Chef-Instructor; Culinary Institute of America at Greystone; St. Helena, Calif.
What are some trends you’re seeing in Napa Valley cuisine?
What shapes cuisine in Napa Valley is wine. There are 260 wineries in 26 miles. Wine raises the bar on food. If I had to choose something that’s made me a better chef over the past 10 or 15 years, it’s wine and food pairing. When you have wine at the table, you’re forced to go back and reevaluate everything you’ve learned and its effect on wine.
Up and down this valley chefs are becoming more aware of wine and food pairing, not just at the restaurants but at some of the wineries themselves. They’re embracing wine not as the beverage you use to wash down the food you’re eating, but as a part of the entire flavor experience. Today what you’re seeing is “here’s a piece of fish, I’d like to grill it simply and squeeze a bit of lemon,” but instead of just doing that I’m going to look to a wine with a bit of citrus and use that to complement the fish.
I’m also seeing very interesting, very diverse wine lists that dovetail with an international cuisine—wine lists with emerging varietals that have been around for a long time but are starting to make an appearance again.
What facilities do you have for groups?
We have a 140-seat restaurant that’s run by a full-time staff plus students. We’re also building a cafe that will be up and running by the first week of November. It will have about 30 or 40 seats. We are partnering with Illy Cafe, so coffee and pastries will be a big part of that.
What sorts of unique experiences can you offer groups?
We have the Flavor Bar with short 20-minute classes on different subjects. One is on chocolate. Another deals with super premium olive oil and how to understand the production of olive oil and how it fits into food. Another is cheese and wine. The last is “taste like a chef.” It’s an exercise that walks you through the subtleties of seasoning. The Flavor Bar seats 12, but it’s also possible to use a theater that seats 40 or one that seats 120.