By Liam Mayclem, the KCBS Foodie Chap
John Toulze was born in Northern California in 1974 to a third generation French family. Cooking was and continues to be a strong passion in his family life. John started his career in hospitality at Viansa Winery in Sonoma in 1994. After several years of cooking and wine sales John left Viansa Winery in 1997 to help Sondra Bernstein open The Girl & The Fig restaurant in Glen Ellen. At The Girl & The Fig, John’s role was varied, dividing his work between the sous chef and floor manager. During the second year of business, John took over the kitchen as the Chef de Cuisine and concentrated on the restaurant’s country food with a French passion.
“Cooking is about the expression of the ingredient mixed with my passion and creativity.”
– Chef John Toulze, Executive Chef
Almost fourteen years later, John is not only the Executive Chef, but is the Director of Operations and Managing Partner of the company. During these years, John has been key to the opening of the original restaurant and every project that followed. He has also had an important role in developing The Girl & The Fig’s FIG FOOD product line and is the recipe developer of “The Girl & The Fig” cookbook.
John’s excitement of late has been sharing & teaching the many artisanal aspects of our company to our interested staff members, including: our MANO FORMATE salumi program, The Farm Project, Olive Oil & Vinegar production, and of course recipe development. John received a Rising Star Chef award in June 2009. John is a completely self-taught chef and enjoys developing new recipes and training new staff, but most of all understands the importance of consistency & endurance.
His culinary partnership with restaurateur Sondra Bernstein has produced two successful Sonoma restaurants and two cookbooks – “The Girl & the Fig” and “Plats Du Jour”. The latter, a tasty book just recently released.
I met with Chef John in the kitchen at Estate Restaurant, Sonoma for our Foodie Chap chat.
5 Tasty Questions with Chef Toulze’s Restaurant Partner Sondra Bernstein
1. What are your words to live by?
Live every single day full of life. Enjoy the passion.
2. It’s midnight and we go to your fridge for a midnight snack, what’s always there?
Well you shouldn’t be surprised, in season brown turkey figs, a little prosciutto, maybe some feta and some really crusty French bread.
3. In the soundtrack to your culinary journey you can pick of couple of artists/songs, what would be on it?
I think people might be surprise to know, but it’s probably really fun and happy Broadway songs I can sing along to.
4. If you came around in a second life what career path might you follow instead?
I think a Private Investigator. I like to figure things out.
5. At your last supper you can have a couple of guests, past or present, who would they be and what would you eat?
I think it would have to be a hoagie and chips or a matzo ball soup with my brothers and a couple of really good friends.
Liam: Five very tasty answers. Thank you!
Honey-Glazed Winter Squash
We originally created this recipe for The Girl & The Gaucho, our Latin/tapas restaurant that was open in early 2000. We’ve revised the recipe a bit, removing the dried chili and adding bourbon (a great idea from our friend Merrilee). At ESTATE, we prepare this dish in the wood-fired oven. We have edited the instructions to use the broiler, however, feel free to use your wood-fired oven; you’ll get an incredible layer of flavor from the wood and the fire. Winter squash comes in different varieties and sizes. For this recipe, about 3 to 4 pounds of squash should suffice.
1 Delicata squash, sliced in half and seeds removed
1 medium Acorn squash, sliced in half and seeds removed
1 small Butternut squash, peeled, sliced in half and seeds removed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄4 cup honey
2 tablespoons brandy or bourbon (optional)
1⁄4 cup grated ricotta salata cheese
3 tablespoons fresh marjoram leaves
3 tablespoons Candied Pumpkin Seeds (page 315), for garnish
2 teaspoons Maldon Sea Salt, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Slice the Delicata and Acorn squash into 1⁄2-inch-thick quarter rounds. Cut the butternut squash into 1⁄2-inch pieces.
Toss the squash with the olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 15 minutes or until just soft. Let cool to room temperature.
Set the broiler to high.
Place a large sauté pan over medium heat and melt the butter with the honey and brandy. Add the squash, mix well, and cook until the honey begins to thicken. Place the pan under the broiler until squash begin to caramelize, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Remove the squash, place it on a serving platter and sprinkle with the grated cheese, marjoram, pumpkin seeds, and sea salt.
Wine Pairing Suggestions: Cyril Mares Mas des Bressades, Costières de Nîmes, France Monte Oton Garnacha, Campo de Borja, Spain.
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)