California’s wine country has long attracted those who worship at the fount of Bacchus, but for the past 15 years, the Napa Valley town of Yountville – locus of Napa Valley’s first planted vines in 1838 – has been busy establishing itself as another kind of mecca: an epicure’s Eden. Once a sleepy little hamlet selling postcards and tsotchkes, its small inns and B&Bs have been (a little) upstaged by upscale hotels like Villagio Inn & Spa, eco-friendly Bardessono and Hotel Luca, while a formidable collection of eateries have opened their doors on or near the main drag, Washington Street. Yountville’s restaurants share an amazing six Michelin stars between them: three for Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and one each for Keller’s Bouchon, for REDD and for étoile at Domaine Chandon. While chefs like Keller, Phillipe Jeanty and Michael Chiarello are already well known, they are also attracting a new wave of top-tier younger talents (mostly under 40) drawn to working with the stars, but who definitely merit watching. Following is our shortlist of Yountville’s most notable chefs, currently serving-up sublime cuisine in America’s newest culinary capital.
Name/Age: Perry Hoffman, Chef, Age: 25. Restaurant received its first Michelin star in October.
Restaurant/Style: étoile at Domaine Chandon/Regional California with French influence.
Road Traveled: Born and raised in Napa Valley. Maternal grandparents Don and Sally Schmitt were original owners of French Laundry and Hoffman grew up in fine dining kitchens. Worked at the Boonville Hotel, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Auberge du Soleil with stints in North Carolina and Hawaii before joining the team at étoile in July 2007.
Signature dish: Striped bass and forbidden rice paired with Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier.
Favorite ingredient: Whatever spring offers – fiddlehead ferns and ramps come to mind.
What culinary style reflects: Wine-inspired dishes that pair beautifully with sparkling and still wines.
Culinary hero: Grandmother Sally who taught Hoffman the techniques of her rustic and simple cooking like salt the beans at the end rather than the beginning.
Culinary goal: To cook in the James Beard House or in France one day.
Contact: 1 California Drive, (888) 242-6366; etoilerestaurant.com
Name/Age: Richard Reddington, Executive Chef/Owner, Age: 44.
Restaurant/Style: REDD/American Contemporary.
Road Traveled: A native of Rochester, N.Y., Reddington graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a degree in business and then went traveling through Europe. Realizing he had a passion for cooking, he got a job in 1990 at Roland Passot’s La Folie
in San Francisco, later moving across town to Postrio before heading east to David Burke’s Park Avenue Café in New York City. Later, he worked at Rubicon in San Francisco, at France’s three-star Arpege and Le Moulin de Mougins with Roger Vergé, and with Daniel Boulud at Restaurant Daniel in New York. Returning to California, he helped open Spago Beverly Hills, worked at Jardiniere, Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford and then Masa’sin San Francisco, before opening his own restaurant in November, 2005.
Signature dish: Pan-seared scallops served with cauliflower puree, roasted California almonds, capers and raisins.
Favorite ingredient: Onions.
What culinary style reflects: A sense of place.
Culinary hero: Daniel Boulud. “I worked for him for a long time and he really impressed me with the way he runs his kitchen.”
Culinary goal: To have a non fine-dining restaurant in San Francisco.
Contact: 6480 Washington St., (707) 944-2222; reddnapavalley.com
Name/Age: Philip Tessier, Chef de Cuisine, Age: 30.
Restaurant/Style: Bouchon/French bistro.
Road Traveled: Thomas Keller protégé Tessier started his culinary career at the Williamsburg Inn in Virginia. After receiving his degree from the Culinary Institute of America in New York and spending an additional year there as a post-graduate fellow, he worked at L’Essential and Le Moulin de Mougins in France and at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin and Keller’s Per Se in Manhattan.
Signature dish: Bouillabaisse a la Bouchon.
Favorite ingredient: Fish.
What culinary style reflects: Refined classics with a focus on simplicity.
Culinary hero: Auguste Escoffier. “He is credited with transforming the culinary profession from a blue-collar profession to a white-collar one.”
Culinary goal: To have a lasting impact on the people I work for and with – and those people I cook for.”
Contact: 6534 Washington St., (707) 944-8037; bouchonbistro.com
Name/Age: Sean O’Toole, Executive Chef, Age: 38.
Restaurant/Style: Bardessono (at the Bardessono hotel)/Contemporary American.
Road Traveled: O’Toole grew up in Wakefield, MA and developed his love for food and hospitality while spending time with his hotel manager father and through fending for himself and his sister when both parents were working. After getting an A.O.S. in Culinary Arts and a B.S. in Food Service Management, he worked at Season’s Restaurant in the Bostonian Hotel, spent five years at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in San Francisco under Sylvain Portay, apprenticed in France with Jacques Maximin, worked at Tabla Restaurant and Café Boulud in Manhattan, and at Fifth Floor Restaurant and at Masa’s, both in San Francisco. O’Toole also worked at Group Alain Ducasse in Paris in preparation for the 2007 opening of Ducasse’s Las Vegas outpost Mix. Prior to joining Bardessono, he worked with chef Michael Mina at Mina Group Inc., in San Francisco.
Signature dish: Gnocchi. For fall he did a farm potato gnocchi made of artichokes, nebrodini bianco mushrooms, sylvetta, licorice and Parmesan-Reggiano cheeses.
Favorite ingredient: Wild mushrooms, specifically local Sonoma coast porcinis, chanterelles, black trumpets, candy caps.
What culinary style reflects: A seasonal approach to freshest ingredients in a wide variety of cuisines.
Culinary hero: Antonin Carême. (Known as the first celebrity chef, Carême baked Napoleon’s wedding cake and soufflés flecked with gold for the Rothschilds). “I got a copy of the second volume of one of his books from 1848, La Cuisine Ordinaire. And everything he did then we’re still doing today. His recipe for quince preserve, for instance, is lemon juice, quince and salt. And that’s how I make my fresh quince preserves here.”
Culinary goal: To share my food with as many people as possible.
Contact: 6526 Yount St. (707) 204-6030; bardessono.com
Name/Age: Nick Ritchie/Chef de Cuisine, Age 28.
Restaurant/Style: Bottega Napa Valley/Italian influence.
Road Traveled: Originally from St. Helena, Ritchie has worked on and off for Bottega’s chef /owner Michael Chiarello ever since he knocked on his door in 1994 at 13 years old and asked for a job. Chiarello hired him to work under him and chef de cuisine Carmen Quagliata in the kitchens of Tra Vigne in St. Helena. While working on his associate’s degree in Culinary Arts at The Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, NY, he interned at Sazerac in Seattle under Chef Jan Birnbaum. Following graduation in 2001, Ritchie worked at La Campagnola di Sal`o in Italy and several Seattle restaurants before helping to open Bottega in December 2008 when he was 27.
Signature dish: Ricotta gnocchi.
Favorite ingredient: Extra virgin olive oil.
What culinary style reflects: Italian, French and Mediterranean cuisine.
Culinary hero: Marco Pierre White – the original super chef and youngest chef ever (33) to win three Michelin stars and the first Briton to do so. “Ever since I picked up his first book, White Heat, when I was 15, I have tried to model my career on his,” says Ritchie, who has met White only once. “I admire the seriousness, passion and quest for perfection that he shows.”
Culinary goal: Present: continue to drive Bottega to the top of the national restaurant. scene; future: small restaurant/pasta shop in the Bay Area.
Contact: 6525 Washington St. A9 – V Marketplace, (707) 945-1050; botteganapavalley.com
Name/Age: Dave Cruz, Chef de Cuisine, Age: 35.
Restaurant/Style: Ad Hoc/American.
Road Traveled: While studying for a degree in engineering, Cruz worked in and managed restaurants to cover his bills. Soon he realized making a person’s dining experience great appealed more to him than anything else and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America. He honed his craft at Champagne and Harbor’s Edge in San Diego, and at Mas, March and Nobu in New York City. Cruz went to Bouchon in 2004 and then to Ad Hoc when owner Keller opened it as a temporary restaurant in September 2006. He was instrumental in creating the strong guest support that led to Keller’s decision to keep it open as a permanent restaurant.
Signature dish: Mar y Montana – Spanish version of a classic American Surf `n’ Turf -literally translated as “Sea and Mountain.” Consists of pan-roasted young chicken with Spanish chorizo, bouchot mussels, Gulf shrimp, piquillo peppers, English peas on saffron and Calasparra rice.
Favorite ingredient: Mushrooms.
What culinary style reflects: Simplicity grounded in regionality.
Culinary hero: My dad. “He wasn’t a chef, he was an accountant and carpenter, but when he cooked for us he never read recipes. He cooked from his memory and heart.”
Culinary goal: Be impactful to our guests, but also to young cooks and our staff.
Contact: 6476 Washington St., (707) 944-2487, adhocrestaurant.com
Name/Age: Joel Ehrlich, Executive Chef, Age: 35.
Restaurant/Style: Bistro Jeanty/classic French bistro.
Road Traveled: Born and raised in Florida, Ehrlich attended Johnson and Whales University to study the culinary arts. He moved to the Napa Valley and got a job as sous chef at Tra Vigne and later worked at Martini House in St. Helena and at Brannan’s Grill in Calistoga.
Signature dish: Tomato soup.
Favorite ingredient: Tomatoes and melons in summer, hearty greens in winter.
What culinary style reflects: Simple, rustic, comfort food
Culinary hero(es): Nick Morforgen (owner of 32 East in Delray Beach, Fla.) “He taught me what food is really about. That it’s not just about cooking but rather a marriage of ingredients, a passion. He taught me how to take yourself and put yourself into a plate.”
Culinary goal: To travel and taste all the flavors of the world.
Contact: 6510 Washington St., (707) 944 0103, bistrojeanty.com
View a slideshow of Yountville Chefs and restaurants below: