Insights I learned from Jeffrey Jake, Executive Chef at Silverado Resort and Spa Napa…
I had the unique opportunity to sit down with their ever busy, exceptionally gracious executive chef, Jeffrey Jake, to learn more about culinary program there, as well as his interesting professional experiences. Here are some highlights from our visit overlooking the 18th green of the south PGA golf course on the sprawling terrace while I sipped my morning green tea.
Where Chef Jake got his start: One of 6 children, he remembers marveling as a child at how the table at home transformed, adorned with candles and special food presentation, on the occasions his parents would throw a dinner party. He remembers gravitating toward the kitchen when he was at his grandmother’s house. But it was when he was 19 and started a summer job as a dishwasher transitioned directly and unexpectedly into pastry on the first day at the highly regarded Domaine Chandon, the now closed restaurant that’s credited for the early beginnings of the high quality cuisine Napa Valley is today known for. It was there, under Chef Udo Nechutnys, that he became enamored with the romanticism of the culinary world. “They came from a culture that respected their food and food practices.” That was the beginning for Chef Jake.
See Chef Jake in action out on ‘The Grove’ at Silverado:See Executive Chef Jeffrey Jake in action out on 'The Grove' at @SilveradoResort #spa #napavalley Click To Tweet
You can source locally even when you’re a large scale resort. Silverado can expertly accommodate more than 1,000 guests in their 350+ rooms, but that doesn’t stop Chef Jake from supporting smaller local farmers and reflecting their harvests in his menus. Sure, they have some larger vendors and utilize companies to help them source locally grown and raised foods, but he purchases directly from local farmers, too. “People come by with their trucks from the local orchards and farms” that I buy from. And produce is a passion for him. In the heart of Napa valley and close to many farms in the extending area, there’s no shortage of local produce. Chef Jake makes a wonderful point: “vegetables are so much more interesting than animal proteins,” so that’s what he has most fun playing and creating with in the kitchen.
He knows how to share… his kitchen! Recently acclaimed chef and culinary neighbor Thomas Keller of the renowned French Laundry opened a pop-up restaurant, taking over The Royal Oak room at Silverado, and bringing in about 22 members of his culinary staff to share the kitchen with Chef Jake and his team. “It was originally supposed to be a 5-week stint, but after selling out every reservation on the first day they opened, Ad Lib had an extended stay of nearly 9 months.” A lot of them already knew each other from the culinary world and Chef recalled “there was a lot of great sharing back and forth of information during that time.”
Healthy options are infused in the menu, not stand alone. While the burger is a member and guest favorite at The Grill, Chef Jake says there are always many healthier items on the menu. We don’t have a special spa menu at the grill… “when I was the Chef at Sonoma Mission Inn years ago, we had ‘spa counts’ marked on the menu beside all the choices” and they focused on unusual and leaner proteins like ostrich. “Guests at Silverado are much more well-informed than in the past. People who are wanting to eat healthier know what they are looking for” …and there’s plenty to choose from on the menu. Seafood is very popular including a signature sole dish that is lightly sautéed in a lemon brown butter and served with seasonal vegetables. Healthy cuisine is served simply: “well-executed and high quality.”
His culinary style. Chef Jake says he gravitates more toward Mediterranean flavors and he was classically trained in French cuisine. “Like food and wine pairing, it’s about sourcing the right ingredients and then picking out those ingredients that actually support or have a contrast to one another [in creating a recipe]and then executing on a consistent level for our guests.”
If he had to pick a favorite herb or spice? Tarragon! Surprised a bit by this selection, I inquired further. Chef Jake shared that it brings “a little pepper, a little bit of licorice, and some floral notes when you cook with it.” And apparently it’s pretty versatile, working well on fish, vegetables and also beef. Time to get experimenting with more tarragon! Thyme is also one of his favorites, something he uses to “add some earthiness to a dish. When you have thyme in bottom of the pan and use it with fish, it offers a minty aroma along with that earthiness.”
His essential kitchen tool: a 10-inch chef’s knife. Not surprising. It’s very versatile and it gets the job done. A good paring knife is pretty key, too.
His favorite non-essential kitchen tool? A kale stem stripper. What’s that? It’s a tool with holes that you can pull kale leaves through to strip the hearty leaves off of the tough ribs. With kale being in such high demand, he says while he doesn’t actually need it, the gadget does make life easier. “When you’re prepping 4 cases of kale…” he trailed off appearing to contemplate that volume. (4 cases regularly? I’d say that tool is actually pretty essential!)
Trendy ingredient he’s enjoying right now: Preserved lemons and oranges. When you preserve fruits like oranges and lemons while they’re in season, you have them all year round to finish foods and use in savory cuisine. He likes to keep them these citrus complements on hand.
Fun relationship (cooking) reveal: When I asked Chef Jake if he cooked at home much, like many chefs, he said “not too much.” After all, when you spend all day cooking, it’s no surprise that you don’t want to go home and get right back in the kitchen. However, when I pushed a bit further on this topic, he offered a terrific observation. It’s not unusual for him to arrive home after work to find his wife has pulled a few ingredients out and even started to prepare something for dinner, strategically leaving it for him to finish it up. “She knows I won’t just stand by…” Clever (and lucky) gal… and great teamwork!
How Chef Jake stays fit and healthy: he goes to the gym regularly and usually after work. You might think that this could be tough after a typical day of 12 or so hours on your feet, but Chef feels he can relax better in the gym if he goes after work. And it’s a great stress reliever for him “if I miss the gym a few days, I really feel it from a stress point-of-view.” No classes for him. He likes to be efficient with his time and work out solo. And he’ll be polite if you see him, but please don’t ask him to strike up a conversation. “I don’t really like to chat with people at the gym because I don’t have a lot of time.” You can’t really blame him there; he’s with people communicating all day long.
What amazes him in his profession. Chef Jake seems to ponder—almost marvel—at what “an intimate experience it is when you’re feeding people.” He spoke about how much diners open up and trust the chef and his or her staff to given them food for their bodies. Ultimately, we’re putting ourselves in the hands of the chef for nourishment. That’s pretty deep! Trust and nourishment—no wonder he takes his job seriously.
Silverado Resort and Spa Napa, located on 1,200 beautiful acres, is in the heart of Napa Valley, California. You can dine at The Grill, the Mansion Lounge, Spa Cafe or special events at The Royal Oak room. You can also make a casual picnic to accompany a bicycle ride like we did by stopping by Silverado Market and Bakery on property. Offering tennis, biking, swimming, world-class PGA golf, divine spa services, delicious dining and recreation, you could never leave and have a vacation or event to remember. And with Silverado as a home base, you can explore just beyond the property all the beautiful vineyards, wineries and countless other activities for which the whole region is known. Silverado Resort and Spa also host the annual Flavor! Napa Valley event each March and Safeway Open Golf Tournament each fall.