on Mar 23rd, 2010Belinda Chang
Belinda Chang, Director of Wine & Spirits
Director of Wine & Spirits, Belinda Chang joined the Cenitare corporate team upon its formation and has been instrumental in developing the company’s philosophy of wine service. With a deserved reputation in the wine industry of creating wine programs and wine lists that elevate the process of ordering wine from something often stereotyped as formal or even intimidating to that of an experience of enjoyment, laughter and pleasure, Chang’s effervescent personality and salesmanship have been well-received in the dining rooms she has overseen, including Fifth Floor in San Francisco and Charlie Trotter’s, Osteria Via Stato and Enoteca at Osteria Via Stato in Chicago (with executive chef Rick Tramonto).
A Chicago native, Chang went to college in Texas where she pursued a pre-med biochemistry degree at Rice University, moonlighting in the kitchen at Houston’s famed Café Annie (named Best Restaurant in the United States by Food & Wine magazine). Her association with owners Robert and Mimi Del Grande opened the door to the world of wine. “With his amazing love of wine, Robert taught me great respect and passion for both wine and wine service,” recalls Chang.
Abandoning a medical career in favor of food and wine, Chang returned to her hometown of Chicago where a serendipitous, solo dinner at Charlie Trotter’s changed her life. She joined the restaurant’s service team shortly thereafter and was soon promoted to the wine team where she was trained in the program developed by Master Sommeliers Larry Stone and Joseph Spellman. She went on to serve as the restaurant’s sommelier for three years. During that time, in addition to maintaining the restaurant’s Wine Spectator Grand Award, critics, like London based, international restaurant critic Paul Levy, praised the wine program saying, “The service is elegant and enthusiastic….he (Charlie) has the best wine waiter that I have ever encountered, Belinda Chang.” In addition to her role in the restaurant, Chang created the favorably reviewed wine notes and pairings for “Charlie Trotter’s Meat & Game” cookbook, participated in-depth in the book “Lessons in Service” and appeared on PBS& &”Chicago Tonight” as well as “Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter”.
In 2002, Chang relocated to San Francisco to take advantage of the vibrant restaurant environment and the city’s proximity to wine country. After accepting the position of general manager and wine director of the critically acclaimed Fifth Floor, with renowned chef Laurent Gras, Chang began to charm the city with her unique style. Patrick J. Comiskey, wine columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Chang has learned to match Chef Laurent Gras” culinary precision with a sense of counterpoint all her own.” Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer exclaimed that Fifth Floor’s wine list “is as exciting as the food.” Robert Parker, in his Hedonist’s Gazette raved, “…the knowledgeable as well as impeccable wine service of Belinda Chang made for a super evening at this high-class restaurant just off Union Square.” She was named one of 7×7 magazine’s Hot 20 Under 40 and also “Wine Director of the Year” by San Francisco Magazine in 2004, the same year she received the James Beard Foundation Award nomination for Outstanding Wine Service.
In autumn of 2004, Chang returned to Chicago to join Tramonto’s opening team for Osteria Via Stato, his Italian concept in partnership with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, before joining Tramonto’s corporate team at Cenitare, the new restaurant and development company started with his culinary partner and pastry chef Gale Gand. Pleased to be back in Chicago, Chang soon assimilated herself into the community, bringing her lighthearted approach to a new client base. “It’s great to be in a city where the wine drinkers are free of pretension,” says Chang of her return, “People in Chicago enjoy it in their favorite restaurants and they are eager to learn and try new things. It’s good to be home.”