Perry Hoffman, who earned critical acclaim while chef at Shed in Healdsburg and Domaine Chandon’s former restaurant Etoile, is back to work at the very place he started out cooking 20 years ago.
Hoffman has returned to his uncle Johnny Schmitt’s Boonville Hotel in the Anderson Valley wine region. The hotel is where he spent a lot of time during summer breaks and holidays while growing up, as well as at his grandparents’ Apple Farm in nearby Philo. The hotel is where he had his first kitchen job right out of high school, working with his grandmother Sally Schmitt — the French Laundry’s original chef-owner — who has since retired.
When the Boonville Hotel’s longtime chef Brennon Moore recently left, Schmitt asked Hoffman to help him find a new chef to run the restaurant inside the 15-room hotel.
At some point, Hoffman realized he wanted to be that chef.
“I have history. I understand it. It’s so special,” he says of the family business. “I kind of looked at my life and I was like, ‘I don’t know how I could say no to this.’”
Hoffman began working at the hotel earlier this month and plans to institute changes to the menu when its main season starts in April, when the restaurant will be open to the public from at least Wednesday to Sunday. During the winter season, when tourism is down, the restaurant is open only on Friday and Saturday for dinner and Sunday for lunch.
“I’ll change as much and as little as possible,” says Hoffman, who says he is excited about the kitchen garden right outside the hotel restaurant’s door and its proximity to farms — including his family’s Piment d’Ville chile pepper farm down the highway in Boonville — as well as ranches, wineries and wild seafood from the Mendocino coast.
Hoffman and his family currently live in Healdsburg, and he is commuting back and forth for now. He and his wife, Kristen, just bought a 4-acre parcel at the Apple Farm, where they plan to build a house. They have a 1-year-old daughter and are expecting a son in April.
“It just tickles me to my core that I’ll be able to raise my little girl and boy on that same 40 acres that I grew up running around,” he says.
Even though the kitchen is fully equipped and renovated, with “gorgeous” charcoal grills and wood-fired ovens, Hoffman is surprised at how little has changed since he first started out there.
“The oil’s in the same place, the salt’s in the same place,” he says. “It feels like the timer’s about to go off for the focaccia I made 20 years ago.”
Boonville Hotel, 14050 CA-128, Boonville. www.boonvillehotel.com. 707-895-2210. Dinner Friday and Sunday, lunch Sunday until April 3.
(Courtesy, the San Francisco Chronicle)