Califonia Bountiful

Winery chef draws inspiration from nature

Mar./Apr. 2014 California Bountiful magazine

Spring ingredients take center stage in recipes created by Chef Todd Knoll.

Chef Todd Knoll

Chef Todd Knoll's list of must-have kitchen utensils goes beyond the expected pots, pans and knives. He also requires a 14-by-17-inch sketch pad and plenty of pens.

"I've always sketched my menus," Knoll said, adding that while it's an uncommon practice, he's not the only chef with this technique in his toolbox. "Those of us who use it, couldn't do without it."

Knoll is an artist at heart, with an affinity for the natural world. His creative pursuits outside the kitchen range from painting scenes from nature to photographing them, and also include the Japanese horticultural art of bonsai.

"But somehow, everything goes back to the food. I'm always drawing food," said Knoll, executive chef of Jordan Vineyard and Winery in Healdsburg.

Knoll said he believes that each event he hosts—whether it's a tasting for two or a formal, multi-course dinner for 200—merits a custom menu. He starts by determining what ingredients will be freshest that day, either from local purveyors or the estate's expansive gardens. Then he hits the drawing board, sketching in meticulous detail how he envisions each dish should look.

"I find that starting from a picture and going backwards makes me pause on certain things," he said, primarily how to showcase each and every ingredient to its best advantage. "It's easy to forget that that pea is just as important as that steak."

Ultimately, Knoll's drawings—which he continually fine-tunes—will be used by his cooks as a visual checklist, ensuring that each plate they serve reflects the chef's vision.

"The sketch keeps us focused on the end result," he said. 


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