Another Yountville Star
Étoile's wunderkind chef, Perry Hoffman, has joined the Michelin ranks.
by LeeAnne Jones
In 2009, at the age of 25, Perry Hoffman of Domaine Chandon’s Étoile Restaurant became the youngest U.S. chef to be awarded a Michelin star. Knowing his story, it’s obvious why: Hoffman has restaurants in his blood.
His grandparents, Sally and Don Schmitt, were the original owners of the French Laundry, and Hoffman spent his formative years helping in the kitchen. "I grew up on French Laundry leftovers,” he says. "We'd have family meals at a picnic table in the herb garden. It was a lot of fun." Continuing his family’s legacy of cooking was an easy decision. Hoffman worked in the kitchens of the Boonville Hotel, Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, and Auberge du Soleil before landing at Étoile in 2007, where he was quickly promoted from sous chef to chef de cuisine to executive chef.
Étoile's seasonal menus merge French technique with regional California flavors, resulting in dishes such as duck breast with bulgur wheat, sunflower sprouts, and stewed kumquats, paired with a 2007 Carneros Chardonnay. Of course, wine pairing is paramount at the only fine-dining restaurant within a winery in Napa Valley. “We select the wines first, then the food. It’s like reverse engineering,” says Hoffman. "If something is too tart for the wine, we rework the dish. That makes it incredibly challenging and fun for me—and it makes us a lot different."
The Michelin Guide's stars are hard to come by, but small-town Yountville seems to have the most per capita, with the French Laundry earning three stars and Étoile, Bouchon, and Redd each taking one. "Étoile crafts its contemporary Californian menu around the wine experience," the guide states. "The kitchen's accomplishments have a hint of French influence and a flair for originality worthy of its celestial name." A few months after the guide’s release, Hoffman was named a 2010 Rising Star Chef by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Hoffman credits his success to the Étoile staff. "It was a lot of work, but I have a great team behind me," he says. "[The Michelin award] is something I can give back to these guys to say thank-you. They believed in me and my ideas about food."