Weekly Dish: Meet Wente's New Chef
We catch up with new executive chef Matt Greco; burger rumors swirl; win a free wine tasting and lunch and Simi Winery; and more in this week's Dish!
The Restaurant at Wente Vineyard's new executive chef Matt Greco brings an impressive resume from 12 years cooking in New York City, including at Daniel Boulud's Cafe Boulud, the French-influenced Cafe Grey, and the Southern/barbecue restaurant Char No. 4, which Greco helped open. I spoke with the Texas-native about why he moved across the country and his "smoking" new plans for Livermore's Wine Country's Grand Ol' Restaurant. CLICK HERE for the interview.
A couple of smaller items this week: cult Southern California-based burger joint Umami Burger opened a new location in San Francisco, and despite rumors to the contrary, the Umami folks told me they are still actively looking for spaces in the East Bay, specifically in Oakland. And over in the Danville Livery, the owners of the Cold Stone Creamery purchased 202 Grill in the same shopping center. The new owners plan to replace the somewhat bizarre Indian/American fusion menu with an all-American menu, including ice cream and shakes made with, you guessed it, Cold Stone Creamery ice cream. Look for breakfast on the weekends as well.
Feel like a wine country day trip to check out the fall harvest? We're giving away a free tour, wine tasting, and lunch for two up at SIMI, in honor of the Healdsburg winery's 135th anniversary. SIMI has some real history—it was founded in 1876 by two Italian brothers and is the longest continually running winery in Healdsburg (it stayed open during Prohibition). go to simiwinery.com for info and CLICK HERE for a chance to win.
Finally, don't forget about the 23rd Annual Wine and Dine this Thursday evening in San Ramon. $35 will get you great food, wine, and brewery samples from more than 50 vendors. The event will be held at the ClubSport San Ramon.
Thursday, October 13, 5:30p.m. – 8:30p.m. at ClubSport San Ramon $45 at the door, 350 Bollinger Canyon Lane, San Ramon, purchase tickets at ClubSport San Ramon’s Activities Department or on-line at SanRamon.org.
Q&A with new Wente executive chef Matt Greco
Matt Greco: It's going great, it'll take a little while to get everything up to speed, it's a very large company. But that's really what I'm excited about: that it is a large company, and therefore I'll have a lot of room to continue to grow and do great things and not get stale.
Why did you want to work at Wente?
I was in New York for 12 years, and worked in big kitchens for a long time, but my last job was as an executive chef at a smaller restaurant [Char No. 4 in Brooklyn]. That kind of fulfilled that dream that every chef has of having that small, busy, cool little neighborhood restaurant. I definitely wanted something bigger, and I wanted to come out here. I would also say that my food is American, and the fact that Wente has this huge legacy in American wine history and culture is really what excied me. In the same way that having the little fun restaurant in New York is a dream, I also wanted to work in a restaurant that's a little off the beaten path, and be able to have room to do pretty much whatever I wanted to do, such as having this large garden. My goal is to every day spend an hour harvesting out there and working with the gardener so that we can use everything to its fullest pottential. Hopefully by next year the garden will be the only thing we use for vegetables.
That sounds like a lot of work.
Yes, it's definitely going to be a big job. A lot of it is making sure things are getting harvested, working with the gardener to make sure enough of something is getting planted and not too much of another thing is getting planted. It's not as romantic as just walk out in the garden and grab some things. You know, things start to go bad, and things turn, and we have to use it. I just picked 70 pounds of tomatoes that were overripe, which is fine for tomato sauce, just not for a salad. We need to just react quickly to use all of [gardener Diane Dovholuk's] hard work.
What else are you're looking to implement? I'd heard you might bring back the grass fed beef program using Wente estate cattle...
Absolutely. The first goal was to get my head wrapped around the garden issue, and then the next step, I'd definitely want to install that again. I have a lot of background with charcuterie. I did a lot of meat work for many years at different restaurants, so it'll be good for me to take the next step in that process. When you're running a small restaurant, you end up dealing with a lot of maintainance issues, and the creative menu planning can get pushed back a little bit. It's a really great opportunity for anyone, and I'm lucky to be the one who has it.
How will you change the menu?
I think mostly, just all-around. I love a lot of the old world techniques like curing and pickling, and we'll definitely do some sourkraut, fermenting. I love all those ideas because all that stuff came from people trying to use a lot of something, which is a perfect example of the situation we're in with the garden. So the extension of using those techniques, and really for me it's about execution and flavor, and I'm really big on using just a handful of ingredients that are well balanced and make sense together and that are nicely executed. And doing American food,I think I can go in a lot of different directions, but still have cohesion on the menu at the same time.
I grew up in Texas, and I did a lot of smoking at my last restaurant, and we have the ability to do that here. At my last restaurant we made our own bacon, and one of the dishes that I did that won me some press and awards was a lamb pastrami, we'll definitely do that here—that's a unique dish and very popular.
The pickling in particular sounds like it'll be useful...
That's what's great, you have this product and you just keep whacking away at it until its gone. It's kind of fun, like now we've been picking tomatillos for the last two days, there's just so many tomatillos. If we actually get rid of all these things it'll be a huge accomplishment, because it also just seems impossible. We're thinking about doing a tomatillo tasting menu, four courses.
No, that's a joke. But it's interesting because people always use the term market-driven food, but it really is here, especially with the garden. People think of it as going to the market, but we have all this produce that we've grown, and it's in our back yard.
Why did you want to come to the Bay Area?
I'm from Texas, but my wife is from the Bay Area. I started visiting the Bay Area 15 years ago and loved it here. And when I started cooking and went to the CIA, I thought I would graduate and go to San Francisco—that was my goal. And then I got offered a job in New York and did the typical New York thing, where I said I'll just stay for two years, and then 12 years later... But I've been coming back for the last five years and eating around, and it was definitely another career goal to work around here. What I was doing at my last job was heavily influenced by Bay Area cuisine. I loved the fact that it was simple in its approach and everything tasted good and made you feel good. And really I just liked the whole way of life out here. It's very unforced, and the public knows more about wine than probably any other area in America—it's just such a huge part of the culture here. And I thought that was just great—that it could be really beautiful and complex, and simple too. I love both of those parts of the food culture here.