Rustic, wine at Simi Winery

  • Kolin Vazzoler, chef at Simi Winery, prepares a pancetta pizza at the Healdsburg winery, June 29, 2012.

Chef Kolin Vazzoler honed his culinary skills at some of the North Bay's most elegant, white-tablecloth restaurants, including Gary Danko in San Francisco and Shimo in Healdsburg.

But when the 42-year-old chef was growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia, he learned to cook simple fare at the knee of his mother and his Italian aunt, who tended a garden overflowing with vegetables.

So when Vazzoli was hired this year as the new executive chef at Simi Winery of Healdsburg, it was a homecoming of sorts.

Simi Winery In Healdsburg


"My father came over from Italy, the same as the two Simi brothers who started the winery," Vazzoler said. "And I'm second-generation Italian, just as winery matriach Isabelle Simi was."

Vazzoler started drinking wine with dinner when he was 10, but it wasn't anything fancy. His grandfather made the wine himself in his own cellar.

"We were a food family," Vazzoler said. "We always sat down to dinner with the family, and we conversed with each other. That's where the wine and food came in."

Vazzoler brings together the high-end and the homey, the refined and the rustic, in his first job as a winery chef.

For winery clients and distributors, he puts together private meals worthy of a four-star restaurant and pairs them with Simi's wines. The job requires him to put the wine first.

"At the restaurant, it was about &‘What am I going to create for the food,' and the sommelier paired it with the wine," he said. "At the winery, I taste the wine and go from there."

As an appetizer, he cures his own Casaveltrano olives and marinates them in garlic and orange zest, and he makes his own mozzarella and ricotta cheeses for pizzas.

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