Marrying a friend is no fallacy, at least not for the likes of Celestine Masiga who speak of their work like it is a marriage to someone dear. He is a sommelier at Kampala Serena Hotel.
His work revolves around ensuring that customers get the best at the hotel. Masiga is the gentleman who will stop by your table during lunch, breakfast and dinner to find out if you are enjoying your meal.
He will request to recommend a wine or any other drink to complement your meal, putting in consideration the knowledge he has of drinks, their alcohol levels and how they complement the different meals on the menu.
“My job is ensure to clients understand and appreciate the wines and spirits. If I am to recommend a drink, I make sure that it has the same balance and will not overpower the meal,” he explains.
The sommelier draws his expertise from both personal and professional achievement. His story paints a grass to grace picture, having started out as a waiter who grew through the ranks to become a restaurant manager and now a sommelier. Thus a portfolio that puts him in charge of purchases of all drinks that are consumed by clients at the hotel.
Masiga, 33, is a graduate of Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) in Wandegeya where he pursued a diploma in Hotel Management in 2009. To become a wine expert, he also had to enrol for a course at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WESTE), in London, a school that is internationally recognised. He pursued the course online and flew to the institute’s branch at Stellenbosch University of Cape Town to write examinations.
“The course has four levels, and the most flagship is level four after which I graduated with a diploma in wines and spirits. I did these levels in three years. The fourth takes two of the three years. If you are a professional, you can skip level one. I was interviewed and taken into level four since I already had experience from working at Serena Hotel for a while,” Masiga explains.
South Africa as a choice for part of the training was relevant since it is a leading producer of wine globally. The trainees are skilled in undertaking roles of sourcing, buying, selling and marketing of wines and spirits in addition to commercial and service roles. There, he visited vine farms and got exposed to the processes of making wine and spirits. Part of his practical learning was to taste drinks for the right levels of the alcohol, flavours, clarity and purity.
“The product could have particles that compromises its quality so I am trained to detect all that.”
What he does
His kind of work has got clients curious, some on initial contact when he introduces himself as a sommelier. Many do not know what a sommelier does and then for those who know, it comes as a surprise that a third world country such as Uganda has a sommelier.
“One time as I went on with my responsibilities, I met a group of Australians who were not sure of what to drink with their meal. They were out to celebrate a deal. I sat down and shared the different choices they had. They were very impressed and said they would recommend their friends and family to visit the hotel. It is a good job that keeps me smiling throughout the day,” he says.
Masiga’s expertise is put to good use at the newly-opened Champagne Bar. “We wanted to create a corporate bar but we needed to associate it with something luxurious. Champagne is a luxurious drink associated with celebrating victory and good moments. We called it so because we have the widest selection of champagne in the region,” he says adding that the bar has 26 brands styles of champagne in addition to wines, spirits, whiskeys, vodkas, gins, rum, all premium, exotic juices and premium cognac, among others.
A typical day
Masiga’s day begins at 11am when he reads his emails. He then moves around the hotel bars to check on stock, takes note of missing wines and connects with suppliers to get them. He also checks drinks for their expiry dates.
From noon, he attends briefings from staff and gives advice on new products being introduced. When the hotel opens for lunch at 1pm, Masiga is on the restaurant’s floor, to chat with clients and suggest drinks as well as get feedback on service set-up.
In addition to his stipulated roles, he also shares knowledge through training on service of wines and spirits, other drinks and source for equipment. He works six days a week, from 11am to 1am. “I rarely get time to associate with peers. I get a day off and when at home, I rest and watch a movie as I refresh to prepare to work another day,” he shares.
Masiga was born in Dabani Sub-country in Busia District to Alexis Williams Wesonga, a teacher and Miriam Kitui. He believes that his father’s profession gave him the passion to learn new things which has propelled him thus far. “I come from a family of four where I am the last born. I am also married with two children, a boy and a girl,” he says.
On his wish list is to try and change the culture of wine in Uganda. I got certified last year as a wine and spirit expert. I want to see how I can transfer my knowledge to other people, and find ways a sommelier as a position in the hotel can earn respect and relevance in the hospitality industry,” Masiga concludes.
I know Masiga as a professional food and beverage specialist with a bias in wines. You can easily tell his star proficiency in the field by the job he currently occupies at the Kampala Serena Hotel. Through him, the hospitality professional development and research Institute hopes to infuse skills into young hospitality enthusiasts who wish to pursue a career as Sommeliers.
Dr Deus Kamunyu Muhwezi, Hospitality Specialist Makerere University
Since his return from SA and France where he pursued his studies, he spends literally every working hour crafting something new to introduce to his clientele. His optimism and influence has cultivated a great attitude among his peers of which you can actually feel a sense of pride in their work. He has earned the respect of so many wine lovers and collectors, both locally and internationally.
Mercy Kateera, executive assistant to the general manager Serena hotel