Over recent years, the movement by chefs to use local bounty has taken on new momentum. For plenty of kitchens in Napa Valley this has been business as usual – as is the cse of Mustards Grill, where Chef Cindy Pawlcyn has been foraging for produce in her own backyard for the past 30 years.
Northern California is blessed with a bounty of fresh produce and a growing season that spans most of the year. And while Napa Valley’s small-town network of purveyors might seem similar to a lot of those being cultivated all over the country, they have access to one more neighborhood link that keeps them unique: local wine.
Chef Brandon Sharp on
Global Flavor, Local Varietals
Executive Chef Brandon Sharp at Michelin-starred Solbar restaurant follows the seasons in his kitchen with an intense commitment to local produce. “We try to use as many ingredients grown in Napa Valley as possible.” The excellent peaches used in signature summer dishes are grown right up the road on St. Supéry’s Dollarhide Ranch, and Forni- Brown Organic Gardens supplies the bulk of his greens.
Sharp’s dedication to local ingredients does not stop him from pulling in global inspiration in his cuisine. “Some of my dishes do have Thai and Japanese flavors, but most of it comes from places around the world where there is a strong food and wine culture,” Sharp explains. “A dish inspired from the South of France will pair well with a red or white Rhône, and here you can find great versions of those same varieties and blends. When it comes right down to it, I am very cognizant that the guests are coming here to eat local food and drink local wine. That is always a part of the experience.”
Chef Cindy Pawlcyn on
Flavor of the Neighborhood
Chef Cindy Pawlcyn has run out of fingers. She is counting the different varieties of fruit trees that dot her gardens, both at home in her two-acre plot and at the six-and-a-half acres adjacent to Mustards in Yountville. “Seven kinds of pomegranates, three persimmons, eight types of plum trees. At home, I have two different varieties of quince trees that yielded 475 pounds of fruit last year. My staff were begging me not to bring any more in!”
Pawlcyn’s Mustards garden has evolved tremendously over the years, starting as a three-quarter acre plot in 1983. Today they need a tractor to work the grounds. “We keep adding whole rows of produce, 20 feet of blackberry and raspberry bushes at a time.”
At a certain point of the year, 55 percent of Pawlcyn’s kitchen ingredients come from the gardens. “We have a plethora of produce from June to November. We grow our own microgreens in greenhouses. Our lettuces and salads come from the gardens all year-round, and this year the brassicas, the onions, the green garlic, the scallions, and the asparagus are all starting early.” And she has an equal enthusiasm for the vendors who have found their way into her kitchens over the years—like the 90-something seed saver who brought her truckloads of heirloom tomatoes when she first started cooking in Napa, and the lady who drives up in her Cadillac with wine boxes full of Meyer lemons that she carefully picks on her property, unable to bear the thought of them going to waste. All the flavors of the neighborhood, and what better to pair them with than neighborhood wines.
“Food should be as good and local as the wine”—It’s been Pawlcyn’s mantra since she started cooking in Napa Valley. “The flavors of local wines go so well with the flavors of the food grown or raised right here. A locally raised beef roast with a Napa cabernet is just magical. It’s one of those perfect pairings they talk about. You need that flavor of the terroir, the earth, the neighborhood, as I like to call it. I work very closely with the vintners, and it’s fun to see what they want paired with their wines, too,” she explains.
Chef Christopher Kostow on
A Local Sphere of Inspiration
When he’s not in his kitchen, you might find Chef Christopher Kostow tending the gardens at the Montessori school, where he grows vegetables that eventually find their way onto the plates at The Restaurant at Meadowood. Incidentally, the plates are made locally, too.
Three Michelin stars and a host of other accolades might give Chef Kostow carte blanche the world over, but his feet are firmly planted in Napa soil. “As a chef I get to work in a rural setting—which is what I want, because I can grow my own vegetables and cook from a place that
has a specificity you can’t get in New York, and yet has the proximity to an urban center, San Francisco, that most rural areas don’t have. There aren’t a whole lot of places in the world like this for someone like me.”
Chef Kostow takes full advantage of what Napa Valley has to offer, not just in the way of food and wine but also with the artisans, craftsmen, and small producers out there. “We have tried to create a sphere of inspiration that encompasses more than just the growers and the vintners. It includes all those who might be a little more out of sight— from the people who make our plates and olive oils to the various foragers in the valley. There is a very vibrant community here. There is a lot more depth than many people realize. And we have taken it on as our job to showcase some of that.”
Wine is a partnership in many ways at Meadowood. “The owners are vintners, and so the role of local food and local wine has a more emotional than gustatorial intensity to it,” explains Kostow. “Community is a word you hear a lot in the valley, and that is owed to the fact that agriculture as a pursuit tends to involve most of those who live here. We are so closely involved with agriculture and grapes that we have this sort of ‘best and brightest’ vibe in the valley.”