8:51am | January 1, 2015
To 2014…a storied year
Rarely in the world of restaurants and special events – my world – is there “down time”…or an off season…a shoulder season…it’s Napa Valley and we play host, (and chef and winemaker and tour guide) to millions of visitors near and far pretty much year round. 2014 presented itself with a litany of fantastic events for me personally; I use the word presented because in fact so many of these affairs I consider to be true presents, or gifts. In June I was asked to create Sophia Loren’s 80th birthday party dinner – a humbling honor as I recalled what my mother would say to me about Sophia, “if it wasn’t for Sophia Loren, we’d never have made it to the front of the line.” (She was talking out us…the Italian immigrants).
Another gift was this in November during the Napa Valley Film Festival I devised what I call a “food noir affair” for the Weinstein Company as an ode to their film Imitation Game. The table was the “set”, each course was a different scene, and the people brought it to life. And then creating a dinner for the high priestess of food and wine, (I should say Food & Wine, the magazine) for the most lovely Dana Cowin was such a treat.
2014 was an amazing year on so many levels. It started off in a puff of smoke…quite literally as I appeared on the Jimmy Fallon show; no – not me making a grand entrance through a billow of clouds and mist but me practicing my liquid nitrogen dragon breath as I was concocting a liquid nitrogen gin-n-tonic for Jimmy. That was a gas! Super fun! I think I lost my voice for a day after that one.
On a more serious note, I – we – were undeniably proud to be nominated as one of the James Beard Best New Restaurants. Coqueta made it to being part of the top five finalists and I was off to NYC for the ceremonies. Just being part of this crowd of five was a privilege – those 80,000++ hours of work on creating what Spanish means to me paid off in big ways. I am also super proud that later in 2014, Coqueta was awarded the People’s Best New Bar by Food & Wine magazine. Over this past year Coqueta has evolved into something of an artist workshop (which stands for Bottega in Italian ) for me and my team…exploring new dishes and doing a deep dive into our cocktails….creating homemade tonics and infused vodkas….it’s art and science all of the way.
2014 also had a trend for me about “duality” – or better word might be contrast. It was a year of using technology to improve what we do or help support things we want to create…think 3D printing…but with all of the technology we’ve been focusing on terroir…to use a word from winemaking…the earth. I took my team to our Chiarello Family vineyards and we stomped grapes to make verjus. The next day I’m on a panel (a panel of 2!) with the CTO of Monsanto. Really?! We couldn’t be farther apart in our approach to farming, and yet there was a common goal of feeding the hungry and reducing the obesity. Such opposition in our beliefs but having a common goal…that’s contrast. The next week I am back in Napa Valley and able to give a large check (thanks for our fundraising from our bike event, the Bottega Gran Fondo) to Clinic Ole. That’s the good stuff for sure this year.
Focus: that’s probably the word I used second most next to the word I used all year long: storytelling. We aren’t making food just to fill an empty plate; we are thoughtful and intentional in our deep desire to stir an emotion around the food – and to offer what I tell my team all the time…it’s about the flavor memory. There is a difference between taste and flavor. Our job is focused upon the flavor…that’s where we make the experience more meaningful…more profound…
New Year’s Eve…all out effort for both restaurants…down the rabbit hole of creativity. It was a study in art at Coqueta and a study in fashion at Bottega. Pictures tell the story…a chef’s interpretation of art as food.
2014 was a year of stories, storytelling, color and black and white. We were awarded and honored along the way…but I have to say what I am most proud of is my wife, Eileen, and her new venture, her vision to make change…big big change in the clean food and farming movement. Barnraiser…I’ve written about it, FBooked it…but it’s more than me telling you…it’s you experiencing the site, learning about the people making a difference and supporting those you believe in…I believe in them all…thank you Eileen.
Here’s to 2015…may your kitchen be full (gray salt…gotta have) and may you share your stories around the table to those who matter most. Come visit San Francisco or Yountville and toast to good health and happiness! Buon Anno!
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