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Monday, June 9, 2014

06/01/2014 - Garden to Table: Cooking at Robert Mondavi Winery

We've all heard of "Farm-to-Table", the phrase coined by a growing breed of chefs keen to support and incorporate produce from small local farms on their menu.  Many fortunate chefs are also able to boast "Garden-to-Table", where they have the luxury of planting and nurturing their own gardens.  There is nothing fresher or better for the environs than that, and we celebrate them this week with the chef from Robert Mondavi Winery, Jeff Mosher and his sous chef, Chris Stillwell.  Jeff involves all his staff in each stage of the gardening, giving them a true sense of the produce they work with, much like Thomas Keller has done at his garden/farm opposite The French Laundry restaurant in Yountville.

"Piccolo" To Kalon Garden

Robert Mondavi Winery is renaming its culinary garden as the “Piccolo” To Kalon Garden at a twilight dedication ceremony and dinner on Tuesday, June 10th.  The new name reflects the precious soil ( a little piece of the To Kalon Vineyard) upon which the garden stands, and Chef Jeff Mosher’s unswerving devotion to nurturing/restoring the garden to a bountiful, year ‘round source of exceptional ingredients for his seasonally-inspired menus.  

Robert Mondavi Winery Chef Jeff Mosher toasts
"Piccolo" To Kalon Garden with Margrit Mondavi

Jeff Mosher

Winery Chef
Robert Mondavi Winery

Jeff Mosher’s love affair with cooking began amid the flying flour and lively camaraderie of a local pizzeria in Oberlin, Ohio.  The thrill and adrenaline rush of working on the line hooked Mosher, who also loved the hands-on nature of the work.   “I’d liked cooking since I was a child,” he says.  “I like that it is practical, creative and has limitless learning potential.”  An undergrad at Oberlin College, Mosher furthered that learning with a junior year abroad studying—and eating—in Strasbourg.

Shortly after graduation, Mosher moved to San Francisco in 1997 and began working as a line cook at E and O Trading Company.  From there, he moved to Clouds where he was promoted to Sous-Chef, responsible for creating specials and handling daily operations.  Next up was North Star where, as lead line cook, he managed the lunch and brunch shifts. In 2000 he joined the team at Campton Place, cooking four-star contemporary French cuisine under chefs Laurent Manrique and Daniel Humm. 

There could be nothing fresher than a meal at Robert Mondavi Winery,
such as this dish of sublime vegetables we enjoyed at the launch.

Having laid the groundwork for his culinary career in San Francisco, in 2004 Mosher moved to the Napa Valley—arguably the epicenter of American wine and food culture—to become Sous-Chef at Copia’s Julia’s Kitchen, working with Chef Victor Scargle in running daily operations from butchery and sauce production to writing tasting menus.

Becoming Winery Chef at Robert Mondavi Winery in January 2009 is a dream come true for Mosher, who draws inspiration from the winery’s long history of championing wine, food and art as part of a gracious, healthy lifestyle. “Being here is a perfect fit for me—I’m surrounded by people committed to great wine and to providing the best experience to our guests,” he says.  “Great food and great wine go hand in hand, each should complement the other with flavors in the food bringing out and enhancing characteristics of the wine, producing a beautifully balanced meal and an exceptional dining experience.”

Chef's Slow Cooked Local Salmon with Garden Squashes and Peas
Napa Valley’s abundance is in harmony with Mosher’s philosophy: “Cooking, to me, is about obtaining the highest quality local and sustainably grown ingredients harvested at the peak of freshness and manipulating them in exciting new ways in accordance with classical techniques.”

The Bay Area’s richly diverse cuisines combined with the different positions he has held throughout his career have helped shape Mosher’s cooking and management styles.  “I try to foster a kitchen environment where everyone can be creative and share ideas—hopefully we can inspire each other on a daily basis,” he explains.  “I’m constantly thinking about new dishes and flavor combinations. I just can’t help it!”

Mosher lives in Napa with his wife Jessica and three boys, Sam, Elias and Atticus. When not in his whites, he thinks about recipes, bikes with his kids and admits to watching Top Chef.

The Ribeye, sat on lush faro studded with produce from the garden,
a deep fried zucchini flower, and just picked herb pesto.
(I convinced him to add a shaving of fresh Australian winter truffle,
they go so well with summer produce!)

About Piccolo To Kalon  Garden 
 Robert Mondavi Winery today celebrates the dedication of the “Piccolo” To Kalon Garden. The culinary garden, located on a little (“piccolo”) piece of the historic To Kalon Vineyard has been renamed and rejuvenated under the watchful eye of Winery Chef Jeff Mosher during a five-year revitalization. The precious plot provides an abundance of seasonal, sustainably-farmed produce the year ‘round for the exclusive use of the winery kitchen. The garden is also the site of the winery’s recently revamped “Piccolo” To Kalon Garden to Table Tour, a unique culinary experience for visitors to the Napa Valley and to Robert Mondavi Winery.
“How wonderful that a little slice of the To Kalon Vineyard – a parcel that Bob loved so dearly -- is devoted exclusively to the culinary arts and to dishes that are authentically of this wonderful place,” noted Margrit Mondavi, vice president of cultural affairs at Robert Mondavi Winery.
For over 40 years, Robert Mondavi Winery has been at the forefront of creating delicious, seasonal recipes designed to perfectly complement the wines from its celebrated Napa Valley estate. As a result of the revitalization effort by Mosher and his team, the garden now contains a delicious array of produce, herbs, assorted berries, fruit trees, limes and more. Sustainable farming practices in the garden such as: vermicomposting (worm farming), honey bees, composting and other environmentally-friendly protocols ensure the health of the garden, and deliver a bounty of flavorful ingredients to his door.

Bees from the winery hives enjoy the nectar of the garden's artichoke.
Yummy honey!

Visitors to the Napa Valley can experience the abundance of the garden with the “Piccolo” To Kalon Garden to Table Tour, a special wine and cooking experience set amongst the vineyards. The tour begins with a walk through the garden and a harvest of in-season produce. Chef Mosher then leads guests through a cooking class utilizing the garden-fresh ingredients. After the kitchen team adds finishing touches to the meal, the wine-pairing dinner is enjoyed al fresco with a view of the To Kalon Vineyard and Mayacamas Mountains.
The “Piccolo” To Kalon Garden to Table Tour is offered Thursday evenings, May 1 through October 31, from 4:30 to 8:30pm (appointment required). The program is limited to 10 guests and tickets are $150. All tours are held at the Robert Mondavi Winery at 7801 St. Helena Highway in Oakville, Napa Valley. For additional information and to purchase tickets, visit

Chef and Margrit Mondavi garden in style! Robert Mondavi would have approved!
About Robert Mondavi Winery
Founded in 1966 by winemaking pioneer and icon Robert Mondavi, the winery that bears his name is an enduring presence and shining symbol of California’s Napa Valley. The first major winery built in Napa Valley in the three decades following the repeal of Prohibition, Robert Mondavi Winery created the foundation for the modern-day California wine industry. An ardent believer that wines should reflect their origins, Mr. Mondavi charted a winemaking course that is now legendary. Today, Robert Mondavi Winery continues to pursue the fullest expression of the terroir of Napa Valley in wines that are also varietally authentic. At the heart and soul of the Robert Mondavi Winery is the To Kalon Vineyard, a 440-acre parcel of exceptional provenance that contributes to the winery’s Napa Valley, Oakville District, To Kalon vineyard-designated and Reserve wine programs. The site famously includes the five-acre I Block. Planted in 1945, it is believed to be the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in the New World.

A Harvest Dinner at Robert Mondavi Winery

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