definition of Sommelier
Belinda Chang of Fifth Floor on StarChefs
Fifth Floor Restaurant
12 4th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
Tel: (415) 348-1555
Fax: (415) 348-1551

Belinda Chang

Belinda Chang Doctors Up the Wine List at Fifth Floor
Belinda Chang of San Francisco’s Fifth Floor is one of an increasing number of women sommeliers behind the wine lists at America’s top restaurants. She was bitten by the restaurant bug while pursuing a pre-med biochemistry degree at Rice University. She worked as headwaiter at the university's faculty club, a position that led her to the kitchen of Houston's famed Cafe Annie. Despite her affinity for the kitchen, the management at Café Annie noticed her charismatic personality, gracious congeniality, and her outstanding ability to describe food and wine. She was encouraged to return to the dining room and, within a year, was the only female captain on the floor.

Having decided officially to abandon a medical career in favor of food and wine, Chang returned to her hometown of Chicago, where she joined Charlie Trotter's as a server. At Trotter's she was trained in the wine program developed by Larry Stone and Joseph Spellman, famed Master Sommeliers. She maintained a wine list of 26,000 bottles and wrote the favorably reviewed wine notes and pairings for Charlie Trotter's Meat and Game.

Following three years as sommelier at Charlie Trotter's, Chang began her tenure at Fifth Floor, where she maintains an extensive list that includes high-end, hard-to-find wines. Within a few months of her arrival, Chang received acclaim from Bay Area press and public alike. A letter to the editor printed in the San Francisco Chronicle said, "Belinda steered us to a wonderful and moderately priced Pinot Noir. She was a true professional and made us thankful we live in San Francisco where restaurants attract such talented and dedicated people."

At Fifth Floor, Chang has quickly achieved her goal of taking the fear out of wine selection for her patrons. Working closely with Chef Laurent Gras, she fashions an ever-changing list that compliments and challenges the complexity of his menu.

Chang admits to her parents' shock at the career change, but notes that the importance of good food and the pleasures of long meals were a legacy from her childhood. She finds her scientific background useful in her new calling: it takes exceptional mathematical skills to maintain a vast inventory of 1800 selections, and a strong analytical mind to finesse the intricacies of pairing food and wine.

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 Published: Jan 2004