Notes from Chefs’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee, Part 1
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, JANUARY 17, 2011—It’s not right to generalize but I’ve long felt that it’s a victim-less crime when you do so in a positive way, like when you say that you love Italians (which I do) or Australians (guilty, again) or that you never met a meanie from Seattle (seriously, the CEOs in that city will give you a lift to the airport).
I know too much about the cooking trade to believe for a second that all Northern California chefs are nice guys and gals, but the three I’ve been with since Sunday night—Sean Baker, Peter Chastain, and Emily Luchetti—tempt me toward that conclusion nonetheless. The four of us just wrapped up Session 3 of Chefs’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee, a magnificent hotel in Yosemite National Park, where the chefs conducted cooking demos and I acted as moderator and host.
Having arrived in San Francisco on Saturday, the “work week” (yeah, right) began for me on Sunday when Luchetti, executive pastry chef of Farallon and Waterbar, picked me up at the Huntington Hotel, perched high atop San Francisco’s Nob Hill. Emily and I had never met before, but she was kind enough to give me a lift from the city up to Yosemite.
The four-hour drive passed remarkably quickly. Not only was it a beautiful, sunny, unseasonably warm day, but we had the benefit of being total strangers. We discussed everything from the restaurant scene in our respective cities to writing books (Emily has penned six) to the Beard Foundation (Emily recently served on the board; I was married at the Beard House in Manhattan) to the French Culinary Institute (she’s currently a dean; I studied there).
Emily was also kind enough to consent to a lengthy interview in which we discussed everything from the pastry arts in general to her individual career path; she walked me through the formative days of Stars restaurant, one of the most important American dining establishments of the past 40 years, the place where Jeremiah Tower reached full flight and became one of our first celebrity chefs. Emily was part of the opening team of Stars as a line cook, but tired of the savory slog, and with Tower’s support, began transitioning to pastry, eventually becoming executive pastry chef. Wasn’t it nice of Jeremiah to encourage such a drastic change?…