Food, Wine, Spirits & Special Guest Experts at Bern's Winefest

Meet the team that makes Bern's Winefest so spectacular!

  • ALL
  • Culinary
  • Guest
  • Leadership
  • Sommeliers
  • Spirits
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With a quiet, friendly demeanor, David Laxer, son of Bern’s Steak House’s founders, Bern and Gert Laxer, is now guiding this venerable legend and its other two siblings – SideBern’s and Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits to success. The three businesses continue to adhere to, and use Bern Laxer’s original philosophy, “We Do Things Differently” as a guiding principle that David Laxer believes delineates the business from competitors. 
This philosophy has kept guests returning again and again and the recognition flowing. Bern’s continues to be celebrated for excellence in food and wine and SideBern’s follows closely winning prestigious honors including a 2012 James Beard semi-finalist nod and recognition annually from DiRona, Wine Spectator Magazine (Bern’s has been awarded the Grand Award since 1981 and SideBern’s, an Award of Excellence since 2002) and Florida Trend Magazine’s, “Golden Spoon Award.” In 2002, Bern’s was inducted into Florida Trend’s newly created Hall of Fame for its dining excellence. 
“As my father did, I believe the customer must always come back. We consider every night a big event for the restaurants and we strive to go above and beyond our guests’ needs and wishes. Our goal is to continue to elevate the dining experience with consistency being rule number one,” says Laxer. Laxer continues to purchase the famous prime beef that is dry-aged at Bern’s; he also approves any and all wine purchases and investments for the three businesses. 
Laxer graduated with a degree in Business Administration from Furman University, and later interned at the prestigious New York Restaurant School; an experience that he believes helped him prepare to guide and create Bern’s and its subsidiaries, and our next generation in The Epicurean. 
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Brooke Palmer is the creative mastermind behind the PR and Event efforts at all of the Bern’s Steak House properties.  With the exquisite taste she inherited from her mother, and an entrepreneurial spirit instilled by her father, she has dabbled in event planning and business since she was a toddler.  Creating tea parties for friends at five, and discovering a knack for event design at her and her twin sister's birthday pool parties, all while managing a profitable lemonade stand, her hidden talent was noticed early on by her inner circle.

A self-proclaimed 'closet nerd', with a spunky identical twin, Ms. Palmer graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in Molecular Biology , completed studies at the University of South Florida with a Master's in Environmental Science, all before pursuing her MBA.   An accomplished student, golfer, lacrosse player and drummer, beneath those blonde locks, she has a sharp mind, and it is a known fact that she can run in high heels. 

Born and raised in Washington, DC, this happy-go-lucky femme fatale has committed the last twelve years pursuing philanthropic endeavors with all sorts of charitable organizations including The Arts Center (now The Chihuly Collection), the 13 Ugly Men, the Tampa Theatre, and the Florida Aquarium. She is also a former member of the Board of Directors for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.   Brooke additionally shares her talents  in print and on Television, as the scene columnist for Tampa Bay Metro Magazine after stints with TBT* and Bay News 9, and occasionally as party planning expert on ABC Action News and on Daytime, Tampa's NBC Affiliate's syndicated morning show, in over 100 markets. 
With the Bern’s organization since 2009, Brooke is in charge of all Public Relations, Marketing, community Relations efforts for Bern’s, Haven  (formerly SideBern's)  Bern’s Fine Wines, Élevage, EDGE, and Chocolate Pi. She provides support for the Epicurean Hotel in Public Relations efforts as well.  In addition, she has headed up Bern’s Winefest for the last five years, expanding the event and creating a sell-out experience while enhancing sponsorships and overall guest enjoyment.
Brooke was named 30 under 30 by the TBBJ in 2005, and was a finalist for the Tampa Bay Business Journal's 2009 and 2010 Young Businesswoman of the Year. In 2010, she was named an Up and Comer by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.  She was a finalist for National Rising Star 2010 and a finalist in 2011 for Event Planner of the Year by Event Solutions Magazine. Concurrently she was also nominated for Event Planner of the Year 2011 by Biz Bash Florida.  She also is a four-time winner of Best of the Knot, Florida.  Most notably however, was her win as the 2008 Suncoast Woman of the Year by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society raising $60,000 in a ten week fundraising campaign, setting the chapter record for a female.  Her additional interests include her dogs, traveling, good books, golfing, Orangetheory Fitness and pilates.  She remains active through her volunteer work, golf lessons, lacrosse, the occasional good bottle of champagne, teaching herself French, and being 'crafty'-- all while trying to save the world from its perils… or its event mishaps.  Brooke is newly married to Craig Kuhl,  and is obsessed with her Pit Bulls Lily, and Sacrlett, and her Husky Maya.
|| [category] => Leadership [video_link] => [start_time] => [finish_time] => [code] => 1 [category_website] => 92 [category_sort] => 0 [type_category] => members [category_id] => 318 [youtube_video_id] => ) [2] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 12816 [website] => 92 [entryDate] => 2018-02-02 14:37:18 [newsDate] => 2018-02-02 14:37:18 [section] => members [lastUserID] => 1347 [image] => |089556900201517537708.png [display_order] => 3 [title] => Executive Chef [meta_title] => Chad Johnson - Executive Chef - Haven, Élevage, EDGE Social Drinkery [name] => Chad Johnson [keywords] => [description] => [text] => Chad Johnson|Haven, Élevage, EDGE Social Drinkery|Executive Chef|||||||||||||Johnson began his career in the modern Mediterranean kitchen of Layla under Chef Frank Proto. At Layla, Johnson was introduced to and influenced by the fresh ingredients and cooking styles of the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. After a stint at Layla, Johnson worked in the popular kitchen of Montrachet where, as he assisted the pastry chefs and plated amuses nightly, he learned, from Chef Chris Gesualdi, how a high volume, fine dining kitchen could be organized for maximum efficiency. While at Savoy, under Chef Peter Hoffman, Johnson was exposed to premium products in their natural state. This was the essence and focus of Hoffman's cuisine; great ingredients prepared simply, allowing their natural flavors to shine.

Growing up in Paducah, Kentucky, Johnson decided to pursue a culinary career after spending time at his best friend's family's restaurant. He attended the French Culinary Institute in New York where he was determined to learn all he could from the famed staff which included modern culinary luminaries like Jacques Pepin, Andre Soltner and Alain Sailhac. He paid for his own tuition, came in early and stayed late - always pressing his instructors for more information. From these legends, Johnson learned the techniques and traditions that have made French chefs leaders in dining for hundreds of years.

His natural passion for great food combined with his French Culinary Institute education and exposure to some of the country's best restaurants have all influenced Johnson's signature modern cuisine at Haven and Élevage. |
|I want to take the great iconic dishes, the ones you've loved your entire life , and elevate them. I want it to be the best you've ever had. [category] => Culinary [video_link] => [start_time] => [finish_time] => [code] => 1 [category_website] => 92 [category_sort] => 0 [type_category] => members [category_id] => 315 [youtube_video_id] => ) [3] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 12880 [website] => 92 [entryDate] => 2015-02-05 18:45:17 [newsDate] => 2015-02-05 17:16:23 [section] => members [lastUserID] => 1294 [image] => |042204500201423174582.png [display_order] => 4 [title] => Chef de Cuisine [meta_title] => Habteab Hamde - Bern\'s Steak House - Chef de Cuisine [name] => Habteab Hamde [keywords] => [description] => [text] => Habteab Hamde|Bern's Steak House|Chef de Cuisine|||||||||||||
Affectionately called "Hab" by everyone at Bern's, Habteab emigrated from the small African country of Eritrea in 1983. Since he enjoyed preparing meals for his family when he was young and everyone predicted he would one day be a chef, he attended the Swedish Culinary Institute in Sudan, Africa.
When he settled in the United States, he left his culinary career behind and began attending USF to pursue a degree in accounting, but soon, the childhood predictions came true and he decided to return to the kitchen.
Hab enjoys cooking because it is so similar to chemistry – especially creating new things with his favorite ingredients, garlic, tomato and onion. He says, "It is truly exciting to take different ingredients, textures and flavors and create something completely new and different and at Bern's we have so many opportunities to utilize some of the best products in the world."
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Raised in the world-renowned wine-growing region of the Red Mountain AVA in Washington State, Gregory was exposed to wine at a young age. It was not until the age of nineteen when he took that life experience to the next level and joined the wine cellar team at Bern's Steak House that he started to really develop his passion. Two weeks after turning twenty-one Gregory took and passed his introductory level sommelier test. Shortly thereafter he accepted a harvest internship position in Washington State at Kestrel Vintners; this three-month long internship helped to solidify his growing knowledge and passion in wine. 

After four years enlisted in the Army, Gregory found himself living in Louisville, KY. Eager to get back into the hospitality industry, he took a job working as the event manager at 610 Magnolia. This gave him the opportunity to reacquaint himself with wine and he would work as sommelier in the restaurant. Just nine months after getting out of the Army, he took and passed the Certified Sommelier test through the Court of Master Sommeliers. Gregory was then offered a position working under Master Sommelier Scott Harper at the Bristol Bar and Grille in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Working as the bar manager, he had the chance to be mentored by one of only 211 Master Sommeliers in the world. While living in Louisville, Gregory received a degree in Beverage Management from Sullivan University. In addition to being a Certified Sommelier, Gregory is also a Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Specialist of Spirits through the Society of Wine Educators.
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Born in St. Louis, Missouri, SideBern's Chef de Cuisine, Courtney Orwig, grew up around the culinary world. His mother worked in the hospitality industry, and his grandfather owned a spice supply company. This early introduction to the world of food became the foundation for a career that has spanned the last 20 years.
Like his idol, Marco Pierre White, Courtney chose experience in the kitchen over culinary school. When he moved to Florida, he spent the first part of his career learning the art of pastry. Courtney found the precise execution and discipline of pastry to be challenging and rewarding. This knowledge of pastry's science and intricate techniques continue to shape his culinary skills and creativity today.
After several years, Courtney dove into the savory side of cuisine and again excelled at everything he prepared. Eventually this level of excellence landed him the position of Sous Chef at Sidebern's. His hard work, creativity and dedication have allowed him the opportunity to cook at some of the premier events and venues in the country, including Mondavi Winery, Star Chefs annual International Chefs Congress, and the Oscar's of the culinary world – the James Beard Awards.
Currently, Courtney's position as Chef de Cuisine at Sidebern's allows him to utilize his unique knowledge of both savory and sweet techniques. His latest passion is blending classic preparation techniques of charcuterie with modern flavors profiles. His enthusiasm for premium, fresh ingredients and a desire to push the envelope of progressive are showcased in the dishes Courtney produces every night at Sidebern's. 
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Jonathan’s love of food began as a child, growing up with a mixture of Italian and Puerto Rican cuisines.  Growing up in New York City, he was exposed to a wide range of flavors on a daily basis.  He decided to take his passion for food to the next level and complete culinary school at The Art Institute, previously the New York Restaurant School.  After graduating with honors, he took an externship with Francois Payard, learning classic French techniques.  He eventually ended up at famed Soho seafood staple, Aquagrill, where he climbed the ranks and became Chef de Cuisine.  After seven years of service, Jonathan explored other avenues and finally took a job as Executive Sous Chef at Todd English’s Olives in The W Hotel Union Square.  There, he learned about hotel restaurant operations and took part in exciting ventures such as the TV program, Chef Hunter on The Food Network.

Jonathan decided it was time to experience a new city and chose Tampa, partly due to the growing culinary scene.  He accepted a position on the opening team for the Epicurean Hotel and was promoted to Chef de Cuisine.  Being a part of a food-driven concept is exciting and challenging and Jonathan is enthusiastic about the direction that the Epicurean and Elevage are heading.  He is proud to be a part of a team that is revolutionizing the food scene in Tampa and across the bay area.
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Brad Dixon, a native of Dixon, Illinois, joined the Bern’s team in 2003. Dixon manages an exceptional team of wine stewards along with two other sommeliers. Brad and his colleagues successfully oversee one of the largest wine collections in the world with 6,500 different selections and more than 500,000 bottles in inventory. His daily operations include managing inventory, cataloging, computerizing, and updating the wine list. Brad also takes the time to consult with Bern’s guests as they survey the 182-page wine list and offers suggestions and pairing choices. 

In order to provide the best service to clientele, Brad continues his education of fine wine with frequent trips to many of the world’s fine wine producing regions. He has frequented regions in France including, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, Alsace, Loire, Champagne, and Cognac. As well as, Hunter Valley, Barossa, Rutherglen, McLaren Vale in Austrailia, Mendoza and Salta in Argentina, and including Australia, Europe and Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Wala Wala, Columbia Valley America on the West Coast of the United States. He, along with the wine team, have been featured in numerous publications and television features. Brad represented Bern’s on Star Watch with Sam Hallenbeck and has appeared in two Travel Channel episodes. 

Now in his ninth year, Brad maintains his passion and respect for vintage wines and continuously studies many of wineries that produce them. He also teaches wine classes at Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits, holds seminars during Bern’s Winefest, and is always available to educate others on the art of fine wine.
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Born in Connecticut in 1968, James Marshall, Dalek, birthed the first of thousands of ‘Space Monkey’ characters on a wall in Connecticut in 1995. Marshall grew up a Navy brat, relocating over the years to Japan and Hawaii with his family.

As he graduated with a B.S from the Virginia Commonwealth University in 1992, he moved to Chicago and, taking up the name ‘Dalek’, and began to work in graffiti. The first of his ‘Space Monkey’ characters emerged in 1995, the same year he graduated with a B.F.A from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Over the years, that Space Monkey character has gone on to be the trigger of fascination that has fueled Dalek’s success in fine art, commercial work and toy design.

James Marshall has quickly become one of the most sought-after artists. He has had art shows all over the world, published books, done commercial work for Sony, Nike’s Presto shoe line, Levis, Calvin Klein and Rookie Skateboards. He has been part of the City of Baltimore public art project Artscape in 2002, and exhibited work at Max Fish, The Front Room, Luxe Projects, Alife, The Eighth Floor Artist Corp as well as international shows in London and Tokyo. His artwork has been featured in Juxtapoz, Tokion, NY Arts, The Colorado Daily, Relax, Art Week, New American Paintings, eye, D’art International, The Washington Post, and The New York Times etc. etc.

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[category] => Guest [video_link] => [start_time] => [finish_time] => [code] => 1 [category_website] => 92 [category_sort] => 0 [type_category] => members [category_id] => 319 [youtube_video_id] => ) [12] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 17494 [website] => 92 [entryDate] => 2018-09-20 19:29:32 [newsDate] => 2018-02-02 14:45:21 [section] => members [lastUserID] => 1347 [image] => |008033600201517538009.png [display_order] => 34 [title] => Brand Ambassador [meta_title] => Anna Budarina - Sandeman - Brand Ambassador [name] => Anna Budarina [keywords] => [description] => [text] => Anna Budarina|Sandeman|Brand Ambassador|||||||||||||
Anna provides sales education and training support for the Sandeman brand in the U.S.A. Based in San Francisco, CA, Anna has over 10 years of experience in the fine wine industry 

In her role as Sandeman Brand Ambassador, Anna can help reinforce your team's expertise and knowledge by providing brand training, conducting presentations and leading wine tasting.  
She works with key industry accounts and influencers, and local media acting as an expert on Sandeman Portfolio.  She hosts numerous Port and food events, staff trainings, demos, and works with mixologists to develop Port driven cocktails. Working with both on and off-premise channels, and trade teams in the field, she's the local spokesperson for Sandeman.  

In 2017, Anna was inducted into the prestigious Confraria de Vinho do Porto (Porto Wine Brotherhood) founded in 1982.
Anna brings a diverse background, having worked for Louis Latour Inc, a French wine importer, in numerous marketing, sales, media & ambassador capacities.  Prior to that she lived in Bordeaux, France, where she pursued her Master's Degree in Business Management of Wine and Spirits, while working for a wine publication TASTED Magazine.

Additionally, she is fluent in English, French & Russian and is a passionate wine professional. 

[category] => Guest [video_link] => [start_time] => [finish_time] => [code] => 1 [category_website] => 92 [category_sort] => 0 [type_category] => members [category_id] => 319 [youtube_video_id] => ) [13] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 17496 [website] => 92 [entryDate] => 2018-09-20 19:29:32 [newsDate] => 2018-02-02 14:39:35 [section] => members [lastUserID] => 1347 [image] => | [display_order] => 35 [title] => Vice President [meta_title] => [name] => Daniel Haas [keywords] => [description] => [text] => Daniel Haas|Vineyard Brands|Vice President|||||||||||||Daniel Haas’ entire life has been intertwined with the world of fine wine.  After attending art school (and realizing that there were no jobs for an artist), in 1977 he joined his father, Bob Haas, in the family wine import company, Vineyard Brands.  After initially working in sales for the Boston market, he moved to Washington DC in 1979 and worked in multiple markets.  During this time he was joining his father on trips to France and building relationships with the company’s growers there.  In 1989, he took over buying for the company with a special emphasis on Burgundy.  He continues to serve Vineyard Brands in this capacity and today is the longest tenured employee in the company. |
[category] => Culinary [video_link] => [start_time] => [finish_time] => [code] => 1 [category_website] => 92 [category_sort] => 0 [type_category] => members [category_id] => 315 [youtube_video_id] => ) [14] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 17497 [website] => 92 [entryDate] => 2018-09-20 19:29:32 [newsDate] => 2018-02-02 14:39:20 [section] => members [lastUserID] => 1347 [image] => |041609300201517538664.png [display_order] => 36 [title] => Commercial Manager [meta_title] => Arnaud Frederic-Chateau Gruaud Larose- Commercial Manager [name] => Arnaud Frederic [keywords] => [description] => [text] => Arnaud Frederic|Chateau Gruaud Larose|Commercial Manager|||||||||||||My name is Arnaud Frederic and I’m the commercial manager of Chateau Gruaud Larose. My passion for wine started in my cradle as I was born on the estate (My father work on the estate for 30 years now). I did my wine education first thanks to my father as I was living on the estate and get the occasion to get strong connection with key players on the field and led me to carry out all the tasks from the vineyard to the winery. I studied business in college and got an MBA in International business from the Dublin Business School. After several internship in wine business, my passion for wine stands out and I decided to travel the world seeking to enhance my knowledge in wine making throughout international work placement in New Zealand along with California. On my way back to France in 2013, I took over the position of export Director of a sparkling wine producer from the south of France (ANTECH - Limoux) and worked for them for two years. Since July 2015, I work for Gruaud Larose as Mr. Merlaut  (Current owner) wanted me to join the team and being the brand ambassador of the estate throughout the globe. I do look forward to sharing my passion of the chateau with you. |
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Diego Meraviglia was born and raised in Northern Piemonte, on the border with Switzerland and France, specifically on the shores of lake Maggiore. He has lived and travelled across a great portion of the world including Dubai, Japan, Europe and North America.
Surrounded by wine since birth, his professional studies began in 2003 when he attended the 3-Level certified Sommelier school in Milano with the Italian Sommelier Association. Furthering his studies and training, he moved on to obtain the 'Master Taster' qualification in early 2006 before relocating to Los Angeles (CA) that same year. He is one of the writers of the AIS course-book 'Food&Wine', utilized throughout the world in Sommelier course and has written a total of 4 published books and numerous press articles throughout his career. 

In 2008, he obtained the 4th level 'Gold pin' certification with the AIS (Associazione Italiana Sommeliers) & WSA (Worldwide Sommelier Association) and began his training as course teacher, public speaker and educator. Between 2008 and 2011, Diego Meraviglia became Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) with the Society of Wine Educators in the United States, as well as the certification with the Court of Master Sommeliers amongst other certifications. 

In 2009, he was awarded the prestigious international prize 'AIS - Villa Sandi', given to only 15 Sommeliers worldwide for "innovation in the profession of Sommelier". In 2013 at the Worldwide Sommelier Association 'Best Sommelier in the world' competition, which took place in London (England), Diego Meraviglia ranked 5th. The competition involved 21 countries and 26 semi-finalists. 

He is currently the President and one of the founders of the North American Sommelier Association and has worked in numerous restaurants & hotels between Italy, Dubai and Los Angeles both as 'Beverage Director' and as consultant. He has also been an international freelance educator, public speaker and events coordinator between Europe, the United States, Canada and China and has been featured extensively in the beverage industry & general press. 

In February of 2017 Diego proudly joined Strategic Group as 'US Brand Ambassador' for Dom Pérignon Champagne.

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[category] => Sommeliers [video_link] => [start_time] => [finish_time] => [code] => 1 [category_website] => 92 [category_sort] => 0 [type_category] => members [category_id] => 316 [youtube_video_id] => ) [17] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 17529 [website] => 92 [entryDate] => 2018-09-20 19:29:32 [newsDate] => 2018-02-06 14:05:23 [section] => members [lastUserID] => 1347 [image] => |093590200201517943922.png [display_order] => 39 [title] => Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits General Manager [meta_title] => Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits [name] => Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits [keywords] => [description] => [text] => Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits|Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits|Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits General Manager|||||||||||||
[category] => Leadership [video_link] => [start_time] => [finish_time] => [code] => 1 [category_website] => 92 [category_sort] => 0 [type_category] => members [category_id] => 318 [youtube_video_id] => ) [18] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 17530 [website] => 92 [entryDate] => 2018-09-20 19:29:32 [newsDate] => 2018-02-06 14:07:46 [section] => members [lastUserID] => 1347 [image] => |061026300201517944066.png [display_order] => 40 [title] => Assistant General Manager [meta_title] => Hunter Bryant [name] => Hunter Bryant [keywords] => [description] => [text] => Hunter Bryant||Assistant General Manager|||||||||||||
[category] => Leadership [video_link] => [start_time] => [finish_time] => [code] => 1 [category_website] => 92 [category_sort] => 0 [type_category] => members [category_id] => 318 [youtube_video_id] => ) [19] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 17710 [website] => 92 [entryDate] => 2018-09-20 19:29:32 [newsDate] => 2018-04-09 13:48:20 [section] => members [lastUserID] => 1347 [image] => |040643500201523296100.png [display_order] => 41 [title] => Regional Manager America [meta_title] => Diana Kelley - Tempos Vega Sicilia [name] => Diana Kelley [keywords] => [description] => [text] => Diana Kelley|Tempos Vega Sicilia|Regional Manager America|||||||||||||

Diana Kelley holds a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and Engineering by the Monterrey Institute of Superior Studies ITESM (Monterrey, Mexico) and a Master of Science in Viticulture, Enology and Terroir management by ESA École Supérieure d´Agriculture (Angers, France). She also completed the level 3 certification by the WSET Wines and Spirits Education Trust (New York, USA).

She started her career in the wine industry in 2008 with Pernod Ricard Mexico before moving to Europe to continue her wine studies. In 2011 she began working for Vins du Monde (Lavinia Group) in Paris, Tempos Vega Sicilia´s distributor in France, where she was purchasing and portfolio manager for the past three years.

Since April 2016, Diana is Tempos Vega Sicilia´s Regional Manager for America, leading the markets in North, Central, and South America.

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