Fresh, seasonal produce grown locally drives Kyle Connaughton and his cooking at SingleThread in Healdsburg. Alongside his wife, Katina, who heads up the SingleThread farm situated 5 miles away from the restaurant, the couple are boldly leading the revolution of sustainable gastronomy.
The SingleThread brand is only 2 years old, and since its conception in late 2016, it has been growing from strength to strength, turning heads and gathering a host of awards along the way. The world has long been ready and waiting for the Connaughtons’ exceptionally executed fine-dining farm-to-fork approach to the culinary industry. Along with its three Michelin stars, SingleThread Restaurant won the 2018 Miele One To Watch Award – one of the most prestigious awards that the World’s 50 Best bestows on restaurants – and was named The Best New Restaurant in 2017 by the San Francisco Chronicle.
The SingleThread concept is a triple hospitality threat, with a farm, restaurant and inn all working in unison, and all garnering the same level of praise. Kyle reflects on what the key elements are that led to the success of SingleThread: “Taking time to really fully develop exactly the type of farm, restaurant, and inn that we wanted without having to make any compromises. Also allowing ourselves to be driven by the farm and by nature.”
The restaurant still maintains its roots, using the same concept for the menu and the dishes today as it did for its first service two years ago. SingleThread’s focus is the farm, and Kyle uses the farm to guide his cooking. The majority of ingredients that Kyle uses are sourced from the farm and within the local community.
“Our restaurant is completely driven by the produce my wife Katina grows on her farm. It drives everything we do here. Our creativity is driven by what’s coming from the farm. What Katina is harvesting fuels the creative process of developing new dishes.”
“We strive to showcase the best of what is coming from our farm and from our area at any given time. We treat each day as an individual moment of time and as a very fleeting moment.”
“More than 70% of our produce comes from our own farm and the rest from other farms in our community. We also grow all of our own floral and forage for many items. We serve local fish with a few special things brought in from Japan.”
The SingleThread farm is nestled between the Russian River and the historic San Lorenzo Ranch in Healdsburg. The farm plays host to a greenhouse, loamy fields, shade structures, chicken coops, olive trees, an heirloom fruit orchard, beehives, and a cattle paddock. Surrounding these are Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Chardonnay vineyards. The farm supplies vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers, honey, eggs, and olive oil to the SingleThread inn and restaurant kitchens.
The menu at SingleThread follows the format of a traditional multi-course kaiseki menu that is adapted to Sonoma County’s local and seasonal produce. Consisting of 11 constantly-changing courses, the menu is steered by what produce arrives fresh from the SingleThread farm that morning and what can be picked from the rooftop garden before service, and thus, there are no signature dishes. The first course on the menu does hold a special place in Kyle’s heart though. Titled according to the current season, the course is a spread of 11-13 items which represent a snapshot of that day and that moment in time in Sonoma. Presented as part of an intricate table centerpiece, the course is both a feast for the eyes and the taste buds.
Kyle uses open hearths and donabes – special Japanese clay pots – to cook his food. Donabe cooking is a style of cooking he learned of during his travels to Japan as a young chef. Japanese cuisine has a large influence on Kyle’s cooking, and is also the inspiration behind Kyle deciding to become a chef – a decision he made when he was 9 years old.
“Food and restaurants were very important to my family growing up. When I was 9 years old my Dad came back from a trip to Japan and took me for my first sushi. It started a love affair with sushi and Japanese food and started all of my travels there, eventually moving there for several years to cook.”
Kyle’s love affair with sushi and Japanese cuisine has weaved its way through his culinary career. Starting off as an apprentice during high school at one of the oldest Japanese restaurants in Southern California, he then attended the Southern California School of Culinary Arts after he finished high school. After graduation, he trained at some impressive establishments, including Spago, the Ritz-Carlton, two Michelin-starred AOC, Lucques and Campanile. Kyle also taught at his alma mater while moonlighting at Lucques and Campanile, giving back some of his well-earned knowledge to fresh culinary minds.
Still seeking to gain more knowledge about Japanese cuisine and sushi, Kyle enrolled at the California Sushi Academy to learn more about the craft. Blossoming in this environment, Kyle met and worked closely with Master Sushi Chef Andy Matsuda from the Sushi Chef Institute, receiving exclusive lessons from the sushi master, and ultimately becoming the chef de cuisine and department chair at the institute’s fine-dining restaurant.
With his already impressive experience in Japanese cuisine, Kyle was offered a position in the kitchen of Michel Bras’ Toya Japan in Hokkaido in 2003. Here, he delved further into the depths of Japanese cuisine, learning more about Japan’s culinary culture and traditional dishes such as kaiseki, izakaya, soba, and, of course, sushi.
Kyle’s love for Japanese cuisine culminated in the publication of his first book that he co-wrote with Naoko Takei Moore titled Donabe: The Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking.
In 2006, Kyle was hand-picked by Heston Blumenthal to be the head chef of research and development at the Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen, an establishment which Kyle helped open with the world-renowned chef. Kyle also assisted in the publication of The Big Fat Duck Cookbook.
In 2012, Kyle left the Heston Team, and returned to the US where he began developing content for the Culinary Institute of America’s curriculum. Kyle always had a passion for learning and sharing knowledge, and thus, he also consulted with other organizations including the Umami Information Center and Intellectual Ventures’ Modernist Cuisine.
Looking back at his culinary journey thus far, Kyle acknowledges that his initial cooking style was also influenced by his mentors when he was a young chef growing up in California, and it was these chefs who gave him an appreciation for the local Californian produce and the seasons. It is the strength of this connection with the local produce, the return to sustainable sourcing and the depth of relationships that chefs have with their farm, and farmers, that Kyle believes is the future of fine dining.
Kyle sees a lot of positives in the current fine-dining scene, too, which he trusts will lead to the best future for gastronomy: “There is a real emphasis on authenticity, transparency, and sustainability that is healthy and good for the future of food and our industry.
Kyle and Katina designed SingleThread around these values, with the whole experience oozing with authenticity and transparency. To Kyle, Katina and the SingleThread team, hospitality is key; the entire experience at their establishment centers around the guests feeling comfortable and at home, and this is displayed through the personal touches present in each meal in the restaurant and each room in the inn.
“We designed the restaurant so that guests feel less like they are coming to a restaurant and more like they are coming to a dinner party in our home. We of course want them to have an elevated experience, but we want them to feel comfortable and at home at the same time. The design is done with the intent of considering how we want them to feel – we worked with lighting designers, sound engineers, and an incredible design team to create an environment where guests could really relax and decompress. It’s important to us that guests are able to switch off the outside world for a few hours and connect with the friends and family they are dining with.”
“We love to be at the farm and restaurant every day to cook for our guests.”
Hot on the heels of 2019, Kyle’s only plan for the new year is to stay true to SingleThread’s concept. The farm has not changed much in the past 2 years, and Kyle does not see any big changes in its near future either.
“We are just under two years old here and really the changes come with the changes in the season, they are small subtle changes each day which are all dictated by the farm.”
“We take each day by day and stay present in the moment while always planning for the future. This is the lesson from farming and we are always humbled by nature.”
With SingleThread being open 7 days a week, Kyle has little time for relaxation, but on his days off, you will find him immersed in nature, naturally, hiking in the woods or backcountry snowboarding with his wife, Katina.
Images © Roman Cho, Eric Wolfinger and Garrett Rowland.
For more on Kyle Connaughton, including some of his recipes, click here.