Interview with Chef Melissa Yanc of Quail & Condor Healdsburg

One of the standout duos I greatly admire in the California Culinary scene consists of Melissa Yanc and her husband and Culinary Partner, Sean McGaughey. These culinary masters have garnered considerable acclaim in the Healdsburg region, courtesy of their esteemed establishments, Quail and Condor, and Troubadour Bistro. Melissa’s culinary experience guarantees an exceptional dining experience with every dish she crafts. Undoubtedly, she ranks among the finest in the area, and it was a pleasure to get to share an interview with her.

Follow along below to see My Interview with Chef Melissa Yanc.

Chef Melissa Yanc

Be sure to check out The Amazing Quail and Condor and Tasty Troubadour Bistro on my blog here.

What was your first memory of cooking and what did you cook?

One of my first memories is decorating cakes with my grandmother. She was one of the first women in the Philippines to own and operate a business: a bakery. On my birthday (coming up on March 14!), she came with a fully decorated Barbie cake and set it on our kitchen counter. She almost immediately started scraping off the frosting and told little 9 year old me.

When did you know you wanted to become a chef?  

It was a conversation I had with my dad earlier where he asked me: “so after Geology school, what are you going to do?” And I replied “graduate, predict earthquakes, save my money and open a bakery.”  He came back with “that’s ridiculous, just go to pastry school.” I was in between classes in college and I happened to be looking at culinary schools online. The idea started to consume me.

You and your husband Sean now own Quail & Condor and Troubadour Bread & Bistro. Can you share more about your background before you two opened these adored Healdsburg culinary destinations? 

Sean and I met in Denver, CO on the opening team for a highly anticipated restaurant. We probably spent the least amount of time together as coworkers but our personal interests, theory on cooking and work ethic aligned, so we found time to hang out, then eventually became roommates with other cooks from that restaurant. We remained friends as we departed Colorado. He came to Healdsburg to open SingleThread and I sold my Denver bakery to move to New York and direct wholesale for Bien Cuit, we began dating long distance. Then I moved Los Angeles to be the pastry chef of Gjusta (and be closer to Sean), so we were able to easily commute to each other.

What is the story behind Quail & Condor and also Troubadour Bread & Bistro? Can you share more about each for those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting yet? 

Quail & Condor began as a farmer’s market stand. We made what we loved eating. Naturally leavened breads, flakey croissants with the best quality butter, definitively good cookies, and cakes & scones with produce sourced from our booth-neighbors from the farmers market. My deep love is for classic techniques and finding how to insert personality into each item. Service is a really big deal to us, we really want to be on a first-name basis with everyone and know what they mean when they say “I’ll have the usual.”

Troubadour is an expression of our other side. I think we really enjoy prix fixe as well, and at Troubadour you have a few moments of choice, but the menu is curated to go together and each course is placed in a certain order where they would be most enjoyed. There’s a deep love that Sean has for the finite intensity and precision of cooking. Sean has really shown me the old-school nerdy base of that. Classics are classics for a reason, but how you express that even just past the food, is where it stands out. By that, I mean the service: tight, curated, and not-too-stuffy/not-too-casual hospitality. So just take all of that and make it French, the mother of cooking.

You’re also a Chef at Molti Amici, can you share more about the menu and inspiration behind that Healdsburg restaurant? 

Molti Amici translates to “many friends.” It was how this supergroup was formed: Tiffany Spurgeon, Jonny Barr, Sean and myself. We want food to share, food that prompts a conversation, an experience to reflect over afterwards. The cuisine leans more into California cuisine: the BEST fresh produce, really good dairy, some unique spice blends that we make in house, a good amount of acidic and bright flavors with an Italian flare.

What was one of the biggest mistakes you made your first year in the culinary industry?

I thought I was “all that a bag of chips.” I think if you know me, I do a lot of talking. Back then I should have done a lot more listening. I just read somewhere “when you want something too much, you can get so distracted that you miss things.” I cared a lot about just getting to the top and being a great chef, but I quickly learned that this industry is way more about the journey along the way.

As a LA / Colorado native, how has the culinary world changed since you grew up and now live in Sonoma county?

Oh my gosh so much. LA was very heavy Italian food, great Mexican food, and really amazing Mediterranean food. As a kid, my family didn’t go out to eat much. We ate at friends houses and my mom is a very adventurous cook. Colorado was really amazing New Mexican food, Korean and Ethiopian food. Nowadays I’m seeing a lot of handmade pasta restaurants and new American spots.

In Sonoma I’m really impressed by what grows here, it’s like everything’s flavor is super charged. You can’t get anything as pure as Northern California. I like to think it’s the salt in the air from the coast. I’m sad to say the variety of cuisine in restaurants is much more slim in Sonoma compared to Colorado and LA.

What is your favorite culinary spot in Sonoma County (outside of your restaurants)?

Ha! I really love Maison Porcella in Windsor, it might be my new favorite spot. You feel like you’re somewhere else in there. The food is really delicious and the service is really warm and happy. 

Who has been the most influential mentor/chef in your career?

My friend and mentor Andy Clark. He passed away a couple of years ago. But if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be as far along nor as confident in myself as a business owner. He owned Moxie Bread in Lafayette, CO. A lot of people know him here in Sonoma county. He was really good at that, connecting everyone with each other in the bread industry. 

What is your favorite after work drink?

Wine. A glass of riesling, or champagne if I had the option. Shocking, I know. 

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

I’m a jock, really competitive. I’m physical and inspired by movement. And I’ll kick your butt at most things.

Chef Melissa Yanc

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