Chef's Blog

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

The first cherries landed this week, and for Brooks cherries (which are the pollinators for and the precursors to the more flavorful Bings) they’re very good, especially after a rainy April. Like tomatoes and grapes, stonefruit can get washed out and bland if too much groundwater enters the plant’s root system when the fruit is near maturity.

The first thing we did was pit and pickle some cherries with sugar, red wine vinegar, and a chunk of fresh ginger. They’re crunchy, bright, and sweet, with a little ginger burn at the end. We added them to the chilled foie gras confit composition along with gingersnaps and arugula.

But what I really wanted to eat is a little homier and more satisfying.  I remember going with my grandparents to Hardee’s restaurants all over NC, mowing down a Big Roast Beef with fries and a chocolate shake and then a hot apple pie for the car ride.  Now I think of that meal and the 2500?  3000? calories involved, but back then I was an 11 year old boy with the metabolism of a hopped-up F-18 and ate everything in sight.  Mm.  I could go on and on about the Hardee’s menu, and breakfast was nothing to sneeze at either.  The pie was just right–it wasn’t complicated, but there wasn’t a thing you could add or change to improve it.

Anyway, I wanted a cherry pie like the apple pie at Hardee’s–a thin, crispy, deep-fried crust that flaked but didn’t shatter, surrounding an unctuous mixture of the best cherries in their own gooey juices  So after some experimentation and plenty of vanilla ice cream, we came up with a deep-fried cherry pie that we put on the menu tonight, served with, well, vanilla ice cream and a stripe of ginger caramel.  Ba-BOW.  Perfect crunch, great with the caramel, and the cherries inside stay hot for a good half hour or so.

Cherries are too special to be in only one dessert, so I also made a cherry vanilla ice cream, served with warm chocolate brioche bread pudding, into which we put so much chocolate that it gets oozy and melty when we heat it up in big chunks.  It’s bedtime after that dessert, wow.

I’m not a pastry chef by any stretch, but I can most often create what I want with a dessert–especially in stonefruit season, and judas priest am I ready for peaches and nectarines–and what I want with a dessert is the best version I’ve ever had of something I already love–blackberry cobbler, or banana cream pie, or basque cake, or just hot chocolate.  Start with a great fruit, handle it the way it wants to be handled, and a few accents:  it falls perfectly in line with the tenets of cooking at solbar.  We source the best ingredient, execute the appropriate technique, and apply the proper seasoning.  Is there a reason to cook any other way?  Not in Napa Valley, no.

Coming soon:  peaches, sardines, and softshell crabs!  Not together, though.

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