Cooking with the new chef at Healdsburg’s Shed

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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.

I will go with my gut when it comes to dishes. If you take a piece of roasted broccoli, and then throw on some kernels of fried buckwheat, there are these overtones that line up on your palate. That’s what I’m interested in. You might need a bridge, but inevitably, it makes sense and it’s ultimately comforting, soul-warming and heartfelt.

Something that’s dissonant in the American palate is bitterness. But I think bitterness is like the new wave that chefs are exploring. It cleans up the palate like a little broom. Salt, acid, bitterness, fat, sugar, heat — those are the basics of Thai food, which is my favorite cuisine. If you explore any of the B-list celebrities of Thai food, you’ll notice all of those elements in a single dish.

Q: Can you talk about some of the new dishes you’ve introduced?

A: We have a salad of shredded collard greens, really finely shaved, dressed with a sherry-pistachio vinaigrette, and it’s topped with finely toasted breadcrumbs and Pecorino Romano cheese. That’s one I’m very excited about. The vinaigrette gets richness from the pistachios, and the shallots tend to pickle, and that makes a kaleidoscope of everything you want.

There’s also an awesome squash soup on the menu. It’s a Red Kuri and Vadouvan (Indian spice blend) Soup finished with aged balsamic vinegar. It’s just water and roasted squash meat, blended with a brown butter curry that we make. It’s very good, and very comforting.

For an entree, we have gnocchi made with housemade ricotta. The goat’s milk, cow’s milk and cream is broken with lemon juice, then the curds hydrate and cool in the whey and we scoop them off. We roll the gnocchi in goat cheese and ricotta and flour and egg, and to finish, we use tomato sauce and Piave cheese. When you eat it, it literally just melts in your mouth.

Q: What’s your goal this year?

A: I want to get out to the farmers more, get some things in the ground at Home Farm, and learn about what animals and fish are available, and the ranchers that we have.

Q: What are you most excited about cooking this spring?

A: I love the crops that come up: the fava beans and asparagus, peas and pea tendrils, and the green garlic. I can’t wait for that.

The following recipes are from Miles Thompson of Healdsburg Shed, which carries collard greens, kabocha squash, oils, vinegar and country loaf. Spices can be found at any natural food store or large market.

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Collard Greens Salad

Makes 4 servings

6 cup thinly shaved collard greens

¼ cup Pistachio-Sherry Vinaigrette (see recipe below)

⅓ cup Pecorino Romano, grated on the small hole of a box grater

⅓ cup breadcrumb croutons (see recipe below)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the shaved collard greens and the vinaigrette.

Gently knead the dressing into the greens to completely dress. Evenly distribute the shallots and pistachios in the dressing on top of the greens.

Divide the the salad between 4 chilled salad plates. Top each salad with a quarter the pecorino and then a quarter of the breadcrumb croutons.

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Pistachio-Sherry Vinaigrette

Makes 5 cups

2 cups sherry vinegar

2 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil

1 cup pistachios, toasted and chopped

½ cup shallots, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon thyme, chopped

½ teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt

Place all ingredients in an airtight resealable container and shake vigorously until completely emulsified. Reserve in the refrigerator. Note: Makes more vinaigrette than required for the salad.

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Breadcrumb Croutons

Makes 3 cups

1 country loaf bread, sliced into 1-centimeter (about ½-inch) slices

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place the bread slices on a parchment-lined half sheet tray. Brush the sliced bread with a liberal amount of the oil and gently season with salt. Place the sheet tray in the oven for 20 minutes. Rotate the sheet tray 180 degrees and return to the oven for 20 more minutes.

Remove the bread from the oven when evenly golden and it shatters when jabbed at vigorously with a finger. Allow the bread to cool to room temperature. Break bread into small irregular pieces. Process breadcrumbs into a sand-like consistency in a food processor.

Remove to a paper towel lined sheet tray and blot dry on successive changes of paper towels until there is no remaining trace of excess fat. Store at room temperature in a resealable airtight container lined with paper towels.

Note: Makes more croutons than required for the salad.

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Squash Soup

Makes 4 quarts

1 pound roasted kabocha squash meat (about 2 cups - see recipe below)

3¼ cups warm water

11 tablespoons vadouvan butter (see recipe below)

2 teaspoons salt

Aged Balsamic Vinegar

Combine all ingredients in the carafe of a high speed blender. Puree on high until completely smooth. Pass through a chinois or fine mesh strainer. Gently reheat the soup and serve topped with a healthy drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.

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Roasted Squash

1 5-pound kabocha (or another squash)

Grapeseed or other neutral oil

Salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper. Cut the tough stem off the squash, then cut in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds from inside and discard.

Rub the cut surface of the squash with the oil and season heavily with salt. Place squash halves cut-side down on sheets. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until very soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before removing the meat from the skin.

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Vadouvan Butter

Makes 1 quart

1 cup shallot, sliced

1 cup garlic, sliced

3 tablespoons Madras curry powder

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

½ teaspoon cloves

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon cardamom powder

1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

½ teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon chili flakes

3 pounds butter

Grind all spices to a powder in a spice blender or mortar and pestle.

Slowly cook shallots, garlic, and spices in 1 pound of butter over medium low heat for 10 minutes until the garlic and onions have begun to soften. Brown 2 pounds of butter. Cool the two mixtures to room temperature and whisk together to combine.

Note: Makes more vadouvan butter than required for the soup. The butter can be stored for up to 4 weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com

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