Cooking with the new chef at Healdsburg’s Shed
On his honeymoon last September, Healdsburg Shed chef Miles Thompson went to Copenhagen and snagged a reservation at Noma, the two-Michelin-star restaurant widely renowned for chef Rene Redzepi’s reinvention of Nordic cuisine.
“Everything he uses is within 60 miles of Copenhagen,” Thompson said. “Talk about ultra-sustainability. The farthest things come from the Faroe Islands up north.”
A native of Westchester County in New York, Thompson traveled far west and worked at several Los Angeles restaurants, including Allumette, where he was named 2014 Los Angeles Rising Star Sustainability Chef by Starchefs.com, before joining Healdsburg Shed in October as its new culinary director.
Since then, the young chef has transformed the cafe’s breakfast and lunch menu into a vegetable-focused cuisine that shines a light on the local ranches and farms, including Home Farm, where Shed owners Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton grow a variety of fruits, herbs and vegetables.
“You’re getting amazing onions, and the onions might make the dish, even though it’s a squid dish,” he said, explaining what vegetable-focused means to him. “And you’re surrounding yourself with these great ingredients.”
At Allumette, Thompson gained a reputation for cooking all kinds of avant-garde comfort food. Those dishes grew out of his deep relationships with farmers such as James Birch of Flora Bella Farm in Tulare County’s Three Rivers, which is renowned for its arugula.
“The interesting thing about cooking in that way is that you really have to be ahead of yourself,” he said. “You have to think like a farmer.”
Here in the North Bay, Thompson is already working closely with farms such as Foggy River Farm, Mix Garden, and Bernier Farms, all in Healdsburg, and he’s looking forward to making more connections with local ranchers raising interesting varieties of pork and beef.
Here is an introduction to Thompson and sneak peak at a few of the new dishes he has introduced:
Q: How did you get into cooking?
A: I started cooking for my family when I was about 8. .?.?. My parents were interested in international cuisines, and they were really supportive of cooking and feeding and nourishing. We’d take trips to Korean markets for live eel. All the weird kid experiences - mine was trying to cook all these ingredients I’d never heard of.
Then I started getting professionally involved in food when I was 13. I went to a party, and the food was delicious and interesting, and I had an awakening. I wanted to talk to the caterer (Charlotte Berwind in New York), and I ended up working for her for six years. I stuck it out as a dishwasher for two years, and my first job was for a wedding, putting shallot butter onto rye bread.
Then I worked at Emily Shaw’s Inn (in Pound Ridge, N.Y.) It was “Yes, Chef,” and you did what the executive chef, Greg Gilbert, said, and that built a backbone.
Q: What brought you out to the West Coast in 2007?
A: I was also an actor when I was a child, so I had vacillated between acting and cooking and was fascinated by Southern California. I got a job working at the newly opened Nobu in Los Angeles with my mentor, (chef) Alex Becker. He taught me everything, from the touch of seasoning to butchering animals. And he introduced me to acidity in food, and that was brought to the next level at Animal and Son of a Gun (two restaurants in Los Angeles owned by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo.)
Then I was hired as a chef of a restaurant in Echo Park called Allumete, and I ran that for a year and a half before it closed. It was progressive, seasonal cuisine. We had some awesome people working for and at the restaurant and met a lot of purveyors. We worked directly with farmers and ranchers. I worked with James Birch, with a farm in Three Rivers called Flora Bella, and he had 22 organic certifications internationally. He completely dry farms, and all of his water is just snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada. It’s the first stop off the mountain, so imagine how incredible that is.
Q: What do you enjoy about working with farmers?
A: There’s no waste, because the farmers aren’t growing anything that we don’t want. And we can work on the size and when it’s grown. The land husbandry aspect of agriculture is what makes it great. .?.?. There are certain things that grow really, really well, like Yael Bernier’s radishes. They are just spectacular, and we use them in one of our salads, or James Birch’s arugula. It’s legendary. .?.?. I’m excited about finding out who has those kinds of things up here.
Q: How would you describe your style of food at Shed?
A: Before, there was a lot of Middle Eastern flair to it. Now .?.?. it’s grabbing a lot of ingredients from around the world, and mixing them on one plate, but focusing on the things we’re getting from the farmers and ranchers.