering, it doesn’t take him long to understand that this is the sector in which he wants to work. So, already in high school, he began to make his experiences, full time, in various restaurants in New York. Life at one thousand an hour, everything is fine, until, on October 27, 2003, everything changes: Yannick has a car accident, and is paralyzed from the waist down. “While I was in the car, trapped, I already thought that my career was over, that I could never be a sommelier, I would never work in a restaurant again.” From here, the “dark period” begins years of rehabilitation, “in which I seemed to be reacting well, even psychologically, but it wasn’t like that: I couldn’t accept that it was me who had to adapt to the world, I felt excluded and misunderstood”. Until he realizes that not everything is lost: he meets Jean-Luc Le Du, who is opening a wine shop in the West Village: Yannick takes courage and knocks on his door, to be hired. Things don’t go exactly as planned, but in any case, he manages to get hired and starts to work again (at first for free) in his field: he begins to take courses in sommeliers and competitions, despite after many failures and uncertain looks of the judges. And it was here that the spark for wine, for the world of hospitality, rekindled: “thanks to the door opened by Le Du - says Benjamin - I never stopped. I rediscovered my dynamism, and after a few months I began to feel the lack of catering, of serving people: so I decided to go back to university. I graduated in 2012, and here I started to get to know closely what barriers are, which I found myself having to overcome every day, often with my ingenuity, that I was in front of”. Here he began to combine his two inspirations: wine and help for the disabled: this is how “Wine on Wheels” was born in 2013, a charity event launched by his non-profit association “Wheeling forward”, which raises funds to make it easier and better quality of life for people with disabilities”. “2013 was the year of my rebirth: in addition to founding my association, I was hired in a restaurant, and started to do what I love. What I’ve learned in catering has served me well in my life: no one should ever say the word “no” in hospitality: there is always a solution, and our job is to find it”. And the world of wine is a symbol of this resilience, indispensable to survive and succeed in times that change easily, with the advent of the Internet, globalization, changing consumer tastes, but also climate change, environmental disasters. “So, I went further: I decided to open my restaurant in January 2020: it will be completely barrier-free, with aids for the blind, and for those who can not use the upper limbs. It will be called Contento, and it will be a restaurant with a high social impact, a small place to make a great social and cultural change”.

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