Allegra Angelo grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, in a home where the kitchen was always busy: aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors were constant, spontaneous guests for dinner, and pots were always simmering on the stove. Wine, however, was less of a priority; iced tea and Pepsi were the norm, except for Mom’s box of White Zinfandel in the spare fridge.
Having inherited the cooking and food gene from her mother, Allegra’s part-time restaurant jobs competed for her attention while she pursued a degree in Biological Anthropology at Atlanta’s Emory University. By the time she graduated in 2002, the transformation was complete; while friends began interning at law firms or planning trips abroad, she was off to the Culinary Institute of America in the Hudson Valley.
There she discovered others as passionate or even more passionate about food as she was. She also found – eventually – that while she loved food and cooking, becoming a chef didn’t seem as appealing as it once had. Fortunately, an out had appeared: wine.
Mr. Weiss, the CIA’s wine teacher, had introduced her to the wonders of fermented grapes, and starting from scratch, she caught the bug. It took a while to materialize, though; “chef” was out, but she gave pastry chef a go with Johnny Iuzzini at Jean-Georges. The details of measuring, scaling, and patience – three days for one pastry cake, for example – were too much, and she bought a one-way ticket to her sister’s spare futon in Miami.
Despite a typo on her resumé, David Martinez, husband of “badass” chef (Allegra’s term) Michelle Bernstein, took her on as a server at their new restaurant Michy’s. There was no sommelier and a modest, 60-label winelist, but it proved fertile ground for her wine interest, and today Allegra offers 250 labels. She has been certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers and is heading for the Advanced Sommelier exam next February. She’s modest about her progress – she compares herself to a cook who hopes to be a chef some day – but it’s clear that her sommelier career is already cooking.