Etoile’s Perry Hoffman — A Chef To Watch in the Future

Chef Perry Hoffman in the kitchen at Etoile.

Perry Hoffman, executive chef of Etoile at Domaine Chandon in Yountville, has quite the pedigree.

His grandparents, Sally and Don Schmitt, were the original owners of the French Laundry in Yountville, who turned a dilapidated building into a destination restaurant in 1978, before selling it in 1993 to a then down-on-his-luck chef named Thomas Keller.

At age 4, Hoffman played in the kitchen of the French Laundry, while his grandma cooked in the kitchen, his grandfather seated guests in the dining room, and his mom (Sally and Don’s daughter) arranged flowers and worked as a waitress in the dining room.

His Mom later started her own florist business, which still supplies the blooms to the French Laundry, as well as a host of Wine Country restaurants. His grandparents went on to buy the Philo Apple Farm in Mendocino County, once again turning a rundown property into a showcase. Today, it is an organic, biodynamic farm that grows 80 varieties of heirloom apples in a setting so picturesque that Pottery Barn does catalog shoots there.

Hoffman, 27, followed in his grandmother’s footsteps, working in restaurants since he was 15. His food is already quite refined and mature for his young age. In fact, two years ago, he became the youngest chef in the country to garner a Michelin star — an achievement that prompted Keller to send him a hand-written note and a bottle of Dom Perignon.

For the past three years, he’s overseen the kitchen at the elegant Etoile, the Napa Valley’s only fine-dining restaurant housed inside a winery.

Etoile, the only fine-dining restaurant inside a winery in the Napa Valley.

The serene dining room.

Starting the evening off with a rose from Domaine Chandon.

During fall and winter, too, there are apples aplenty on his menu, which, of course, come from the Philo Apple Farm. My husband and I couldn’t resist honing in on those particular dishes when we treated ourselves to dinner at Etoile in December. Choose either a seven-course chef’s tasting menu for $110 or a four-course tasting menu with options for $85. The latter is what we went with, though we added one additional dish.

Crab with Meyer Lemon mousse, part of an intricate four-part amuse.

Dinner began with a stunner of an amuse bouche — a quartet of small bites that included an outstanding bright Meyer lemon mousse crowned with Dungeness crab; silky clams;  a creamy chestnut soup with cocoa nibs and dice of sweet butternut squash; and a small skewer of oyster and young coconut in aromatic dashi.

Philo Farm apples star in many dishes, including this seared foie gras.

The dish we added was the seared foie gras ($27), which was served with super thin, slices of Philo Gold apples (Golden Delicious),  as well as dehydrated apples and apple butter. The cooked apples lent sweetness, while the raw apples offered a crisp, fresh contrast to the richness of the foie.

More Dungeness crab -- this time with young swiss chard and marinated radishes.

Next, fluffy mounds of Dungeness crab topped with julienned apple, and given some added zing with pickled beets and crunch with tempura squiggles.

Butter-poached snapper was moist and silky, and resting on a luscious sabayon enriched with uni.

Duck breast served rare with beech mushrooms.

Butter poached snapper with baby beets.

Liberty Farms duck breast comes especially rare in the center here, alongside precious beech mushrooms that have been pickled, little starchy nuggets of chestnuts and sweet Asian pear.

Warm and wonderful bread pudding with a boozy eggnog sauce.

For dessert, we couldn’t pass up the apple bread pudding with a very boozy eggnog sauce and a fun popsicle of frozen yogurt. Airy and custardy, the bread pudding had great texture and was studded with chunks of apples.

To learn more about the legacy of Hoffman and the Schmitts, be sure to read my story in the April issue of Food Arts magazine.

More: A Visit to the Philo Apple Farm

And: A Recipe for a Fabulous Apple Cake from the Philo Apple Farm

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Date: Wednesday, 27. April 2011 5:26
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, Fruit, General, More Food Gal -- In Other Publications, Restaurants, Thomas Keller/French Laundry/Et Al

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10 comments

  1. 1

    A wonderful looking meal!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. 2

    I’ve never heard of Dungeness crab but I like the sounds of it. Just love those amuse bouche on a chinese spoon coz it’s one mouthful of complex and explosive flavours..and I need at least a minute before I can start talking again :)

  3. 3

    That boozy bread pudding looks SO good. I could use one right about now. :)

  4. 4

    Wow wonderful looking platters…

  5. 5

    Goodness me I’ll take one of everything please! :o

  6. 6

    Whoa does this guy have a legacy or what? Crazy. And his food looks amazing! I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on him.

  7. 7

    Wow, what an interesting chef! His food is gorgeous and I love his attention to detail.

  8. 8

    pottery barn does photo shoots there? wow. very impressive indeed.
    chefs like this with their attention to detail are so inspiring. i love chefs that keep on experimenting in layers of flavors; little bites of this and that in each dish.

  9. 9

    I love that bread pudding is making a comeback. And this one sounds and looks delicious. You can really feel the warm, inviting California feel of the restaurant through your photos. By the way, we could use a little of that warmth here in chilly, rainy Wisconsin:)

  10. 10

    I enjoy your posts, but have a hard time reading the print against the grey background. Any chance you’d darken your print choice and lighten the background?

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