Chef Sarah’s culinary continuum
January 2nd, 2011
I remember when I first started cooking for the Mondavi’s and, in particular, one occasion with Tim and his family in the mid-80s. It was at his then, newly constructed home in the Stag’s Leap District. I was in the kitchen prepping for dinner, head down, peeling garlic and shallots, picking fresh thyme and parsley and tending to the sauce. I looked up and saw that I was surrounded by a small sea of red- and blonde-haired children. They weren’t even tall enough to reach the top of the marble counter. And, they were all staring at me!
“Who are you and what are you doing?” one of them bravely asked.
“I’m the chef and I’m making dinner,” I said.
They considered this.
“Can we help? We know how.”
I surveyed the tiny crew then handed over the bunch of parsley. Soon, little fingers were deftly plucking the leaves from the stems and there was a busy, contented feeling in the kitchen.
Not much has changed over the last 25 years.
When they are around, I still look up to find Carissa, Carlo, Chiara, Dante and Dominic, Tim’s children, in the kitchen when I am cooking at Continuum. Still curious, still asking questions and still wanting to help. I will hand over a pile of fava beans to be shelled, bunches of basil to be picked or a loaf of bread to be sliced and grilled for bruschetta. Everyone’s taller now, some of them tower over me, but that love of food is alive and well in this family and at Continuum in its pleasurable and very serious pursuit of bringing wine and food together.
This past year at Continuum brought a variety of roast beasts, wild and foraged foods and the bounty of our Napa Valley food producers and farmers to the table. My co-author, Connie Green, and I were generously and enthusiastically supported by Continuum in the launch of our cookbook The Wild Table. It led to a year of exploring the various properties in new ways. Connie brought a small troop of us, including Tim, Marcia and Carissa, into the woods next to Tim’s house one drizzly day, baskets and mushroom knives in hand. We emerged an hour or so later with candy cap mushrooms, miner’s lettuce and chickweed. These became ingredients for a later meal featuring spit-roasted wild boar, malfatti with wild greens and candy cap mushroom crème brulee. The boar was hunted and prepared by fabled hunter/forager Angelo Garro aided by his trusty sous chef, author Michael Pollan. It was an omnivore’s wild feast and the weaving together of wine and food not only in a literal way, but philosophically as well. Terroir, Sustainable, Natural and Local. These words took on a new, delicious meaning that night.
Not only were wild mushrooms and foraged foods on the menu often this past year, but roasted goat became a new favorite. We cooked several locally raised goats, one occasion being the Continuum 2007 vintage release pick up party and later in the fall for a group of Michelin-starred Japanese Chefs visiting for the World of Flavors Conference at the Culinary Institute at Greystone in St. Helena. Roasted slowly over seasoned oak, basted with rosemary and sage from Tim’s garden, the rich, deeply flavored meat was delicious with all the vintages of Continuum. I had picked up a variety of ancient grains on a trip to New York’s Green Market and made a side dish of kamut, spelt, farro and amaranth to go with the goat, along with some roasted wild mushrooms. Dessert was a pistachio tart with Tim’s home-grown, hand harvested pears. The chefs lingered a long while that day, nourished by the wine, the food and that well-seasoned Continuum hospitality.
We look forward to more delicious events and meals in 2011. We will continue to enjoy the variety of locally sourced beef, lamb, duck, guinea hen, artisan cheeses and charcuterie that pair so well with the wine. Wild mushrooms, elderberries, fennel and juniper have proven to be delicious complementary flavors and we will be heading off the beaten track to forage for them in their seasons. Soon it will be time to fire up the grill, to set the table, uncork the wine. We’ll gather together once again with old and new friends, savoring the good life which is alive and well at Continuum Estate.
Happy New Year,
Sarah Patterson Scott, Chef, Writer and Continuum Estate Culinary Consultant, served as Executive Chef at Robert Mondavi Winery for 14 years, overseeing and developing the Culinary and Wine and Food Programs at the Oakville winery. She has travelled extensively, participating in wine and food programs globally. Sarah’s culinary business provides wine and food experiences, consulting and recipes for wineries, restaurants and private clients in the Napa Valley. She produced her first cookbook in 2010, The Wild Table, with wild foods expert Connie Green of Wine Forest Wild Mushrooms, published by Viking Press.