Sommelier Laura DePasquale of Norman's - Biography

Orlando, FL

November 2011

Laura DePasquale has been Sommelier/Beverage Director at NORMAN'S since 1999. Under her tenure NORMAN'S has received an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator, Best Wine and Spirits Program for Fine Dining from SantŽ, Best Wine Dinner from SantŽ, and Number 1 Restaurant in Miami from Zagat Survey. NORMAN'S has also appeared on the cover of Wine Spectator, and been featured in Bon AppŽtit, Nation's Restaurant News, Food & Wine and SantŽ.

As Sommelier of NORMAN'S, Ms. DePasquale has focused on providing extraordinary service, great creativity and outstanding education programs. She has developed many new programs, including complete crystal service, waiter and waiter-in-training wine education classes (which have led to the certification of 3 staff members as sommeliers), culinary wine education programs for members of the chef-team, Tuesday Tastings, which are tasting nights open to the public featuring specific varietals, and charity fundraisers and wine auctions that have raised a total of over $350,000 for selected charities. Since she assumed this position, annual sales of wine and beverages have increased by 40%. Average wine bottle sales have nearly doubled, from $48 per bottle to $82 per bottle. She has also expanded the wine list from 265 selections to 425, while maintaining the same inventory dollar amount.

Ms. DePasquale's relationship with Chef Norman Van Aken began in 1992 when she moved to Florida from New York and was hired as the Dining Room Manager for Norman's renowned restaurant A Mano in South Beach. In New York, while pursuing a graduate degree in Art History from SUNY Purchase, Ms. DePasquale was the Beverage Director at the Royalton Hotel and the Bar Manager for Arizona 206. When A Mano closed in March of 1993, Ms. DePasquale pursued her love of art and created several bodies of work. Her series of large-format drawings, "Gadgets & Desire," established her art career in Philadelphia with SubCulture Gallery and in New York with Kirkland Gallery. Both galleries continue to show her work today. In 1996, Ms. DePasquale was awarded the Florida State Fellowship for Individual Visual Artist.

While establishing an art career, Ms. DePasquale worked part-time as a waiter at the nationally renowned Mark's Place in North Miami for Chef Mark Millitello and continued learning about wine. In 1995, she and her brother opened the 8th Street Coffee Bar on Ocean Drive in South Beach. For two years, she enjoyed mornings of baking while the sun rose followed by afternoons of working in the art studio. The business was sold in 1997.

Simultaneously, Ms. DePasquale began exploring opportunities to help at-risk children through the visual arts. She began writing grants for a non-profit art agency, The Bakehouse Art Complex, to develop art programs with teens, reforming youth gang members and homeless children in Liberty City, Wynwood, Overtown, Allapattah and Little Haiti. The success of these programs led to increased funding and the development of The Bakehouse Children's Art Workshops (BCAW), a non-profit agency that employed professional artists to work in these communities with children at risk. Ms. DePasquale's programs were recognized by the President's Council on Arts and Humanities, and the BCAW was the only program in Florida included in the President's Councils' publication "Coming Up Taller," which recognized outstanding art and humanities programs that worked with disenfranchised youths throughout the nation. Ms. DePasquale was a keynote speaker at the International Social Workers' Conferences in 1997 and 1998 in Quebec City and Denver, respectively, for her unique project development and work with visual artists and social service agencies. The growth of the BCAW led to the creation of a full-time position as Director in 1998.

Ms. DePasquale soon found that as Director she spent most of her time administering and less time doing what she loved - working with children and teens. She also found herself unable to deny her love for wine, food and learning. Wine, she says, brings together culture, history, art, politics and science, and "the experience of sharing wine" is for her "an undeniable lifelong pursuit." In the spring of 1998 she became a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers in London, and she is currently pursuing the Master Sommelier certification. Working as a sommelier at NORMAN'S, she says, "means I am teaching a staff of professionals about wine and slowly steering some of them into a career, building and educating a community about wine, and providing those people who already have great wine collections an outlet for dialogue."

Ms. DePasquale continues to work on her art, and works part-time with reforming youth gang members in Little Haiti.