Charlie Palmer was born with a keen curiosity about how things work and an
eye for detail. Both have enhanced his reputation as a big-name chef at the
helm of a hospitality franchise that stretches from New York to Healdsburg.
When strolling through the 2-acre pinot noir vineyard at his Dry Creek
Valley home, for example, Palmer will call winemaker Clay Mauritson to let him
know a drip emitter is broken or missing.
``He just loves to be out there,'' Mauritson said of the bicoastal chef,
who is learning to make pinot with the help of Mauritson and his grape-growing
family. ``Charlie loves to come out and get an understanding about why they
are pruning a certain way.''
In 2007, when Palmer opened his latest restaurant -- Charlie Palmer at
Bloomingdale's in Costa Mesa -- Mauritson was there to witness the meticulous
restaurateur in action.
``I was just blown away,'' Mauritson said. ``He was literally moving things
around, from the way that the vases were arranged on the table to pointing out
a tiny, minute scratch on the floor.''
Palmer characterizes himself as ``optimistically aggressive'' -- in other
words, he's not afraid to take charge -- while admitting to being a bit of a
``I like things in their place,'' he said. ``In the kitchen, I'm always on
top of it, saying `We should be more organized and precise' ...You can't cook
in a mess.''
This attention to detail helped Palmer rise from teen-age pot washer to
student at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, N.Y.
Later, he honed his technique at some of New York's top French restaurants,
then opened his own fine dining restaurant, Aureole, in New York at the age of
Now at the helm of a growing empire that includes 11 restaurants, plus a
handful of hotels and wine shops, the 49-year-old Palmer doesn't appear to be
This May, he will retool his flagship Aureole restaurant and move it to New
York's new Bank of America tower. At the new space, Aureole will serve lunch
and offer a more streamlined dining experience.
``For it to be prominent for the next 20 years, we had to make some major
changes,'' Palmer explained.
Meanwhile, Palmer is in the process of building a second boutique hotel in
Healdsburg and is developing a resort hotel in Las Vegas.
A hands-on guy, with battle scars on his beefy palms to prove it, Palmer
begins and ends every work week on an airplane, commuting to and from the
kitchens of his 11 restaurants.
Every weekend, he returns home to Healdsburg to relax and reconnect with
his wife, Lisa, and sons Courtland, 15, Randall, 14, and Reed and Eric, 11.
Palmer relishes his role as a dad and takes the job quite seriously.
``When I'm here, I want to take them to school and pick them up and do the
sports things,'' he said. ``That's the important thing, to spend as much time
as you can with them.''
Palmer's down-to-earth attitude reflects his childhood as one of six kids