The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 52 of 124

52 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2015/2016 { pro-file } "I'M A HUGE BELIEVER IN EDUCATION", says Belinda Chang, the James Beard Award-winning sommelier who left Danny Meyer's The Modern in New York City to come home to Chicago. "Every bit of time you put into quality training pays off a hundred- or a thousand-fold." And so Chang, a Palatine, IL native and Charlie Trotter's veteran, moved back in July to lead the wine team at Chicago's newest restaurant, Maple & Ash. She was attracted by the philosophy shared by Managing Partner Brian O'Connor, former GM of Ria restaurant in the Elysian Hotel, and David Ochs, Executive Chef/Partner, and former Sous-Chef at Girl and the Goat. "They want to have a return to classic forms of dining and also a return to a great wine list with a full wine team, which you see less and less of these days," Chang says. On this day in September, she calls the staff beverage training "day zero" since the session's held in a rented banquet room at a nearby restaurant while Maple & Ash is being completed. The training consists of Chang's innovative, interactive and fun modules with names like "The Bar Commandments," for which a manager dresses up as Moses to educate the staff on the absolute standards of the bar, from service to cleanliness. There's also Wine 101 training for her robust team of five Sommeliers, along with dozens of other servers, many of whom have their Sommelier certifications. There's no tasting involved; rather, it's focused on the ultimate service standards, from carrying a bottle to opening a bottle properly, complete with intermittent quizzes the trainees take on their iPhones. "We're creating a service and wine program with great integrity," Chang says. She brings a wealth of experience, not the least of which came from this past year, when she worked for Moët Hennessey. Here she trained tête-de-cuvée teams of top Champagne sales folks on a portfolio that included Veuve Clicquot, Dom Pérignon, Ruinart, Krug and Moët & Chandon. Many of her trainees had been selling for decades, so she shook things up, making the training inter - active and innovative. "That honed my skills and taught me how to make things engaging and fun," Chang says. Maple & Ash's cellar has a capacity for 10,000 bottles, and will be stocked with a range of Chang's favorite producers, with depth in vintages. It's the quintessential steakhouse list, with "great vintages, serious producers," but with a fun angle. Chang is designing a "Choose Your Own Wine Adventure" program, an iPad flowchart that patrons work through to determine what they'll order. The stunning space is perched on the third floor in the Gold Coast location, flanked with floor-to-ceiling windows. It's slated to open in late fall and will be a welcomed addition to this swanky Chicago dining neighborhood. "I'm looking forward to serving wine to my long-time Chicago friends once again," Chang says, with open arms. Windy City Windfall Belinda Chang in her new position as Wine Director at Maple & Ash in Chicago. SOMMELIER BELINDA CHANG COMES HOME TO CHICAGO by Laura Levy Shatkin / photo by Jacob Hand

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