Introducing Calistoga Ranch's Newest Executive Chef Aaron Meneghelli

Introducing Calistoga Ranch's Newest Executive Chef Aaron Meneghelli

Executive Chef Aaron Meneghelli commands the kitchen of the very private Auberge Resorts' Calistoga Ranch property that is tucked up in the Napa Valley. While only guests or owners can dine at his signature restaurant, The Lakehouse, this Napa native chef's cuisine has been experienced all over the place—he's done stints in Paris, Napa's The Carneros Inn, and even helped secure a Michelin Bib Gourmand for Angele. One may even call him the most exclusive executive chef in Napa Valley.  

Instead of tell you that Calistoga Ranch should be on your 2015 travel list, we chatted with Chef Meneghelli so he could say it in his own words.

JustLuxe: Would you share your personal philosophy with regards to food, and your style of cooking, presentation and service at Calistoga Ranch?

Aaron Meneghelli: I love the idea of moving forward with the past, although the nuances of food and the ever changing nature of our business are what excites us; I am very inspired by how things became what they are. Using flavors and ideas of many years ago and representing them with different techniques or additions is something that all of us are drawn too. It gives us comfort and excites at the same time. Service should be effortless and fulfilling, but not overstay the welcome. Ensuring that you have what you need, but you are able to enjoy your experience as you intended it.

Aaron MeneghelliPhoto Credit: Gina Logan

JL: Would you tell us in your own words about the moments in your life, including the kitchens, that shaped you?

AM: Sarah Scott was the first person that I worked for that I considered a “real” chef. Out of culinary school I worked for her at Robert Mondavi. She cooked with a very seasonal and local approach with a heavy importance of balance in her food.  She was the first person to talk to me about how I handled and cared for the food that we had in the kitchen.

I worked for Robert Leva a few years after Sarah Scott, and he had a very different approach, but the same level of care and importance of the product that we used. It was not all about working a certain station on the line; it was caring for every part of the kitchen and trying to be in control of all of it. He pushed me to really want to be good at not just cooking, but in all aspects of running a kitchen. He has an incredible level of energy and his food seemed effortless.

My grandmother and mom are the obvious beginning of it all. Not only cooking because they loved food, but because they loved who they cooked for.

Calistoga Ranch, chickenPhoto Courtesy of Calistoga Ranch

JL: Calistoga Ranch is only open to those staying there or who own a residence, so by that fact your restaurant The Lakehouse is very exclusive. For your guests who dine with you for several, or all of their meals, how do you re-invent your cuisine each night ? Or do you?

AM: If our guest returns for a second or even third evening with us, I would like to allow them to have a different experience. Some may relax at the bar, which has a different menu to choose from. Others come back to the restaurant and we will provide additional courses, or, if allowed, I will cook a different menu altogether, pulling items from the pantry and walk-in that inspire us on that day.

JL: We've heard that you make the most fantastic fried chicken dinner. Seems like a brilliant idea especially for owners with family visiting, and certainly a great way to provide some surprise. Can you explain about how this came about and how it is received at The Lakehouse? What makes it so special?

AM: Fried chicken [is] not the most original idea, but a good one, over and over. That is a [great] example of moving forward with the past, maybe not so long ago, but a dish that has been cooked in a very casual setting for years and brings comfort and smiles to many. It has been well received and changes a little every week with additional sides and accompaniments. Our fried chicken is cold smoked before we marinate it and then [we] bread it to be fried.

Calistoga RanchPhoto Courtesy of Calistoga Ranch

JL: Calistoga Ranch guests seem to be very loyal and return year after year, made up from an eclectic mix of industry professionals, royals, travelers, and celebrities. Do you attribute this to the special combination of a uniquely relaxed setting, attentive (but not intrusive) service, and an atmosphere of security ?

AM: I think it is all of those things. At the Ranch we offer a unique environment to relax in, and feel pampered. At the Lake House we offer the opportunity to dine in elevated comfort; we want our experience to give you the best of Napa Valley dining.

JL: What surprises regarding new vegetables, heirloom varieties and  favorite produce can we look forward to appearing on our plates at the Ranch?

AM: We have a second bee hive and are looking to expand on the garden project. I am excited to get going on the next season of produce.

gourmet cuisinePhoto Credit: Kurt Winner

JL: There is so much talk about regarding GMOs, spraying, and loss of pollinators. Can you tell me your opinion on these issues and your bee program ?

AM: I think the closer you can get to your food the better. The close relationship that we have with farmers that we source from and the garden space that we have allow that to happen all year. The bees play a big part in helping all these gardens grow, pollinating the plants and giving an amazing byproduct in their honey

JL: What do you cook for yourself or for family when you're home? Do you have a favorite meal?

AM: [When] cooking at home, my wife and daughter are the decision makers on this.  Italian, Mexican, grilled, smoked, soups, on and on. It is a good way to try something new, or go to an old favorite. We really enjoy having our friends and family over, and hosting around our table.

gourmet cuisinePhoto Courtesy of Calistoga Ranch

JL: You've only been at Calistoga Ranch for a few months, but have already raised the profile of the cuisine. Any new ideas to share with us for the further evolution of your cuisine or culinary program?

AM: I am very inspired by the idea of the entire kitchen having an impact on what is happening with the food. I want all the sous-chefs and cooks to feel that they are a part of the development of our dining experience. I think we have formed a good team and with that motivation, new ideas are coming to the plate.

gourmet cuisinePhoto Courtesy of Calistoga Ranchgourmet cuisinePhoto Courtesy of Calistoga Ranchgourmet cuisinePhoto Courtesy of Calistoga RanchCalistoga RanchPhoto Courtesy of Calistoga Ranch

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