Salvatore Rizzo can say with certainty that he has dined with more than 100 of the world’s top chefs, including Jacques Pe?pin, Daniel Boulud and Daniel Humm. As owner and director of De Gustibus, the preeminent cooking school in New York City, Rizzo hosts the most lauded food and wine experts as they share their stories and demonstrate their favorite recipes for guests to taste. Every night at De Gustibus, Rizzo exhibits a natural ease as the consummate host, drawing on more than 25 years in the culinary community.
The son of immigrants from Italy, Rizzo spent every Sunday helping his mother prepare their weekly family dinner where uncles, aunts and cousins would gather around the table for a traditional Sicilian supper. His parents believed strongly in making their food from scratch, so every summer Rizzo helped his mother gather tomatoes from their modest garden in Brooklyn and make batches of tomato sauce to bottle and enjoy during the winter months. When October arrived, Rizzo’s attention turned to winemaking. Instead of buying their wine, he and his father produced two barrels of red house wine with grapes they bought from a local New York State farmer. This early introduction to food and wine would eventually develop into a life-long pursuit.
As a teenager, Rizzo took a job at a famous Brooklyn restaurant, Circles, where he worked part-time for 15 years, climbing the ranks from busboy to server and then manager. In the meantime, he attended the New York College of Technology and received his degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management and the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2007 for his tireless support of the school’s Department of Hospitality Management. He is also on the board of both Spoons Across America and the Friends of the French Culinary Institute.
Throughout the course of his young adulthood, Rizzo developed a strong magnetism toward hospitality and decided to pursue a career that complemented his natural ability to connect with people with his other passion—food. It led him to the Italian Culinary Institute where Rizzo became the Director of Events in 2000 and remained there for several years, after which he took the position as Director of House Operations and Events at the prestigious James Beard Foundation. He spearheaded the first major renovation of the famed James Beard House kitchen in 2005 and the complete overhaul of the dining room, offices, basement and attic in 2006.
Over nine years ago, Rizzo approached De Gustibus founder and then director Arlene Feltman Sailhac about his interest in the company and began negotiations with her to acquire the business. In April 2008, Rizzo became the new owner and continued the tradition of securing culinary and wine talent for the distinguished series. He relies on his long-standing relationships with a respected roster of chefs, wine producers, and others to continue the De Gustibus legacy of offering the best to New Yorkers and out-of-towners alike. Salvatore Rizzo is also a proud supporter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York, assisting them in putting together culinary wish experiences for children.
A true master of hospitality, Rizzo fosters an environment where people can come together and share incredible food and wine moments, mirroring his experiences growing up in a Sicilian household that reinforced the inherent beauty and simplicity of food.
Rizzo recently participated as a special guest at the 10th Anniversary of the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival, Sept. 25-27. Rizzo moderated a conversation between Martha Stewart and Jacques Pepin in which the group explored what's hot and what's not in food and lifestyle trends as well as moderating the chef demonstrations for the 2016 Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival.