As a chef and restaurateur, I’m often asked about the next trend, the next big innovation in food – whether it’s cooking techniques, flavor combinations, new ingredients – even food/epicurean apps (and watch this space, I have a few ideas marinating there!). In my career, I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go – from the explosive big concepts that quickly crashed and burned, to the good ideas that you wish could have lasted but fizzled. But, hey, that’s what trends are: a steady roll of what’s next.
I’m always open to new techniques and ingredients: anything that will help us improve the quality of what we offer and our guests experience. But when I look at what we are providing, what is happening in our county (and country) around us, I feel strongly that the present AND future is farm-to-table. Oh right, THAT trend, you might be thinking to yourself. That has been so overdone – even fast-food franchises have begun to coin the phrase, to the point that you can detect eye glazing or even rolling when it comes up in conversation. Which is a shame. We are chefs, operating restaurants and serving food. Where else would our food come from?
I realize there is a vast range of what farms can look like and the resulting caliber of the end product depending on how food is produced. Food has become highly politicized – but that isn’t where I’d like to go with this.
For me – and for our Valette team – the idea of farm-to-table is as much about connecting with community, family and history as it is about presenting the highest quality, most vibrant ingredients possible. As a fourth-generation resident of Sonoma County, great grandson of a French baker who settled and created food in my own town, and now chef/restaurant owner in that same town, food is about our community and farm-to-table is, authentically, our life. My brother, Aaron (also Valette’s GM and Wine Director) and I were raised in the heart of our Sonoma County farms and vineyards and grew up with many of our food producers. This is family. We’re fortunate to have such an amazing bounty around us and supporting our farmers, our producers and artisans – from food to wine – is what we are committed to doing.
We have such a symbiotic relationship with our community of producers, in fact, that many grow for us from seed specific varietals of vegetables, herbs or fruit for our dishes. We are beginning to work with winemakers on a similar program: collaboration on custom wines for the restaurant based on specific dishes and flavor profiles. We are interested in helping to preserve and revive heritage/heirloom produce, are committed in our support to the farmers offering these and continue to grow our own heirloom vegetable varietals of in our restaurant ‘farm” across the street from our restaurant. I don’t see this changing. I see countless chefs in our community and beyond – both pioneers and newcomers – harvesting from their own gardens and farms and maintaining close relationships with their local farmers.
We had an exciting opportunity to showcase some of our closest producer partners this summer at the esteemed James Beard House in New York City at a very special “Sip & Savor Sonoma” Valette Dinner. Aaron and I, together with our top kitchen and service teams, brought to NYC fresh ingredients from home, sharing with our guests the best of ingredients local to wine country and core purveyors of Valette, including Bernier Farms, California Caviar, Dry Creek Peach, Early Bird Farms, Liberty Duck, Strong Arm Farm, wines from Jessie Katz’s The Setting, Mauritson Wines, Lando Wines, Lombardi Wines, and craft spirits from the ladies behind the still at Sonoma County’s Spirit Works Distillery for reception cocktails, to name a few. The dinner for 82 guests was one of the most successful there. It was an amazing experience for the team to share the Valette experience and the local ingredients at the heart of it all!
While future technology and practices may serve to increase food volume, create efficiencies and even distance us from our food sources, I foresee – and certainly hope – that the movement toward and support for “farm-to-table” and the community and relationships surrounding it – continues to grow.
From my part, I will – together with my team – continue to create not only a fantastic and memorable dining experience for guests – but also an experience which truly connects people with the flavors of our region as presented by a community of producers and purveyors. From their farm to your plate. It may sound simple. But sometimes keeping things simple yields the best results.
Take a bite out of summer with Dustin’s recipe for Burrata & Peach salad.
Char Grilled Peaches – Peach Leaf Vinaigrette
Yield: 4-6 ppl
Peach Leaf Vinaigrette
1 cup Peach leaves, medium sized, young and vibrant green, washed
2 oz Champagne Vinegar
1 ½ teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 ea Fresh Local Peach, washed
2 oz Canola Oil
2 oz Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Grilled Peach Salad
3 ea Whole Vine Ripened Peaches
2 qt Baby Wild Arugula
4 pieces Fresh Burrata Cheese
½ loaf Sourdough Baguette, I prefer Acme, though a local crusty Sourdough is essential
TT Kosher Salt
TT Fresh Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Start by taking ripe, local fresh peaches and cutting into wedges. Toss them in extra virgin olive oil, salt and fresh pepper. Grill them over a wood burning grill or high heat grill. Once grilled keep the peaches in a warm area.
Slice the baguette into 12 long croutons, toss with extra virgin olive oil, salt and fresh pepper and grill on the grill.
In a medium bowl toss the arugula with the peach vinaigrette, salt and pepper. Place the arugula in the center of the plate; lay the Burrata on top and place the warm peaches around. Put the croutons around and drizzle with the peach vinaigrette.
By: Chef Dustin Valette
Dustin Valette is the chef owner of Valette located in downtown Healdsburg, the culmination of two brothers’ lifelong dream of creating a unique dining experience in their hometown. Valette has been awarded Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for their wine list, and is on Trip Advisor’s Top 10 places to dine in Healdsburg.