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Tomato Heaven? Chef Streeter "shops" the garden Tomato Heaven? Chef Streeter "shops" the garden Photo: B. Holmes/Wine Institute

Napa Valley, August 30, 2017 - Brian Streeter has been a chef at Napa Valley's Cakebread Cellars for almost 30 years and is now the winery's culinary director.

The busy kitchen that he oversees handles 5 to 10 private events a week, from tasting plates for a dozen to wine-club dinners for 200. Drawing on a large organic garden, Streeter and his team serve refined farm-to-table meals that have secured the winery's reputation for relaxed and genuine hospitality.

What's the garden like?

It's three-quarters of an acre, and the beds are set up in a way that is conducive for visitors. They can walk through the garden and touch things and taste them. The beds are small so that we can have a lot of variety.

Cakebread BHolmes cWineInstitute PicmonkeyHome cooks pay close attention to Chef Streeter's technique.Photo B.Holmes/Wine Institute

How do you integrate the garden with the visitor experience?

Whenever we do an event that involves a meal, guests have a tour that includes the garden. So they see what's growing there, then sit down to a meal with our wines and some of the produce they just saw.

And how do you integrate the garden with your menu making?

As a winery chef, I start with the wine the Cakebreads want to serve. Then I look at what's coming out of the garden. What can we incorporate from the property? Vegetables grown 200 feet from your kitchen are going to have more flavor than anything you can buy, so that's what we feature foremost. And as a "green" winery trying to reduce waste and use less energy, the more we can utilize from the property, the better.

So what are you cooking this week from the garden?

Yesterday, we had our annual pre-harvest lunch for employees. We introduce new employees and talk about how this moment is what we work toward all year long. We had a variety of heirloom tomatoes with burrata and basil; some really tender garden lettuces with a simple vinaigrette; and some pickled turnips, carrots, beets and green beans.

What becomes of garden excess?

We're pretty generous with employees. We put surplus produce in the lunchroom for people to take home. A few years ago, Dolores (Cakebread) put in a produce shed so visitors could purchase our excess.

What connection do you see between the garden and how the Cakebreads approach the wine business?

The garden is integral to entertaining for the Cakebreads, and they have had one since the beginning. It's a way to entertain in a healthy manner, the way they want to promote their wines. It's part of communicating that wine can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

How does your gardener manage pests without chemicals?

The flowers in the garden make it inviting for guests to walk through, but they are really there for attracting beneficial insects that keep the garden pests in check.

Kitchen scraps get composted, presumably?

We compost all our vegetable waste. It doesn't leave the property. Last year we pulled out a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard and those vines were burned without producing any smoke. That biochar was used in the garden.

Has having the garden made you a different kind of chef?

Absolutely. A lot of chefs talk about cooking seasonally but just give it lip service. It's easier to pick up the phone and order what you want any time of year. But when the produce is in your face, it's a good reminder of what's really in season.


Editor’s note: Taste California Travel thanks Wine Institute, the San Francisco-based trade organization representing much of the California wine industry, for their permission to reprint this interview with Brian Streeter.


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