Spending five days in Napa-Sonoma Wine Country, cruising along amidst the grape vines and through small towns, we know why people like it here: beautiful countryside, mild winters, access to some of the country’s top produce, and—of course—the wine! Chefs, pastry chefs, and restaurateurs come to this part of the country for all sorts of reasons, but for several of the people we met during our week in Wine Country it boiled down to economics and the country lifestyle.
The husband and wife co-executive chef team of Eric Korsh and Ginevra Iverson at Restaurant Eloise in Sebastopol each had established careers in Brooklyn, NY, but their dream was to open their own restaurant. When the estimated cost of achieving it in Brooklyn soared beyond the million dollar mark (think $1.5 mill), they started hunting for a better bargain. It turned out that a little town in western Sonoma County presented them with good value for the money (one-third the cost of a Brooklyn spot) and the right opportunity, so the couple packed up and moved out west. In their new Wine Country home, the chefs turn out Old World-style dishes using local produce from their own garden and area farmers.
Another husband and wife partnership in Napa hold down the kitchen at Ubuntu, a restaurant and yoga studio. The restaurant focuses on a distinct kind of cuisine that just so happens to be vegetarian. Ironically, chef Jeremy Fox previously ran the meat station at Manresa; his no-meat approach to cooking these days isn’t about replacing animal protein—you’ll find no seitan or tempeh here—but about making vegetables the focus of the plate. On the pastry side, Deanie Fox presents a sunchoke ice cream as a palate cleanser that is salty, slightly savory, and creamy, not to mention unusual. Her Meyer Lemon and White Chocolate Parfait with Winter Citrus and Rose Geranium Meringue is abstract, clever, and texturally intriguing.
Saul Gropman, owner of Café La Haye in Sonoma, heard the calling of Wine Country after running a San Francisco restaurant for years. Tired of the hustle and bustle of the city life, he closed his SF venue and opened Café La Haye in downtown Sonoma. Gropman takes a hands-on approach to his restaurant, doing most of the building and renovation work himself (he tackles one big project a year), and has found an economical way to get good looking art on the walls: he asks local artists to display their works in the dining room for one to two months at a time. Gropman’s operation is small (just TK seats) and has a small menu that lets his chef, a young turk by the name of Norman Owens, focus on ingredients and execution.
Chef John Toulze of The Girl and The Fig restaurant/café/market/catering and most recently Estate (formerly The General’s Daughter) is a mainstay of the Sonoma culinary scene. We caught up with him and his team at both of his restaurants; Toulze and partner Sondra Bernstein have an ambitious growth plan, the most recent part of which was taking over The General’s Daughter. The new restaurant is just a couple of months old and has loads of potential.
Toulze gave us a tour of his charcuterie program and a glimpse into his craft by doing a demonstration of sopressata—and we got it on video! In fact, it’s inspired us to do a four-part charcuterie series, including one with Toulze and his video, another segment on charcuterie on a shoestring with Chef Justin Everett of Sonoma’s El Dorado Kitchen, and two others with a couple of cured meat pros Zach Allen in Las Vegas and Adam Stevenson in Seattle. Look for the series in the coming weeks.
A couple of nights at the gorgeous Carneros Inn, including an evening tasting at their restaurant FARM with Chef Christophe Gerard, got us thinking about get-aways—read our Get Out of the Kitchen—And Into the Wild feature about my own Idaho rafting adventure and how a busy chef can escape the kitchen madness for a few days of fun—or perhaps turn it into a summer job.
Super Bowl is this Sunday, and we’ve published a story about how Chicago chef Dirk Flanigan of The Gage is making his high-end “gastro-tavern” food satisfy the tastebuds of football fans with a penchant for something beyond pretzels and beer—how about Pretzel Crusted Ribs and artisanal beer for your Super Bowl Sunday crowd? And on the subject of Chicago, check out our updated Chicago Travel feature with new restaurants and hotels since our 2006 edition.
Andoni Luis Aduriz is one of the top young culinary leaders Spain has produced in the last decade; learn more about his food philosophy, background, and how he makes those cool chocolate bubbles in our latest Star Chef feature. (Consider it a teaser for our upcoming features on our trip to Spain and Madrid Fusion.)
Did you make a New Year’s resolution to shed some pounds and be a healthier chef? Have some quick and easy on-the-go recipes to share with other chefs who might need a little help with their 2009 goals? Send in your healthy recipes here! We’ll select the best recipes and include them in a feature in the coming weeks.