Wine: Toast to Winery Chefs Producers create culinary programs worth celebrating
Graduates of culinary schools, like Culinary Institute of America or Le Cordon Bleu, are drilled that it’s all about the food. However, when these culinary artists head up a cooking program at a winery, they have to flip the script: Being a chef at a winery means it’s all about the wine, baby. Chefs at three well-known wineries in Yamhill Valley each agree their food preparation has a wine-first focus. Jason Kupper at Domaine Serene, Henry Kibit at Sokol Blosser and Abby McManigle at Brooks Winery all share an incredible zest for cuisine and cooking, but agree their first aim is finding a food pairing. Each has their own approach.
Jason Kupper Domaine Serene
Jason Kupper, like the other two, started his kitchen career at young age. He earned a degree in environmental engineering from Purdue University before escaping to life as a professional chef.
The native of New Jersey notes, “I’ve always been cooking. I started busing tables at a local Italian restaurant, and after a year, begged the chef to teach me how to cook. I started by learning to make meatballs from scratch. That led to working as a short order cook to help pay my way through college.” Upon graduation from Purdue, and much to the chagrin of his parents, Kupper dumped engineering for his true passion. He bounced around multiple kitchens for several years before arriving in Arizona, where a friend introduced him to Scottsdale Culinary Institute — another life changing experience for him. “It was there I received the foundations of correct cooking,” he recalled. However, it took another several years of seasoning, working with several renowned chefs whom he says broke him down and built him up. Like most executive chefs, Kupper worked at a range of establishments, including a stint as executive sous chef in an exclusive restaurant in Las Vegas. Demanding and, at times, somewhat surreal, he recalls serving the likes of Billy Joel, Tiger Woods and Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, before accepting a teaching position at Le Cordon Bleu. He spent seven years teaching there before returning to the restaurant business. Nostalgic for the Friday night buzz of cooking, Kupper’s journey led him to Napa, California, where he continued his culinary education, reconnecting with local farmers who provided his table with fresh vegetables, poultry and meat. Here in the Willamette Valley, at Domaine Serene, Kupper says he’s found a sense of family — taking him back to his roots. “Everything comes back to the wine. It’s the star of the show. That doesn’t mean the food can’t star, but the idea is to create a pairing that elevates the wine,” he said of his work at the Dayton winery.
His goal is to bring French cooking to the palates of guests using the bounty of Oregon. He’s developed relationships with local farmers to ensure farm fresh produce, poultry and meat to his table. The 45th Parallel series highlights Château de la Crée, Domaine Serene’s sister estate in Burgundy, alongside the winery’s Oregon wines; the comparative tasting is paired with creative, seasonal dishes. Other offerings include an oyster flight, a jamón Ibérico menu and hand-selected charcuterie boards.
For more about upcoming culinary events, visit domaineserene.com.
Domaine Serene 6555 N.E. Hilltop Lane, Dayton Daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Henry Kibit Sokol Blosser
A couple of hills south of Domaine Serene, you’ll find Henry Kibit, executive chef at Sokol Blosser. He was influenced at a young age by his mother’s cooking and an uncle who encouraged him to follow his passion for cooking. “I would hang out with my mother when she was cooking; I’d peel potatoes for her — at the time I wasn’t really interested in cooking but was always interested in what she was making and where the ingredients came from,” Kibit remembers.
Growing up in a suburb of Detroit, he started as a busboy at age 14. He worked for a “nose-to-the-grindstone” chef, advancing his way through the myriad positions, including dish washer, before finally becoming a line cook. His résumé includes waiting tables, night manager and bartending serves Kibit well. He notes, “In the course of time, I found out what it really meant to run a restaurant.” Kibit spent time in Napa, California, where he worked at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro and Ad Hoc. But he found his culinary chops cooking at several of Portland’s top restaurants for great chefs, including Leather Storrs at Noble Rot. Working for Storrs was kismet for Kibit. “I took a minimum wage job in the kitchen, and it turned out to be the smartest thing I ever did,” he recalls. The position forced him to sharpen his cooking skills but also opened his eyes and sparked his natural curiosity for ingredients. “I developed relationships with small farms in the area which provided a bounty of locally grown produce as well as meat and poultry. I still have those relationships today and have formed friendships with many of those suppliers,” he says. A visit from Sokol Blosser’s Michael Brown began the conversation with Kibit to become the executive chef at Sokol Blosser. He began full time at the winery in March 2016, establishing the now thriving culinary program. Kibit notes, “I have cooked with wine my whole life, but this is about the guest experience, using the food to enhance the taste of the wine.” He’s developing relationships with farmers in the greater Yamhill Valley to serve the freshest ingredients. Kibit also planted an herb garden. “The inspiration for any of our dishes starts with the wine. Developing a food pairing for a specific wine is one of those culinary experiences that begins with great fresh ingredients,” he adds. Foraging, an area of interest and expertise, allows Kibit to develop interesting pairings of local wild foods. At Sokol Blosser, he’s developed a Farm and Forage program, using mushrooms, nettles and salad greens from the property to create a magical culinary experience. In the spring, Kibit leads groups on a foraging tour. Participants wear rubber boots, and he provides the scissors. Afterward, he performs his magic in the kitchen. Sometimes, Kibit notes, he flips the wine-comes-first script. “There are times when I get super excited about food — perhaps a particular recipe. Then the challenge becomes determining whether there is a wine with which I can pair with this meal.”
For more about upcoming culinary events, visit sokolblosser.com
Sokol Blosser 5000 N.E. Sokol Blosser Lane, Dayton Daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Abby McManigle Brooks Winery
In the Eola-Amity Hills, near Amity, Brooks Winery chef Abby McManigle brings to the table the same passion for food and wine with a vast understanding of global cuisine. Her preparation style comes not from recipes, per se, but her relationship with the wine.
She too, began her affair with cuisine at a young age. McManigle began catering “a bit” when she was 17 or 18 years of age. She grew up in Houston, moved to North Virgina (near Washington, D.C.) in her late teens, where she met her husband. She graduated from Le Cordon Bleu with an externship at a San Francisco-area restaurant, Nuevo Latino. Next, she accepted a position with a high-end restaurant in San Rafael. When the chef quit unexpectedly, she became the executive chef overnight, at age 24. After a decade in San Francisco, it was time for a break from the culinary world, a break from cooking perhaps, but not from her culinary education. McManigle had a call — not to the pulpit — but to learn more about food and wine. She worked harvest in the Santa Rosa area — which she called a spiritual experience allowing her to appreciate more fully the congruency of food and wine, forming the core of her culinary artistry today. Although she was offered an assistant winemaker’s position, it wasn’t something she wanted. Food and wine became her chosen path. She began catering at Sonoma and Santa Rosa wineries and preparing home meals for local families. Fascinated by the wine industry, she became a sales rep for Revel Wine and several smaller labels; her territory covered Sonoma, San Francisco and Napa. In 2011, she and her husband, now a winemaker, moved to McMinnville — it was a necessary change of pace. She worked as the executive chef at Ken Wright Cellars in Carlton but then had the opportunity to develop a culinary program at Brooks Winery. “I really hit it off with Janie (Janie Brooks Heuck, Brooks managing director),” she recalls. “We needed to develop Brooks as a destination winery — and to do that we needed a culinary program. Abby was the perfect fit,” Brooks Heuck says. McManigle injects her intuitive approach to the cuisine at Brooks, born from her practical experience with harvest and wrapped in her culinary skills. She says she gravitates toward a Mediterranean style of food, using olive oil and saffron, but always puts the wine first. She is given the creative freedom at Brooks, and everything but the salami is made in house. She also grows a majestic herb garden for the freshest seasonings. The menu at Brooks Winery changes monthly as McManigle takes advantage of peak ingredients. She teaches food and wine pairing classes as a part of the culinary experience and has continued to develop the culinary program there, which also includes chef’s dinners and secret suppers — guests are treated to a meal on a surprise location on the Brooks property as well as the meal.
For more about upcoming culinary events, visit www.brookswine.com
BROOKS Winery 21101 S.E. Cherry Blossom Lane, Amity Daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.