John McReynolds, culinary director at Stone Edge Farm in Sonoma, cooked his way across the globe before putting down roots amid the vines of the Sonoma Valley.
From 1995 to 2006, the peripatetic chef became known for the rustic European dishes he showcased at Sonoma's acclaimed Cafe LaHaye, which paired well with the region's wines.
"The first trip I took to Europe was 1977, and I spent five months in Greece and North Africa and Italy," McReynolds said. "I loved the olives and the lemons and the olive oil. That's what resonated with me."
The chef also worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Germany, where he met his wife, Brigitte, and fell in love with Eastern European comfort foods like potato pancakes and the dumpling-like spaetzle.
Now 64, McReynolds recently summed up his 30-year career by writing a cookbook, the "Stone Edge Farm Cookbook," released in November.
Since 2008, the chef has worked at Stone Edge, a sustainable vineyard and farm where owner Mac McQuown raises cabernet sauvignon grapes alongside an interdependent web of organic vegetables, olive trees, chickens and honey bees.
Boasting a bevy of beautiful photos and personal essays, the 370-page cookbook at first glance appears destined for the coffee table, alongside Thomas Keller's "The French Laundry" cookbook. But inside, the recipes from McReynolds are surprisingly straightforward and user-friendly.
"The recipes are totally accessible," McReynolds said. "It reflects what I like to cook and eat. I like simple food."
The cookbook also includes lots of hearty winter fare, perfect for serving on Valentine's Day, such as a winter salad of Cara Cara Oranges and Beets, slow-cooked Cabernet-Braised Beef Short Ribs and Celery Root Schnitzel with Sauce Gribiche (a mayonnaise-like sauce spiked with capers, pickles, and hard-boiled egg).
"It's one of those dishes that people really love," he said of the schnitzel, normally made with veal, pork or chicken. "For a vegetarian dish, it's very satisfying."
Earlier this month at Ramekins Culinary School, McReynolds demonstrated a few of his favorite dishes from the cookbook, along with one of his signature desserts from Cafe LaHaye: Chocolate Pot de Creme.
"It's like a big, gooey, wonderful chocolate mousse," he said. "I don't really like doing desserts, so I chose ones that were more simple."
Along with his own predilections, his cookbook reflects many of the cutting-edge trends in the food world, including foraging for wild foods like acorns and edible flowers.
"That's kind of a continuation of my youth, which was spent fishing and hunting," he said. "When I got to Stone Edge, I started taking (foraging) classes, reading books and talking to old-timers."
One of the main incentives for McReynolds to write the book, however, was to explain the philosophy of Stone Edge Farm, where wine is regarded as part of a bigger picture of agriculture and sustainability.
"We like to present our wines with food," McReynolds said. "Wine is a food, so it should be tasted with other foods that have a connection, geographically, on the same piece of land."
McReynolds likes to start with fresh ingredients, which have a short lifespan, then move backward to the wine.
"I'm at the point in my career where I spend more time getting food than cooking it," he said. "It becomes all about the farming and the procuring."