FOURty Seconds with Joshua Schwartz

21 Aug 2015
4 min read
After training for a decade with Thomas Keller, Executive chef and leader of the culinary programme at Del Dotto Vineyards in California, Joshua Schwartz talks to FOUR about his highly acclaimed culinary programme, the exploration his mastery of technique and use of premium ingredients, and his cooking for top wine collectors.

What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?

I grew up in my grandfather’s French Bistro on Long island. My mother made all the desserts at our house so I was surrounded by culinary experiences. I think the most memorable was going to Fulton fish market in New York City with my grandfather Ronald Alpert when I was 4 or 5. I was truly inspired and in awe of how everyone knew my papa.

What would you say has inspired your cooking the most?

My Grandpa for sure. He inspired me to become a chef, but he died when I was 7. He had such a positive impact on my life and I told my mom at his funeral that I wanted to be a chef. Since that day I started on my way. I also continue to be inspired by all the great chefs I’ve worked with, and my staff inspires me daily.

Describe how you see your own culinary style and how it has evolved over the years

My culinary style has taken root from where I have worked and traveled. Most recently I consider my food to be ”Approachable, wine friendly, yet sophisticated.”I have absorbed a lot from all my experiences, professionally and personally:In Southern Italy I learned about hand made pasta when I cooked at two Michelin-starred restaurants which were known for their authenticity, clean plating style while working for Thomas Keller, and simple flavour forward food preparations I learned working for David Bouley as a young chef.

Tell us a bit about the Del Dotto vineyards…

Del Dotto vineyards is a family run winery. I have been with the vineyard and family for 8 years now and really feel like a member of the family.When I first started it was a tough transition coming from the restaurant business, especially from working with Thomas Keller, and the standards we expected at TKRG. Initially I felt like I had to lower my expectations and standards because the winery had never had a true culinary program and they needed me to build it. But I soon realized it was up to me to bring the standards higher and draw upon my restaurant background to build the program. The family gave me the freedom to do so. I would say that in the past two years we have reached a stride that I am truly proud of.Now we continue to grow and get better at our craft everyday.

I have a great staff who have been with me for many years. We all work together to bring the best possible culinary experience we can, paired expertly with the wines that winemakers Gerard and Robbie produce.

What can guests expect at the winery for food & wine pairings?

They can expect high-quality balanced dishes, paired well with high-quality balanced wines, and afriendly and knowledgeable service in a stellar setting.

How did you decide on the menu?

My menu writing process starts with the wine. Once I know that, then I look at what we have preserved or what is coming out of the garden that is ready to go. Meat based proteins are a revolving door and I can choose what I want to cook. One of my favorites is the Mangalitsa pork we get from Winkler Farms – the quality and flavor work well in many dishes.Fish is dependent on what the market dictates, but lobster and crab are often featured because they pair well with the chardonnay wine and there are infinite possibilities. All of these elements come together with a lot of creative minds for each of our menus.

What are your most indispensable ingredients?

That is a tough question. There are so many indispensable ingredients but salt is the first to come to mind. I think of how many meals that I have had that would have been better if the food was seasoned properly. Great olive oil is high up on my list, Parmesan Reggiano, cured pork, truffle products. I could go on and on.

What do you gain as a chef from collaborating with your winemakers?

Gerard Zanzonico the Napa Valley winemaker and Robbie Meyer the coastal winemaker are such great people first off and great winemakers to boot. We all get along really well so we love to talk about what we taste. As a chef my palate is different from theirs but in a good way. The winemakers are able to pull different characteristics out of tasting than I do—-especially since they created the wine. So in turn, they offer other alternatives to pairings that I might not have thought of. They are indispensable to me. How many chefs get to talk and taste on a daily basis with the person or persons who made the wine that they are pairing their food with? I’ve learned a lot from them.

What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?

A prescient call I received at the start of my career from Thomas Keller just after he opened a new restaurant in Napa Valley. I’ll never forget how important it was that I jumped at the opportunity to work with chef.But also, when a guest feels inspired enough to tell me that the experience we gave them is one of, if not the best they have ever had, I call it “the moment of recognition,” and those are the kinds of memorable moments which help me measure how we are doing at the winery.

What’s next for you?

We are working on a new winery project just north of Yountville, called Piazza del Dotto.We will be featuring our “Delicacies” food and wine pairing program, which features small but luxurious bites paired with all of our wines.I am super excited about it and it’s been great to design and build out the kitchen.

What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?

I have a five year old and a newborn at home and eating out has not been a priority for a few years now, unless it’s close to home. But Launderette in Austin is at the top, so I can eat the fine food of my fine friend Rene Ortiz.

Photography |Marc Fiorito

Find out more about Joshua and Del Dotto vineyards here |