My little guest house has become temporary home to a sommelier candidate, a recent culinary-school grad who cooked up dinner for me accompanied by Virage wine. I’m one lucky “landlord” to have her here during her studies at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena.
After a lovely salad of deftly-sliced cucumber and other light and crunchy palate refreshers, the crown jewel of this meal was the thick-cut filet of grass-fed beef from Longmeadow Ranch, grilled to perfection over hardwood charcoal, served with mushrooms sauteed with a splash of Virage and truffled salt from Dean & Deluca.
Alice’s selection of the grass-fed filet suits Virage wine for reasons beyond local provenance. Farming philosophy and flavors align as well. Grass nourishes beef in a natural way; living longer, walking and grazing create nuances of flavor not found in a confined-and-corn-fed steer requiring antibiotics to digest his rations. Sustainable agriculture cuts through this meal, a depth of flavors mirrored from glass to plate.
No lack of decadence in this meal–that’s grass-feed butter and locally-sourced gorgonzola melted on top during the last minutes of cooking. Intensely flavored, tiny multi-colored potatoes tossed in Napa Olive Company olive oil, salt & pepper and a big handful of rosemary from my garden, all slow-roasted in the cabin’s tiny oven. Lest someone think Alice spoiled by a wine-country kitchen like you see in magazines, not the case! A pint-sized Wedgewood stove, a good sharp knife and the world’s smallest sink is all she’s got to work with. Plus her outstanding sense of adventure.
Gratefully I only had to walk the 30 feet home because there was still dessert to come. Home-baked, vanilla-infused shortcake–not too sweet, not too rich–topped with the most flavorful berries on earth purchased from the elderly lady grower who also sells to Chez Panisse and admonished Alice, “don’t you wash those berries.”
In reflection, Alice talked about how content she was in her little cabin, cooking with all these beautiful discoveries, a world away from the full-scale home she left in Ohio. I am happy she took a chance and traded in her comforts to study wine service in my 400-square ft cabin with maybe six square feet of counter space. But add a Weber grill and a porch swing to watch the sun set over the Mayacamas on a summer evening, and we’re all good. Welcome to Napa Valley Chef Alice.