Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa has hired its first female sommelier in the iconic restaurant’s 60 year history.

  • Rachel Healy, 26, is a sommelier
  • Only about 15 percent of sommeliers are female
  • Before coming to Bern's Steakhouse, she worked in Champagne, France and studied in Manhattan

A sommelier is the resident wine expert, responsible for educating guests on the wine selection and food pairings.

Rachel Healy, 26, came to Bern’s after working in Champagne, France and receiving her certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers. Prior to that, she studied at the International Culinary Center in Manhattan.

But Healy started at Bern’s working in the wine cellar before taking the title of sommelier.

“We have 100,000 bottles in the cellar. You learn more down here than reading any wine textbook, going to any course. It’s just an incredible education down here,” Healy said.

Healy began her career at Bern's in their wine cellar. (Erin Maloney, staff)

There are three sommeliers at Bern’s, who are responsible for knowing the ins and outs of the extensive collection.

Healy admits customers have noticed the change.

“’Wow, a female!’ I do get that sometimes,” she said. “The fact that it’s not quite the norm. Hopefully we do see that change.”

It’s traditionally an industry dominated by males. Of the world’s top sommeliers, less than 15 percent are women. But Healy doesn’t pay attention to the statistics.

It’s all about her passion for wine.

“It’s a way of experiencing a culture or place,” explained Healy. “It’s a specific snapshot in time without actually having to be there. And that to me is magical.”

She’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with her male counterparts. Although, Healy says the other sommeliers at Bern’s have been nothing but supportive and encouraging.

Healey one day hopes to become a master sommelier, which includes a grueling written and oral exam, as well as a taste test.

Only two percent of the people who take the test pass.

“You have to be familiar with geography of wine growing regions, weather patterns of a certain vintage, grape varietals and how they’ll react in certain climates, and wine making techniques,” Healy said.

The blind taste test is even more daunting.

“They’ll say, here’s a glass of wine. What year was it made? Who produced it? What is the grape varietal? It’s something very formulaic that takes a lot of practice,” said Healy.

She looks forward to honing her craft at Bern’s.

Ten or 15 years down the line, Healy says, she may decide to open a space of her own.