Our person of the month is Valentino Longo, one of the most talented Italian bartenders in the U.S. Currently based in Miami, Florida, Valentino is an award-winning Italian mixologist and a compulsive daydreamer with a passion for photography. He created Shōshin Art Club (in Japanese means "Beginner's Mind"), a virtual hub offering subscribers the chance to explore all possible bar-related topics and the ability to learn from world-class professionals in the industry.
Valentino, let's begin with your inspiring story. How did your extraordinary career start?
The first time I started to work behind a bar was at Hotel De Russie, in Rome more than 15 years ago. At that moment, the Hotel De Russie was considered the best hotel bar in Italy, led by one of our industry's most important Bar Managers, Massimo D'Addezio. I then moved to London, where I worked in several hotel bars, such as Ritz Hotel and Corinthia Hotel. Definitely the most crucial moment of my career; I've grown and learned so much. After 5 years, I moved back to Rome for 1 year, but luckily the restaurant I worked for decided to open a second location in Miami. And here I am, 7 years later.
You have been named North America's Most Imaginative Bartender. What does it mean to you "to be imaginative" at this point in your professional journey?
"Imaginative" really means everything and nothing. Something that can be interesting for me might sound obvious to somebody else. I think the most crucial element for me, in my job, is to be able to express myself. Being able to express a story and an idea through the cocktails and the menus is definitely the reason why I'm still doing this job after 13 years. Imagination is how you express yourself and your ideas through your drinks or your menus.
Throughout your brilliant career, have there also been difficult moments?
Definitely, I believe you need to have difficulties in your daily job. Otherwise, you won't grow. How you deal with the difficulties and how you approach them is important. I have always been very open to changes and feedback; always open to learning new things from my surroundings. This approach works very well for me and my growth.
What were the main challenges?
Definitely not being able to express my ideas and my thoughts. Especially when working for big corporations, you must go through several management layers before your idea gets approved. By having a very rigid work ethic and giving real samples of what you would like to achieve and what you would like to express, people will start to understand your ideas and approach better. Definitely, it takes time, and sometimes you have to start from zero. But if you believe in it, people will feel that, if people will feel that they will believe in you.
What did you dream about as a child?
I loved travel, discipline, and I definitely had a powerful imagination. I was also very isolated and very shy. One thing for sure is that I decided to start this job because I wanted to open my own bar. And I always worked in every place with the idea that I owned that bar.
Would you ever have imagined such a bright career around the world?
Definitely not. I was dreaming about traveling and bartending in the best bars in the world. Having your name on a menu or people taking pictures of your cocktails or following you at several global events is a dream coming true.
Do you go back to Italy often? What inspires you in Italy the most?
I try to go back 3 times a year; if I travel to Europe for a gig, I always try to squeeze in a few days in Rome. From Italy, I'm always inspired by the simplicity of the ingredients but also the complexity of the flavors. I think my cocktails are taking a lot of inspiration from that.
Which of these inspirations do you take with you to the U.S.?
Always try to look at the ingredients I'm using, where they're coming from, and the best way to use them.
Dish and drink that make you feel "at home"…
Give me spaghetti with clams and an Americano cocktail, and you'll make me happy.