When did your love for cooking start?
I have enjoyed cooking since junior high. Back then, I learned some recipes in home economics and had fun cooking for my family. In all honesty, for most of my adolescence, I never really thought about being a chef. It was a pre-celebrity chef era when cooking wasn’t considered as ‘cool’. Then I discovered the Food Network while I was in college and got enraptured in the foodie culture. What started as a hobby soon developed into a passion.
When did your hobby turn into a career?
As I loved cooking at home, I wanted to see if I would love doing it professionally. I started working in an assisted living facility. We cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for 70 residents. Even though it was a grind, I really loved it. That’s what made me go: “All right, I’m committing to this.” I came out to California and went to the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. As St. Helena is the heart of wine country, wine was a natural segway. When I graduated from the Culinary Institute in 2010, I started working as a winery chef at the famous Chateau Montelena in Calistoga and also gained experience at St. Supéry in Rutherford.
You’ve been with us for four years. What do you like about the food program here at Sequoia Grove?
I get to really make each experience my own, and change it when and how I want to. For me, working with wine adds an extra challenge and makes cooking more cerebral, where it’s not just about the food, but also about the connection. I’m not here to just make good food. I’m here to make a great pairing experience. Sequoia Grove believes in using food to educate people about wine, and I love this philosophy.
How do you create your pairings?
It all begins with the wine. I like to start with smelling and tasting the wine. From there, I’ll jot down ideas and figure out what ingredients, textures, and flavor profiles could enhance the beautiful balance of the wine. After the concept, it’s about trial and error with cooking and then tweaking the recipe and honing the flavors.
Since you’ve started, you’ve helped us to push the boundaries when it comes to conventional wine pairings. What inspires your unique combinations?
I don’t want to do the obvious. Our visitors are here for something unique. So why show them something that they’ve seen time and time again? I like to utilize unconventional or surprising ingredients and approaches to show people that they have a much wider range of options than your classic steak and Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s why I do a lot of vegetarian and seafood pairings. It’s just a matter of applying your ingredients in such a way to kind of build them up to meet the complexity and the intensity of a Cabernet.
What have been your favorite Sequoia Grove pairings to date?
One that stood out for a lot of us was a ramen dish with salmon. In general, ramen is an unusual dish to pair with Cabernet – especially a seafood-driven ramen dish. It might have seemed strange, but it was a powerful pairing that our visitors loved! A dish from our winter menu included my Mexican mole – a grilled swordfish dish. People are always blown away by pairing seafood with red wine.
Can you share three quick tips on how to pair food and wine when cooking at home?
- Fat can really work wonders within a pairing. If a Cabernet Sauvignon is very tannic, fat can alleviate that mouth-watering puckering feeling. It softens everything by forming a coating on your palate. It also softens acid in white or sparkling wines.
- Don’t be afraid of salt! I think a lot of home cooks under season. If you really make your food pop, that’s going to make the wine pop too.
- Acid (think lemon and vinegar) added to a dish brightens the wine to tame tannins and create more excitement in the combination.
How do you make your kitchen more sustainable?
I always try to source as locally as possible within the Bay Area and change the menus based on what is seasonally available. We also recently started a composting program, which has been fun. We have always been very cognizant. I don’t like to throw a lot away, and we try to utilize products however we can, to the greatest extent that we can, and then we compost what we can’t utilize.
How often do you create new wine & food pairing experiences at Sequoia Grove?
We change the menu seasonally, so four times a year. For the first course of our current Spring menu , we’re doing a fun take on peas and carrots. We’ll pair it with the 2014 Henry Brothers Cabernet. For the second course, we’re doing a paella arancini paired with the 2016 Tonella Cabernet Sauvignon. And then we’re doing a roasted squid with black lentils and chermoula and a blood orange glaze, paired with the 2014 Tonella Cabernet Sauvignon. We’re doing two different vintages of Tonella back-to-back to highlight, again, the differences in vintage and in age. Our final pairing is the 2015 Cambium and a seasonal lamb ravioli.
What are the three things you love most about Sequoia Grove?
I think part of it is definitely the setting. It’s beautiful here! I’m surrounded by these magnificent and ancient Sequoia trees. It’s very peaceful. Then, of course, the wines are really great. Sequoia Grove has a wide variety of wines available, meaning there’s something for everyone. That also goes for the food. I always try to go and see what other wineries are doing with their pairings and while they’re all great, I think we’re definitely doing something different here. We’re offering something a little bit more educational and we’re showing the flavors of Cabernet in unexpected ways. I believe it keeps people interested in coming back to see what we’ll be creating next.
At Sequoia Grove, we don’t do conventional; we do extraordinary. Thanks to the innovation of Chef Britny, our food and wine pairings are unlike any in Napa Valley. If you’d like to find out for yourself, we invite you to reserve your spot at our award-winning ‘A Taste for Cabernet’ experience. This tasting explores the versatility of Cabernet Sauvignon by pairing four small dishes with four Sequoia Grove vintages. Bon appétit!