When it comes to the farm-to-table movement in the United States, the Bay Area is the OG.
That might sound strange to compare a region known for it’s vintage wines and Michelin-starred restaurants to something decidedly less, er..uptight, but for decades now the area has been reinventing it’s take on local food at a historic pace. Since the opening of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971, the concept of creating dishes around locally sourced, in-season ingredients has drawn high-caliber chefs from all over the world to the area, including Napa Valley. And while locavore is a term on the tip of everybody’s tongue these days, there’s only a handful of chefs standing out from the crowd.
Napa-based chef Steven Tevere is one of those tastemakers, bringing seasonally driven ingredients to luxury resort The Carneros Inn (which in terms of job locations is pretty hard to beat). Tevere, who has held posts with Roland Passot of the critically acclaimed La Folie and with James Beard Award-winning and Michelin Star Chef Nancy Oakes of Boulevard, currently oversees the entire culinary program for The Carneros Inn, including FARM and local favorite The Boon Fly Cafe. We caught up with Tevere to find out his food inspirations, trends for 2015 and the five ingredients he can’t live without.
What’s your biggest food inspiration?
Tevere: First and foremost are ingredients. You’ll probably hear this a lot when you talk to chefs in California but we’re just really fortunate with the local bounty. It definitely gets more challenging in the wintertime with variety, but there’s a lot of great winter produce. Keeping true to what we do and understanding the concept of each restaurant…you have to constantly keep reinventing yourself and keep your guests interested in coming back.
Are there any flavors, techniques, or ingredients you think are going to be big in 2015?
Tevere: Bars with specialty ingredients seems to be more and more trendy not only in the Bay area but across the country. I have my bartenders coming to me asking if the gardner can plant this for us…or can you talk to one of your specialty purveyors about getting that for us. It’s a team with us sourcing ingredients and the [bartenders] executing it. Our guys at Boon Fly Cafe are really into it right now, and have probably made 6 or 8 different bitters in the past month. This time of year they’re asking for [the citrus fruit] Buddha Hand, blood oranges, and bergamot oranges. They’re using the rinds and fruit to make these bitters. It’s interesting to see these guys get excited about the ingredients and make a really great drink from them. A big thing now also seems to be foraging. This started years ago with [the Copenhagen, Denmark restaurant] Noma, and now we’re seeing it here. Whether it’s a small garden on site or going into the forest to look for mushrooms…a lot of restaurants are foraging their ingredients.
I’m also starting to see a lot of nut oils and avocado oils pop up in specialty markets and from our purveyors around here.
Any fad diets you’ve been seeing a lot of?
Tevere: A lot of our guests are sticking to the Paleo diet…10 years ago it was Atkins with no carbohydrates, and now it seems like a lot of people are into the good fats like avocados and nuts.
When you cook at home what kind of dishes are you most drawn to?
Tevere: I cook for my 2 ½ year old daughter and my wife, Shelby. As a chef you work a lot so I don’t have a lot of time with them, so I try to keep it quick and easy with quick cleanup as well. But I definitely focus on good ingredients and good flavors. It’s funny but our daughter doesn’t really like bland food. She likes Thai food and Mexican food, so it’s kind of fun to play in that realm with her. But I definitely try to keep it to a couple of pans so there’s not a lot of cleanup at the end of the day.
What are the 5 ingredients you always have in your kitchen?
Vadouvan: It’s a spice that I have at home a lot. I like it because it goes really well with veggies, like cauliflower and carrots…any kind of root vegetable. It has a ton of flavor.
Duck fat: I always have a tub of duck fat in the freezer for cooking potatoes or meats.
Good chicken stock: When you’re making a good risotto or pasta dish you always want to have this on hand.
Garlic: This is great for all different kinds of cooking. Whether you’re sautéing veggies or basting steak after you cook it. I go through a few heads a week at home.
Good quality dry pasta: Beside the basics like good olive oils, salts, and butter, which I always have in the house. I’d also say to go to specialty store and buy a really good, dry imported pasta. A package of dry lentils is also great to have on-hand.