Top 10 food stories; Chinese owner’s big plans for Roche Ranch & Vineyards; Loss of “Uncle Bill” the Corn Dog King; French Laundry chefs to compete

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill


Top 10 food stories of 2013 (in no particular order):

• Chuck Williams, founder of the international Williams-Sonoma group of stores, came to Sonoma to be honored as Sonoma Community Center’s 2013 “Muse” at a fundraising dinner at Ramekins Culinary School.

• Having closed his eponymous restaurant in Chicago to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy, influential chef and mentor Charlie Trotter passed away.

• Sonoma Raceway decided to gift our Sonoma School Garden Project with 90 fruit trees from NASCAR, UPS and the Arbor Day Society.

• Foster Farms chicken contamination. Other producers implicated by Consumer Reports.

Sonoma Raceway plants organic garden for café and VIP suites with help of Sonoma Valley High School Agriculture students.

Safeway announces closure of 72 Dominick’s grocery stores in Chicago.

Amazon.com announces it will deliver groceries the same day you order them. But where will they come from?

“Kitchen Memories” exhibition sets attendance record at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.

Paula Deen loses Food Network show and many lucrative product endorsements for racially-tinged remarks.

Nigella Lawson does not lose ABC television show for admitting use of marijuana and cocaine.


Lots of Friday farmers market vendors were shocked to read in the Index-Tribune of the passing of Gayle Alvin Hunter, co-owner of Uncle Bill’s Gourmet Corn Dogs. A hot rod and hot dog buff, Hunter worked tirelessly charming corn dog aficionados everywhere he and wife Debra took their booth.

The Hunters set the standards for corn dogs to which all others are compared. Theirs contain chicken sausages with fresh corn meal deep-fried in bubbling hot oil. Many Sonomans and visitors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area indulge in an Uncle Bill’s corn dog at least once a year.

Friends and admirers can celebrate Hunter’s life Saturday, Dec. 28, at the Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Building. The family asks for donations to American Legion Jack London Post 489, P. O. Box 578, Sonoma instead of flowers.

Let’s hope Debra and their family carry on the Uncle Bill’s tradition.


Speaking of food vendors, most of the growers nearly sold out at last Friday’s market, which is terrific news. The Friday market is open today, Dec. 27, as well.


We love good news:

For the first time in memory, Christmas fell on Wednesday this week, meaning the Wednesday volunteer cooking crew at our local Meals on Wheels had the responsibility of dreaming up a menu, rousing donations, cooking, and distributing food to 60 of our neighbors. The Wednesday gang is led by former alcaldessa, Mary Evelyn Arnold.

Sonoma’s MOW is so popular for good food that a person needs a doctor’s prescription to get on the delivery list.

For Christmas, Carole Nicholas, Jacquey Piallat, Joyce Pease, Alycia Case, Janice Stites, Hope Nisson, Jean Behse, Janet Bruno, Kassandra Miller, Gail Wolf and Peggy Fuson cooked a fabulous meal of marinated beef tenderloin, wild mushroom savory bread pudding, green beans, shrimp cocktail, Syrian cucumber and tomato salad, and cheery cherry Jell-O with dark cherries and cream cheese.

In addition, the clients received Chex mix, cheese with salami and crackers, crudités, grapes, cookies, candy, and chocolate cupcakes with red and green sprinkles. And then, there was a breakfast bag for the next morning that included orange juice, a mini donut, and a mini cinnamon roll. Wow!

Special MOW angels included Gary Edwards (cheese), Marcie Waldron (a year’s worth of cookies), Jacquey Piallat (gift bags), Faith Lutheran Church (presents), Sonoma Market, and Friends of the Library (books). Kathy and Sylvano Payne and Leslie and Bob Bonino donated wine to accompany each delivery.

The Wednesday crew also hosted a big party for all of their drivers, cooks and “angels” to celebrate working together to help others.


Epicurean Connection has more plans for the New Year, including a great sounding dining opportunity on Wednesday, Jan. 8. Guest chef Matthew Elias of Saltwater in Inverness will prepare Bodega Bay dungeness crab salad with owner Sheana Davis’ Crème de fromage, pickled citrus, and “whatever Green String Farms greens.” The entrée features Marin Sun Farms milk-braised pork with red flint hand ground polenta and anchovy roasted broccoli di ciccio, followed by a bitter chocolate cookie sandwich with whipped Delice de la Vallee cheese and mandarin orange. $60 inclusive, wine and beer extra. 6 to 8 p.m. Reserve at 935-7960 or Sheana@vom.com.

You can also drop into the Epicurean Connection for new winter stews and crêpes. The stews and cassoulets feature BN Ranch turkey and Yenni Ranch beef and lamb ($6.95 cup, $8.95 bowl, $16.95 quart), and the crêpes include sweet, savory and a daily special, such as arugula pesto and raspberry rose petal jam ($9.95 to $12.95). I also suggested she fill one with Nutella, one of our family’s favorites on Paris streets.


After I wrote last week that Williams-Sonoma told tenants of the building just north of the post office on Broadway that they had to be out by Feb. 1, one of those tenants got a call from Williams-Sonoma saying maybe he could stay longer than that. When something actually happens, I will let you know.


The French Laundry’s executive sous-chef Philip Tessier and chef de partie Skylar Stover will represent the United States in the 2015 Bocuse d’Or cooking competition in Lyon, France. Apparently the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation decided to select chefs early to train them for the contest to give them a leg up since no American team has ever won.

Lyon native Daniel Boulud, owner of many superb New York restaurants, serves as chair of Bocuse d’Or, while French Laundry owner Thomas Keller serves as president, and Lyon resident Jerome Bocuse, son of world renowned French chef Paul Bocuse, is vice president.


McDonald’s has an extra 10 million pounds of frozen chicken wings on hand that people aren’t ordering. Where did they come from and what will McDonald’s do with them?


Not just Foster Farms:

“CBS This Morning” reported that Consumer Reports reported last week that 97 percent of all chicken sold in the United States is contaminated. The magazine bought 316 chicken breasts in 26 states including brands Perdue, Tyson, Sanderson, and Pilgrims brands, tested for six bacteria, and found salmonella and/or e coli in 97 percent.


New chefs in town: Or out of town.

Nancy Dance’s “Valley Forum” essay last week on how the Schellville Grill’s customers pitched in clearing tables and pouring coffee to help whoever was serving breakfast on the Friday after Thanksgiving, marketed by merchandisers as “Black Friday,” struck a note with many of owner/chef Matthew Nagan’s customers.

Almost as she wrote that bit, Nagan (or his sister Emily) posted that he had “a new face in the kitchen: Ty Luciano.” That should help the food come out faster at least.

Featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” a few years ago (I was there for the taping), Schellville Grill works hard to keep up with the flow of diner traffic.


Nick’s Cove on Highway 1 in Marshall just announced that Fernanda Hurst has joined the executive chef Austin Perkins as pastry chef. Hurst last worked at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega Ristorante. She grew up along the beach in northern Brazil, graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, worked for 10 years at Frances Ford Coppola Winery and created the pastry program at Coppola’s Rustic restaurant.

Perkins tempts visitors with dungeness crab risotto with garden kale, seared scallops, and a warm chard salad, while Hurst finishes you off with her flourless Tcho chocolate torte, Double 8 Dairy’s Fior di Latte gelato, bread pudding served in a cast iron skillet with bourbon custard, and her grandmother’s crème al caramel served in a jar with burnt caramel on the bottom. Don’t miss the slow-cooked warm, gooey and crusty Brazilian cheese bread. 23240 Highway 1, Marshall. (415) 663-1033 or nickscove.com.


On the mend in food and wine:

Henry Mayo, co-founder of Mayo Family Wines and realtor about town, flipped his ATV and broke some ribs and his pelvis. Son Jeffrey Mayo reports that surgery on his pelvis went well and Henry is on the mend, if slowly.

Two people told me of falling on some stairs at the Vintners & Growers holiday party. The most injured was Curt Carleton who fell and broke his nose and slashed his head, landing him in the hospital overnight.

Saddles Executive Chef Dana Jaffe has started outpatient occupational therapy and is healing well after breaking several ribs and other body parts horseback riding in search of edible delicacies in Washington state.

We all have lots to be thankful for, especially for these and other neighbors’ positive results.


Dr. Joeseph Roche has sold the seven parcels that made up the family ranch and vineyards just northeast of Sonoma Raceway to Wenchen Zhu of China, reportedly for more than $15 million, according to North Bay Business Journal.

Zhu is working with Allan Cao, managing partner of Shanghai Great Wall Etech Investment Management Co., who happens to have graduated from Sonoma State. They want to use the vineyards, which straddle the Sonoma Coast and Los Carneros viticulture regions, for their Bliss Canyon Winery. Linda Yenni of Wine Realty International put the deal together. Her family’s ranch and farm are in the same neighborhood.

Zhu and Cao want to build a 250,000-case winery to make sparkling wine under their Bliss Canyon Winery brand, to be sold directly to customers at the winery.

They also want to develop an agritourism center where they will grow and sell grass-fed beef, artisan cheese, and olive oil, seeing the whole place as a one-stop “wine country visitors center … to reduce traffic elsewhere in the North Coast,” as Mr. Cao is quoted in NBBJ. So is the plan to have all tours and tourists stop there and nowhere else in the wine country?

Other recent sales in the area include Roche’s sale of 1,657 acres to the Sonoma Land Trust for $13 million and the sale of Viansa Winery & Italian Marketplace to Vintage Wine Estates.

Apparently land and vineyards have become desirable acquisitions for China’s wealthy for many reasons, including dwindling food supplies. (See my column of Dec. 13 on the U.S. pecan shortage partly due to Chinese purchasers paying 600 percent more than American brokers at sonomanews.com).


Meanwhile, Bill Foley, who owns Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery here and has purchased several troubled wineries and vineyards on a few continents, just bought the 206-acre chardonnay and pinot noir Ramal East Vineyard to start a lower priced version of his Chalk Hill Estate wines, which he bought from attorney Fred Furth.


Safeway Stores announced it is closing 72 Dominick’s Finer Foods grocery stores in Chicago, putting more than 5,600 employees out of work. For many Chicagoans, who either live there or here, Dominick’s has been the place to buy hard-to-find fresh vegetables. Apparently New Albertson’s, Inc. has purchased four of the stores and operates Jewel-Osco groceries in the windy city. The “old” Albertson’s didn’t do too well at two locations here, in sites now occupied by Whole Foods and Lucky markets.


Meanwhile, amazon.com announced that it will deliver fresh groceries the same day you order them in big cities to start. And where do you suppose the food will come from?


Happy New Year, and let’s all resolve to help each other.