10:52pm | November 21, 2014

On turning 100: Peter Mondavi Sr. – 11.08.14

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“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”  Sophia Loren

I was invited to cook for Peter Mondavi Sr. 100th birthday, just as I had been for his 75th, a quarter of a century ago. I see the photo of us standing in his kitchen – me gangly, undeniably big-headed and yet humbled to be in the presence of this founding father of Napa Valley.

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Now, upon his 100th I stop in my own tracks?  How often do we think of that one day we might see this number? What might that feel like? How do you even get there?  I knew that my only gift would be to honor the greatness of his family and the work he did to turn Napa Valley into something truly extraordinary. During the course of creating this dinner, I did take the cliché trip of a stroll down memory land.

Being of Italian heritage myself, I feel a bond with a lot of the Italians and Italian-Americans in the valley, but there’s a special place in my heart for Peter Mondavi Sr. Week in and week out, Peter had lunch at my restaurant Tra Vigne, and he always had a story— in half-Italian, half-English—and a hug for me on the way out. Back when Napa Valley was slow in the winter (the good old days!), we might do only a dozen lunches, but Peter’s table would be four of them.

Years ago, I was able to ask him what he wanted to be remembered for:

I just want people to remember that our family has been a major factor in the industry, having gone through thick and thin here in Napa Valley, when others came and went. We stuck with it through the hard times and were able to keep our heads above water during those tough years. 

Redwood-Cellar978x353That’s why I purchased all the land we have outside the home property. In those early days, the big corporations would come in and outbid us and we’d lose the grapes.  I said the only way we’re going to survive is to have our own vineyards.  [Today, Charles Krug is one of the largest landholders in Napa Valley.] So I guess I’d like to be known as a solid citizen. Not a fly-by-night.  In other words, put it this way: we’re here to stay.” – Peter Mondavi Sr. 

A dinner for 100 to celebrate 100. A few courses to share:

The Pasta: Cappelletti en Brodo PM100_411 copy Little hats” stuffed with duck in broth parmigiano-reggiano
This was Peter’s favorite childhood meal, and his sons told me in unison that he always ate this dish as a young boy.

Entrée: Vitello Arrosto e Risotto Alla Milanese Wild herb roasted milk-fed veal with saffron and bone marrow risotto

Peter Mondavi’s favorite dish is veal – veal roast, veal osso bucco. It’s been said he orders (never frozen) veal from a purveyor in New Jersey. He also loves Risotto Milanese and again his sons told me they remember him eating the veal and pasta together.

Every meal has a story. Every good story should have a meal. There was nothing better than seeing Peter, his family and dear friends sparkle among the beautiful setting in their Redwood Tasting Room at Charles Krug.

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A long day’s work. A steaming bowl of pasta. A glass of wine. And most importantly, conversation around the dinner table; to me, that’s the path to longevity. I raise my glass to my friends and family who too have put their heart and soul and pitchforks, tractors, aprons and pans to making Napa Valley what it has become today and yet never forgetting the very first few seeds, which were planted.

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Commentary, Food, Napa Valley, Uncategorized

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