What Harsh Dayalani lacks in terms of chronological years, he more than makes up for in maturity, focus, and a gifted palate: advantages that enabled him to pass the first two exams of the Court of Master Sommeliers at age 21.
Born in India to a family of great home cooks, and raised in Lagos, the cosmopolitan capital of Nigeria, Dayalani grew up with a passion for good food of all kinds. His grandmother, a lifelong vegetarian, had the ability to prepare one of his favorite meat dishes -- Black Pepper and Cardamom Goat Curry -- with seasonings and flavors exactly on point. His father loves to eat out, so, as a boy in Lagos, Dayalani was exposed to cuisines from all over the world. His mother, meanwhile, would delight the family with excellent home-cooked fare, and was always happy to have her son at her side in the kitchen. He's pretty certain he was the only one of his peers home watching cooking channels, instead of engaging in sports and other more typical pastimes. He did develop a love of aviation, but less-than-perfect vision ruled out a career as a pilot.
It was his uncle, executive chef at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai at the time, who introduced Dayalani to the world of professional cooking. Recognizing his nephew's enthusiasm for all things culinary, he arranged for him to work under his colleague, celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor, and later recommended that he pursue formal training at the Culinary Institute of America. And so, at age 19, Dayalani ventured to Hyde Park, New York, to learn his trade. "I am very lucky to have the most wonderful, supportive parents," he says, "They have always been completely behind my pursuit of my passion." He was thrilled to be near New York City, which he had visited many times as a child, and has always considered his culinary Mecca. In two years at the CIA, including an intensive summer externship with Hyatt Regency Hotels, he earned an Associates degree in Culinary Arts. A one-month course in wines was his introduction to what soon became the focus of his career.
Continuing on for his BA in Food Business Management at CIA's Napa Valley campus, Dayalani earned a concentration in Advanced Wine, Beverage and Hospitality, studying under sommeliers Robert Bath and Christie Dufault. The formative experience of learning in one of the world’s finest wine regions, drinking straight from barrels under the tutelage of masters in the field, launched him toward his remarkable achievement following graduation: returning to New York, he studied with the Court of Master Sommeliers and succeeded in passing its Level I and Level II exams, within days of each other, in June 2016.
Working with Tapestry's Director of Operations and Beverage Director Jessy Peters, Dayalani has more than doubled the restaurant's wine list, with an emphasis on boutique wines out of California and Oregon, as well as global sources. He is dedicated to searching out rich quality wines to pair with Saran's cuisine, to enhance each guest's experience with the inventive menu that inter-weaves flavors and techniques from around the world. "I am constantly on the lookout for small-batch wines produced by smaller owners. When a vintner sets out to create something special, with a focus on quality over quantity, that's what interests me; that approach matches the way the food is prepared here at Tapestry. I support those artisans, because beyond the excellent product, we all share the same goal, the same passion, and the same love for what we are doing," says the young sommelier. "What those wines can add to a meal here," he adds, "well, it's magic."
Dayalani works with Chef Joel Corona and me in creating cocktails for special occasions and events. If you are curious to taste the talents of this young master, join us on Valentines Day. Our menu will feature his wine pairings as well as his signature cocktails. Dayalani will be a force to reckon with in the years to come. Tapestry and I are lucky to have him in our team. We are also proud to share him with all of you.