NEW YORK, N.Y. — A crowd of over 60 people waited for their name to be called to find out if they would become a rare Master Sommelier, and join a selective group with only a few hundred members in the world.
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Jack Mason was called into a room and two people told him he’d done it — on his third and last possible try. A total of seven people passed the exam in New York City this year.
“It’s gut wrenching,” he said. “If that didn’t happen, I would have to pass all three parts again.”
Mason, a 27-year-old Cornell graduate, is one of 147 Master Sommeliers in North America and 229 worldwide. That means that if you’re going to buy wine, you should consult with Mason.
To become Master Sommelier, Mason first had to complete four levels of testing — introductory, certified, advanced and master.
Blind wine tasting, an oral exam about the origins and quality of wine, and a service portion of the test must be completed within three years. The tests happen annually.
A Texas native from College Station, Mason started working in the service industry when he was in high school.
“I started to cook a little bit more and got really interested in it,” he said.
His interest in cooking led him to The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York in October 2006, where he completed a rigorous 18-month long course of study.
About 9 months into his time at the CIA school, he completed his first serious wine course.
“I really enjoyed how intense — how much depth there was to know,” he said. It was the first time he felt the drive to become a sommelier.
After being rejected to attend Cornell University that year, he went back to Texas and began earning course credits at a community college. In the spring of 2009, he was accepted into the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.
At the university, he met his mentor and friend Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars, who helped further spark Mason’s interest in wine.
“I got into the program and really had more of a high focus on really wanting to get into wine as opposed to just cooking,” he said.
Upon gradation, he moved to Houston, Texas and spent more than two years working as a sommelier at the Grand
Award-winning Pappas Brothers Steakhouse.
He said getting the opportunity to work for a prestigious company was an uphill battle because of his youth and inexperience, but he eventually landed an interview with them.
“They kind of let me join the program with a 90-day commission,” he said. “Thankfully it all worked out.”
Mason moved to New York City in 2013, and worked at several Italian restaurants, including Ai Fiori and Marea. He has been the wine director at Marta, an Italian restaurant with Rome-inspired dishes, since 2014.
He said Marta’s take on food — high quality ingredients served in a palatable and affordable way — is a concept he would take into a business venture of his own.
“My goal throughout my entire experience…is to open up my own restaurant some day in Texas,” he said.
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