Chef's Blog

Solage Calistoga's Executive Chef Brandon Sharp shares his passion for cooking, life and all things Napa Valley.

May 3, 2010

It sounds terrible, because except for truffles and trumpet mushrooms, “black” normally means “burnt” in the kitchen. But black garlic, how could we not try it?

Six thorough minutes of internet research shows that it is whole-head garlic that is slowly fermented through the application of heat over time (so maybe there is something to edible black fungi–the aforementioned truffles and trumpets, huitlacoche, and now garlic). Most interestingly, it’s a new food, and not in the way the molecular gastronomists are finding applications for chemicals–black garlic has only been around since 2005.

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April 29, 2010

On a few recent nights we have had mistakes–unforced errors–in the kitchen during relatively slow services, and it’s conventional culinary wisdom that a lot of cooks work better when their backs are against the wall.  When the intensity diminishes and the cook has plenty of time to plate a medium-rare steak and a shortrib, the mind wanders, the rhythm is lost, the steak is suddenly overcooked, and the guest has to wait an extra fifteen minutes in a half-full dining room.  The application of pressure can help everyone in the kitchen to maintain focus.

The literal translation of “sous vide”, UNDER PRESSURE means a lot of different things in the professional kitchen.  The first definition I could find is

“the force applied to a unit area of surface”

Okay, correct for scientific apps and for sous vide cooking, but I had to scroll down to definition #6 to find

“urgent claim or demand”

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April 21, 2010


April has been a rainy month here in Calistoga, especially on the weekends; we had to perform an emergency weather intervention for a wedding of 160 guests two weeks ago.  The growth spurts of our plants and produce have therefore been stop-and-go, but in addition to the fava beans over at Fisher Vineyards, we have a little kitchen garden out back of solbar where we have just put in the next season’s herbs, as well as tomatoes and melons.

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April 19, 2010

The culinary planets aligned tonight for me to make boules des viandes, and I use that phrase because it seems that the French have no fancy name for or tradition of meatballs, unlike the cultures that surround them (Spain, ItalyDenmark, Hungary).  Hrmph.  What do the French do with ground beef?  Saucissons, hachis parmentier, et crepinettes, I reckon.

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April 13, 2010

They look like blue lake beans because Ryder picked them so young, but they are in fact the first baby fava beans from our garden at Fisher Vineyards, fresh this morning.  We put them on the lounge menu at solbar tonight, tempura-fried with ponzu sauce.  Tomorrow they’ll make their way on the dinner menu when we roast them in a saute pan and serve them with seared diver scallops, arrabiatta vinaigrette, persillade, and pine-nut butter.

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April 12, 2010

My professional experience with wine is limited, but the solbar Sommelier, Bradley Wasserman, and I have been working on a new format for our wine list since September 2009.  With the help of Solage Calistoga GM Richard Hill, we finally rolled it out two weeks ago. The challenge was to create a format and a style that matched my approach to food and how I write the dining room menus, dessert menus, and cocktail menus–and maintaining, all the while, an intelligible, logical, comprehensible document.

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April 7, 2010

A few new menu items . . . Ryder is working on a new dinner entree with pozzi farms leg of lamb, garlic-fennel lamb sausage, white bean puree and white bean dauphine, pepperonata, and artichoke-mint vierge. We tasted it last night, and it’s BANGING. Everything you could want in a spring lamb dish without a heavy reduction sauce, without “baby spring vegetables”, without, in fact, much you might expect at all.

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“Cooking great food in a resort where the kitchen prepares breakfast, lunch and dinner is a challenge, but Brandon sharp has defied the odds.”

- Michael Bauer, SF Chronicle, Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants, 2010

April 3, 2010

At the front of the kitchen, behind the expediter’s station and facing the hot line, is a 60″ dry-erase board, only a couple inches smaller than Ryder’s new flat-screen. (To its right in the above picture are the clipboards with BEOs [banquet event orders] and above them the clipboards with daily order sheets–meat, fish, produce, dairy, etc. The fish clipboard is the one that’s broken in half [whether over an angry sous chef's own knee or the head of a prep cook, no one will say] and the order sheets cut to fit.)  This reassuringly low-tech piece of equipment has uses that I haven’t realized in previous kitchens.

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March 30, 2010

My wife and brother-in-law raided the SF Farmer’s Market for me this past Saturday, and I went down to the city Sunday morning with a bottle of Saunter Petite Sirah (a gift from Josh and Heather Clark, made by Thomas Brown) and a bottle of Romililly RRV Pinot Noir from Aaron and Jesse Inman over at August Briggs. The edible loot: two racks of lamb, a bag of miner’s lettuce, two bunches of green garlic, a fistful each of brown morels, hedgehogs, and chanterelles, fiddlehead ferns, and baby artichokes. (more…)