After getting to know legendary Chef Charlie Palmer of The Charlie Palmer Group for the past few years as a California foodie I am thrilled to share the below interview with you. For those of you who may not know, Chef Charlie Palmer is a Culinary icon. With Restaurants in California, New York, D.C., and Reno he is beyond talented, super approachable and an iconic Chef I feel lucky to know. I have been fortunate to attend a few of his charitable events such as Pigs & Pinot Noir (read more here) at Healdsburg’s Hotel Headlsburg an event I recommend to any foodies and Pinot Noir lovers and The Project Zin Festival (read more here) an incredible fundraiser benefitting The Down Syndrome Association of The North Bay. As you can tell, Chef Charlie is very active giving back to the community and supporting those in need. Read more about Chef Charlie Palmer below and see why I respect him so much and love his amazing cooking!
What was your first memory of cooking and what did you cook?
My mom wasn’t the greatest cook. We had a lot of casseroles, canned foods, etc. We grew up in a very rural household in upstate New York without a lot of money. I took Home Ec in high school on a dare. My teacher, Sharon Crane, is who really first taught me the art of cooking, of actually creating something original, delicious, and memorable with food.
When did you know you wanted to become a chef or restaurant proprietor?
I washed pots and pans at the Colgate Inn in high school and decided to go to The Culinary Institute of America after high school. It was sometime in my first year of culinary school that I realized that I really wanted to make a go of a career as a chef.
What is a knife you cannot live without?
Geoff Feder’s chef knife. (Feder Knives)
What is one ingredient you cannot cook without?
I’m always a seasonal chef. Right now it’s black garlic.
What was one of the biggest mistakes you made your first year in the culinary industry?
I made a zillion mistakes, it’s hard to pick just one.
How did you start The Charlie Palmer Group?
I opened Aureole in 1988. Then Astra in 1997. Then came additional restaurants here in NYC, Vegas, and beyond. Officially, the group, or our corporate entity, started somewhere around when we were opening in Las Vegas.
What most surprised you the most about the group’s incredible success?
I’m not sure if it’s the most surprising, but I’m in awe of the terrific talent we have throughout this company every day. From chefs to somms and accounting to marketing, we really do have a great bullpen.
Do you have plans to expand and add any additional restaurants or hotels? If so, where?
Always! There will always be future prospects. Right now our big project is opening Charlie Palmer Steak at Archer Hotel Napa later this year, probably later summer / early Fall.
Where do you see your career in 10 years from now?
I’d imagine we’ll own more hotels in wine country and have grown the Charlie Palmer Steak brand significantly. Who knows though?!
Who has been the most influential mentor/chef in your career?
I wouldn’t be cooking today if it weren’t for my home ec teacher, Sharon Crane. I still send her flowers on her birthday every year. She likes to let me know if they’re too big or too small, or just right. Beyond Sharon, there’s Buzzy O’Keeffe from the River Café Days, Jean-Jacques Rachou of La Cote Basque and Leon Dahnens from my CIA days.
What is your favorite after work drink?
Always a negroni, but with a twist: half aperol / half Campari.
What is your favorite local spot?
In Healdsburg, it’s Campo Fina for dinner or pizza. For drinks it’s Duke’s or Spoonbar.
Tell us something that would surprise people about you?
If I weren’t going to be a chef, I would have loved to have been a surgeon.
A special thanks to Chef Charlie Palmer and his amazing Marketing Vice President Christa Weaving for making this interview happen. I am very grateful!