Virtual Gourmet

March 31, 2024                                                                                                    NEWSLETTER









By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

Part Two

By John Mariani



By John Mariani


      Since the opening of London’s Dorchester Hotel in 1931, its Grill has, along with historic places like Rules and Wilton’s, been totemic as a standard of British cuisine, from its cock-a-leekie soup to its Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding. Over the decades changes have been both decorous and gustatory, and for many years now it has co-existed across the hotel’s foyer from Alain Ducasse’s French restaurant and China Tang downstairs.
         Once nicknamed The Spanish Grill, it emerged in 2006 with a Scottish motif, complete with murals of lairds a-leaping (right). In 2014 it changed again to a sleek, glittering room of leather banquettes, Murano glass chandelier and open rotisserie. (Sadly, they removed the tablecloths.)
         Its newest—and, at 31, youngest—chef is a fellow named Tom Booton, whose name has now been attached to the Grill. Essex born, beginning at the age of 15, Booton’s trajectory took him to Iceland and Denmark before his appointment to the prestigious Grill when he was 26 as London’s restaurant scene was evolving to international status.
         I spoke with Booton about that evolution and his own, and what he believes the future of London and world dining will be.


Your first job in the kitchen was at the award-winning El Talbooth in Essex. Describe what you meant by “going from the bottom up" there.

By "going from the bottom up," I was describing my journey starting from basic roles and gradually progressing through different positions, transitioning from being kitchen porter, where I handled dish washing and kitchen cleanliness, then, over time, expanding into preparing canapés and assisting in various tasks. This experience taught me resilience and the value of hard work, shaping my passion for the culinary arts and setting the foundation for my career in the culinary space.

You worked at Alyn Williams at his self-titled restaurant within The Westbury hotel and other restaurants in London. How was that different from El Talbooth?

Working at Alyn Williams (right) marked a significant shift in my culinary journey. While El Talbooth boasted three rosettes and offered a fantastic experience, the move to London introduced me to a whole new level of professionalism and culinary excellence. In London, working alongside Michelin-starred chefs and talented individuals, there was a palpable emphasis on precision, technique, and innovation. Cooking in such a competitive environment demanded not only skill but also a deep sense of passion and dedication. In London, there was a heightened focus on infusing every dish with emotion and care and paralleled the transition to any major city where the culinary scene is vibrant and fiercely competitive. It required relentless commitment to staying at the forefront of the industry, a challenge I embraced wholeheartedly.

You left L’Autre Pied to travel. Had you arranged for

Yeah, I left L'Autre Pied for a travel stint that lasted about six months. It was a bit of a much-needed break after not having a holiday in three years. So David Moore, the owner, generously allowed me to finish up and then go explore. My head chef at the time, Andy, helped organize it all. We looked into different options, and while my colleagues went to Paris, I was drawn to something more off the beaten path. That's how I ended up in Iceland, inspired by a book about the new Nordic food movement. I spent two eye-opening, transformative months at Dill in Reykjavik (left), soaking up everything I could from Gunnar [Karl Gislasson] and his team. It was transformative. After that, I did a stint in New York for two months, working in various kitchens, though the city didn't quite capture my heart like Iceland did. Then it was off to Copenhagen for another two months, diving deeper into the Nordic culinary scene. The pace of life and approach to food in Scandinavia just resonated with me in a way that London and New York hadn't. So, yeah, it was an incredible journey of exploration and learning.

Back in London you returned to the Westbury as head chef and received a Michelin star. What was the pressure? 

Back in London, I didn't return directly to the Westbury. Instead, I joined Ollie Dabbous at his restaurant HIDE for about a year as a sous chef. Ollie was not only a fantastic chef but also a savvy entrepreneur, teaching us valuable lessons beyond the kitchen. However, Alyn at the Westbury reached out to me, seeking a head chef. It was a tremendous honor to be asked back as head chef. Alyn's trust in me to lead the kitchen and execute my vision both culinarily and managerially was pivotal.

Now at the Dorchester, what is the hotel looking for at The Grill?
Do people expect something of the old Grill’s menus to remain there? What have you added in terms of your own style?

When considering The Grill, we embarked on a year-long conversation to redefine what a grill means to people. Traditionally, the term was often associated with overcooked meats and classic British fare like roast beef. However, we aimed to challenge these perceptions and introduce a new era of British grill cuisine. We wanted to retain elements of tradition while infusing them with innovation and modernity. For instance, one of our standout dishes, the Lobster Thermidor, underwent a transformation to elevate it to the next level, keeping the essence of the dish while presenting it in a fresh, contemporary way. We've also introduced a variety of shared dishes and snacks to encourage a more dynamic dining experience, where guests can sample a bit of everything. As for my own style, it permeates every aspect of The Grill, from the menu composition to the overall ambiance. I strive to create an atmosphere where guests feel welcomed, relaxed, and ultimately delighted by their culinary journey. Hospitality, for me, is about putting a smile on people's faces and ensuring they have a memorable and enjoyable time. So, while we've introduced new elements to The Grill, we've also retained classics like the Sunday roast, ensuring there's something for everyone to enjoy, whether they're seeking familiarity or culinary adventure.

I assume you have a large American clientele. Are they different from the Brits or the French, Chinese, or Japanese clients?

We do have a sizable American clientele, and they're always a pleasure to serve. One thing I've noticed is their infectious enthusiasm and positivity and a vibrant energy to the dining experience, which is refreshing. In contrast, us Brits can sometimes be a bit more reserved or even sarcastic. Regarding specific experiences, I remember a group of American customers who were in town for the NFL event. It's moments like these that really highlight the camaraderie and excitement that events like the NFL bring to London. Additionally, we also receive a significant number of Japanese clients, who I believe have a deep appreciation for British cuisine, viewing it as something unique and different from their own meticulously crafted culinary traditions.

What changes have you seen in London’s dining scene in the last five years? It seems many chefs are now doing  BBQ, hamburgers, steakhouses and Italian.

The culinary landscape in London has undergone significant changes over the past five years, driven in part by a more interconnected global food community. With the rise of social media, chefs and restaurateurs now have unprecedented access to each other's creations and innovations from around the world. Unlike in the past, where allegiances to specific culinary camps were more rigid, today's industry is characterized by collaboration and knowledge sharing. We're constantly inspired by trends and techniques emerging not only from the U.S. but from culinary hotspots across the globe. For instance, the Nordic food scene has had a profound influence on many chefs, myself included, encouraging experimentation with new ingredients and approaches. 

Is there a point where restaurants in London will just price themselves out of the market?

Navigating price points is top of mind for any restaurant. At The Dorchester our approach has always been rooted in bringing our diners an exceptional experience, as well as ensuring they feel comfortable and welcome. Our focus remains on transparent pricing that covers the costs of quality ingredients, skilled labor and operational expenses. Ultimately, we aim to educate our patrons about the value behind the culinary experience we provide, fostering a deeper appreciation for the dining journey.

Does the ever-wavering British economy affect restaurant-going in London?

One notable effect is the fluctuation in tourist numbers, particularly from the United States, where currency exchange rates make London more affordable.  As someone entrenched in the hospitality scene, I appreciate the delicate balance between enjoying the vibrant dining culture and being mindful of escalating prices. It's a reminder of the importance of offering value and quality in our establishments while navigating the economic landscape.

Will the historic old places like Rules and Wilton’s survive?

Rules (left), the oldest restaurant in London, holds a special place in the city's culinary heritage with its classic French cuisine and rich history, immortalized in popular culture like James Bond films. It's a British institution that has weathered many storms. As for Wilton's, its reputation precedes it as a bastion of traditional British dining. While the landscape may evolve, these iconic establishments have a resilience and timeless appeal that may help them endure the changing times.

What do you see the dining scene will be like in two or three years?

Looking ahead, I believe London’s dining scene continues to flourish. There's a growing appreciation for food, coupled with an understanding of its intricacies, among the populace. In the next two to three years, I foresee a continued emphasis on authenticity and quality in dining establishments. As for trends, the concept of sharing plates has already taken root and is likely to become even more prevalent. However, there will always be space for tasting menus and diverse culinary experiences, ensuring that the industry remains dynamic and exciting. The beauty of the dining scene lies in its diversity, and I believe this diversity will only continue to thrive in the coming years.





The Mark Hotel
25 East 77th Street

By John Mariani



    The Jean-Georges in question is, of course, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who is as well-known as any chef in the world. He arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s as chef de cuisine for Louis Outhier at Boston’s Lafayette, translating the master’s nouvelle cuisine in ways that avoided fussiness in favor of flavor and elegance. He repeated that style at Lafayette in New York, before going out on his own in 1997 to open his namesake restaurant in Columbus Circle, where he would win every accolade possible for developing a modern global gastronomy.
      He next created the modern bistro at JoJo, and, influenced by his time cooking in Asian  restaurants—where he said he preferred eating the staff meals to haute cuisine—he incorporated their flavors, opening the Thai-inspired Vong and Spice Market in Manhattan (both closed). His commitment to vegetarian food at ABCV in New York gave the nod to other chefs hesitant about gong that route. Whenever Jean-Georges went in a new direction, food media and colleagues followed.

      From the moment I dined in Lafayette in Boston I was astonished by Jean-Georges’s range, and several of his restaurants made my “Best New Restaurants in America” list in Esquire over two decades. I became, however, less enamored, or less impressed, when he went from having a handful of places he could taxi among in New York to opening scores around the world, including in Guangzhou, Morocco and Qatar, becoming a brand name rather than a chef who could possibly pay much, if any, personal attention to all his management contracts year in and out.
       While I have not by a long shot eaten at most of his restaurants, I’ve found several to be only fair to good, rarely surprising and unexpectedly repetitious.
       So, I hadn’t high expectations upon being invited by friends to dine at The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges, opened in 2010 as a pleasant if bland offshoot rather than a new statement. Yet, the recent installation of a new executive chef de cuisine, Pierre Schutz, who’s had a long tenure with Jean-Georges in many of his properties, seemed good reason to get back there.
      I couldn’t be happier that I did, for my meal was one of the finest I’ve had this year. For even though many similar dishes may be found around town, Schutz, a  native of Lausanne, Switzerland, shows a finesse and creativity that transforms every one of them with dazzling flair.  Of Schutz’s cooking, Jean-Georges has said, “We’ve been cooking together for so many years that our palates are in total sync that we don’t even need to speak.”  
The very comfortable dining rooms and bar have been done over in silvery, shadowy tones, the rear room slightly less loud, the tables nicely set apart. The bar is one of the swankier spots in town.
      Opening the menu was uninspiring, though everything sounded quite tempting. I skipped over items like shrimp cocktail ($46) and chilled lobster ($72) at eye-opening prices, and instead, knowing Jean-Georges’s penchant for perfect fish, had the hamachi sashimi with avocado and soy yuzu dressing ($39), which showed off his demand for buying the finest fish, in this case well-fatted, silky Japanese amberjack. There were, oddly, two artichoke dishes on the appetizer menu, so I went for the crispy version, similar to the Italian carciofi alla giudea, but with a lovely saffron rose aïoli ($34). One guest ordered burrata, which I thought would be so-so, but it was of excellent, creamy quality, a sizable portion served with a citrus salad, basil and grilled sourdough ($38).

        Forty-nine dollars is a lot for a fontina cheese pizza, even one with black truffles atop, and though the pie is tasty, the price is hard to swallow. The fresh, tender egg-rich fettuccine spiked with Meyer lemon, parmigiano and black pepper was delicious, but at $47 you may want to split it.
       Every one of the entrees was first-rate and more. I cannot recall having a juicier, better cooked plump sea bass in long memory (above), sided with braised fennel, carrot and cerignola olives ($72), a dish that took a great deal of care to get perfect.  A slope of lobster and carrots had the addition of sweet-tangy passion fruit and black olives that worked together well ($87). And three grilled lamb chops—massive and meaty, with just the right amount of fat—had a smoked chili glaze, served with bitter-salty broccoli di rabe ($68) that added wonderful outdoor-like flavors (right).

      Most surprising was what was described as “Parmesan-crusted organic chicken, [with more] artichoke and lemon-basil butter sauce” ($58) that sounded like over-worked chicken parmigiana. But this was far more nuanced, with the natural poultry flavor and buttery juices of the chicken wed to the tang of the lemon-basil.
       Desserts ($21) sound playful but they are substantial sweet triumphs of transformation, as with child-like butterscotch pudding with crème fraîche and sea salt, as rich as might be imagined; a salted caramel ice cream sundae with candy popcorn peanuts—French Crackerjack!—and fudge sauce (left); and perfect, dreamy, fat profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and deep chocolate. The only fancy dessert was called the “Orange Blossom,” with diplomat cream and a crunchy meringue. There is also an artisanal cheese plate with five cheese and condiments ($32).
       With $87 entrees, The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges may dent your wallet—a six-course meal at his flagship Jean-Georges almost seems a bargain at  $298 and ten courses at $398—but this really is dining out New York-style at a very high level. It might be hoped the maestro himself drops by, but his name and reputation are being kept at a lofty level by his long-time colleague Pierre Schutz.     
There is, now, on premises a new Caviar Kaspia designed by Jacques Grange at The Mark with its own menu and boutique (not associated with Jean-Georges), serving dishes like duck foie gras, bottarga plate, rosti and caviar pizza, twice-baked potato and a variety of eggs with caviar farmed in the U.S., Italy and Bulgaria.
      By the way, the tacky-looking 20-foot tall NO VACANCY sign on the hotel building is actually neon art by Warren Neidich, which recalls the long-running Broadway Show “Hot L Baltimore.”


The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.


By  John Mariani



         Sipe had read Katie’s articles and told her it was okay to come out.
        Katie was not going to bother pleading with her editor to send her to La Jolla.  She had vacation time coming, though, given her status at McClure’s, she might have told him she’d just be off snooping on a story and that if it came to anything, she’d report in. David had all the time in the world, of course, and was happy to pay his own airfare to La Jolla to go along on Katie’s investigation, whatever it was. His fantasies about Maria Colón had already faded, though she crossed his mind now and again.
         The two of them flew out to Palo Alto that weekend, on an evening United flight out of Newark to San Diego Airport, which saved them a few bucks and got them in at 10:30 that night.  They rented a car and checked into a hotel not far from Sipe’s home.
        Katie and David decided she would take the lead in the interview and David would take his own notes on any criminal investigations Sipe knew about. They arrived at ten the next morning. Sipe’s home was near the ocean at Black’s Beach, a modest one-story house with a terrace. David noticed how unkempt Sipe’s shrubbery was.
         A sign on the door under the bell read “KNOCK DON’T RING,” and Katie rapped three times. The door opened immediately and Sipe said, “Come on in. Thanks for coming all this way. Coffee? Water?”
         The house looked thoroughly lived in. Sagging sofas and chairs, a coffee table piled with folders and papers, and a few potted plants badly in need of attention. The bookshelves spread from one wall to the next and into the dining area, all fully stacked. Sipe was of average height, a little stooped over, looking older than his 68 years, with long, deep wrinkles in his jowls, tired-looking brown eyes, bushy eyebrows and graying hair. He wore rim glasses, a brown tennis shirt and a gray cardigan sweater over blue jeans and slip-ons. Katie tried to imagine him in a priest’s black habit and white collar. His wife Marianne did not seem to be in the house.
         “So what do you want to know?” he began. “I trust you’ve read my books?”
         Katie answered she had read two of them thus far, and Sipe said most of the others were out of print and hard to find, but he’d lend her copies.
         “There’s so much stuff I haven’t published,” he said, “and don’t know if anyone will publish it. I’m still radioactive in the religious press, though I’ve got a bit more respect in the psychoanalytic community.”
         Katie said, “I see you’ve taught at Catholic seminaries and lectured in medical schools, and from everything I read you are highly respected among your peers.”
         “Depends on the peers. The conservative Catholic media loathe me and have done nothing but disparage my research. The more liberal wing of the Church has been more responsive but very measured in their support.”
         Sipe then took off, not quite in an angry tirade but in a fervent defense of his work and how he’d devoted his life to changing what was going on in the Church.
         David said, “But I see you’ve been both a consultant and expert witness in civil and criminal cases involving sexual abuse by priests.”
         Sipe said, “When asked, of course. But those cases are few and far between, even now that the lid is being ever so slightly pried off the whole damn can of worms.  There’s good work being done but the Church is still powerful enough and canny enough to deflect both criticism and indictments. And it’s not just a problem with the American Catholic Church. Don’t think for a minute that these crimes aren’t being committed everywhere. Look anywhere and everywhere—Sydney, Australia; Johannesburg, South Africa; Paducah, Kentucky, everywhere. This is a global crisis.”
         That was the cue Katie needed to begin focusing in. “Well, that’s one of the things I hope you’d help me with. I don’t have the time and resources to write a whole book on the subject. And, frankly, it seems you’ve written those books for all to read. You’ve provided all the historical and psychological context on the subject. What I want to do is to bore into the core of the corruption in a place that has been successful in covering it all up for years.”
         Sipe sighed. “You want to bring down some cardinals, right?  Follow the money? See if it leads to the Vatican?”
         Katie nodded and said, “Something like that, but where do I start? Boston? New York?”
         Sipe said, “Pick any city you like. As I just told you, this is not a New York or Boston problem. You could focus your story on any of them at any time. Boston is—what do they say in the Army?—a ‘target-rich environment.’”
         David said that in fact he’d spoken to a police colleague named Foley who’d said Sipe would be the man to contact about what had happened when the Boston Globe killed its investigation back in 1984.
         “I remember Foley,” said Sipe. “Good man. Wanted to go after Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston. I told him he might as well try to convict the Pope. Law was—is—very, very powerful, and the Boston police wouldn’t try to mess with him, even if Law himself had been a predator, which, as far as I know, he is not. But he has prevented and thwarted almost every case that’s been brought to his attention. Law is untouchable.”
         “So maybe I should be the one to try to get to him?” asked Katie. “I haven’t any attachments to Boston or the Church there.”
         Sipe got up from the sofa and went to get another cup of coffee.
         “Listen, Katie, there’s nothing I’d like more than to catch a big fish like Law, but he swims in a much bigger pool of corruption. You want to go fight the Boston archdiocese, go right ahead. But you’ll get stonewalled at every step.”
     “Well, that’s my job—to bust through the stone wall. I’m pretty good at it.”
         Sipe smiled and said, “I was like you once, but of course I didn’t have the backing of a newspaper or magazine.  And you know how that went down with the Boston Globe. So I’ve opted instead, together with my wife Marianne, to help these priests, or at least the ones who have remorse for their actions.  You have to realize that about fifty percent of priests have some sort of sexual relationship with another person. Sometimes with one of the opposite sex, sometimes with another priest or nun, and, in a number of cases, with children. And among those, there are many agonizing over their actions. Those are the ones I concern myself with now. The others—those for whom schools are their own target-rich environment—are wholly unrepentant and are part of a network that sustains their life choices.”
         “I remember you wrote about what you called ‛The Network’ in your book.”
         “It’s very much part of the problem and it is extensive.”
         Sipe got up again, saying, “Have you ever heard of the Magdalene Laundries?  Or, as the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge called them, the Magdalene ‘asylums?’”
         Katie was eager to say she had and had intended to ask Sipe about them.
         “Well,” he said, “I haven’t done much personal research on them. I hadn’t even heard about them until a few years ago, and the last of them closed just four years ago and a lot of horror stories have been coming out ever since. Have you ever heard Joni Mitchell’s song about the Laundries?”
         Katie shook her head, surprised that she’d
never heard a song by one of her favorite singers.
         “The song was kind of buried in one of her lesser albums, with the unfortunate name Turbulent Indigo, back in ’94, I think. Somebody sent the song to me, included on an album several women singers did with the Irish folk group The Chieftains. That just came out last year.  Mitchell apparently said she wrote the song after reading a story in a Canadian newspaper about how authorities had discovered unmarked graves on the property of one of the Laundries, and it contained 250 bodies, some infants among them. Let me play it for you.”
         Sipe located the CD on his shelves and played it. It began with a strange, haunting sound Mitchell strummed in an open tuning on her guitar.

I was an unmarried girl,
I'd just turned twenty-seven
When they sent me to the sisters
For the way men looked at me.
Branded as a Jezebel
I knew I was not bound for Heaven
I'd be cast in shame
Into the Magdalene laundries.


Most girls come here pregnant
Some by their own fathers.
Bridget got that belly by her parish priest.
We're trying to get things white as snow
All of us woe-begotten-daughters
In the streaming stains
Of the Magdalene laundries.


Prostitutes and destitutes
And temptresses like me,
Fallen women
Sentenced into dreamless drudgery.
Why do they call this heartless place
Our Lady of Charity?
Oh charity!


These bloodless brides of Jesus
If they had just once glimpsed their groom,
Then they'd know, and they'd drop the stones
Concealed behind their rosaries,
They wilt the grass they walk upon
They leech the light out of a room
They'd like to drive us down the drain
At the Magdalene laundries.


Peg O'Connell died today
She was a cheeky girl, a flirt.
They just stuffed her in a hole!
Surely to God you'd think at least some bells should ring!
One day I'm going to die here too
And they'll plant me in the dirt
Like some lame bulb
That never blooms, come any spring
Not any spring



© John Mariani, 2018



Part Two
By John Mariani


    During this, Women’s History Month, I interviewed three West Coast women winemakers who are in the forefront of their  regions’ development.
    Niki Williams brings more than a decade of experience from some of Napa Valley’s most well-known wine estates including: Mount Veeder Winery, The Prisoner Wine Company, Franciscan Estate, Merryvale Family of Wines, Chateau St. Jean and now at Cakebread Cellars, a 50-winery of established reputation.
    Jane Dunkley was born in Australia and bred in its vineyards, and learned from wine cultures in Portugal, Italy and California’s Central Coast, where she is winemaker for Bezel, which is Cakebread’s craft winery.
    Sally Johnson Blum took over winemaking at Cakebread’s Mullan Road Cellar last summer in Walla Walla, Washington; she was also recently hired by Mike Martin to make The Walls and Páxša wines at their Walla Walla winery, as well as making her own wines and consulting for various clients, including CourAvant,J Ranch, School House Vineyards and Tamber Bey Vineyards.  

This is Part Two of that interview.


Tell me about your background and how you were hired.


Williams (left): I’ve had more than a decade of experience across several of Napa Valley’s renowned wine estates where  I' was fortunate to work with many varietals, which allowed me to dive into my current role and bring the latest cellar and vineyard technologies with me, focusing on elevating the quality of both the fruit and the wine. Being a Midwest farmer's daughter, I grew up in the world of agriculture, attuned to the seasons and cycles of growing and harvesting, which instilled in me the belief that great winemaking is essentially great farming.

     My winemaking philosophy centers on creating balanced, elegant blends with low interference, which aligns well with Cakebread’s own philosophy of balancing tradition with innovation to make great quality wines, so it’s felt like a natural fit since day one.


Dunkley (right): Growing up on a farm in Western Australia, I knew I wanted to be involved in some form of agriculture. When I learned about viticulture and the grapevine growth cycle as part of a high school geography class, it clicked for me. I realized wine was a way I could combine my knack for science with my desire to work creatively and still be connected to the land. From that moment on, I worked in vineyards during school holidays, eventually embarking on a degree in Wine Science through Charles Stuart U. so I could work full time and learn practical winemaking on the job in the cellar and theoretically in textbooks after work and on the weekends. Aspiring to learn as much as possible, I worked under as many different winemakers as I could throughout Australia and internationally in Portugal, Italy, and finally, California. I probably drove them all crazy, asking as many questions as possible. When the opportunity to oversee Bezel Wines came up, it felt like the perfect opportunity to express my winemaking style, which is a blend of new-world, modern innovation and traditional terroir-focused reverence, with wine styles akin to the Napa portfolio but with a Central Coast twist. I was already living in Paso Robles, and Cakebread Cellars wanted to have someone based locally with extensive experience in the region rather than transplanting a Napa winemaker into the Bezel Wines role. This has ensured the success of the Bezel wines in how they have been received in the market and how we, as a business, have operated within the local wine industry. 


Blum: I got into winemaking circuitously while studying abroad in France as an undergraduate., where  I had the opportunity to visit some iconic French producers in Champagne, Bordeaux and the South of France. I really fell in love with the connection between the land and the finished product, as well as the connection to human civilization over millennia. I returned to the US to pursue a Master’s degree in Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis. I’ve been making wine in the Napa and Sonoma regions since 1999 when I was hired by St. Francis Vineyards and Winery, working with its estate and contracted vineyards to craft a range of Sonoma County wines. In my career, I’ve preferred to stay in each of my roles for an extended period of time to really get to know the vineyards and wines. After spending eight years at St. Francis, I went on to make wine at Pride Mountain Vineyards for fifteen years, working with the exceptional fruit from the winery’s beautiful family-owned estate at the top of Spring Mountain. I now consider this the third phase of my career, and I’m excited to make wines for such an interesting brand here at Mullan Road Cellars.



Why does Cakebread Cellars make so many wines rather than concentrate on a few varietals?

Williams: Wine tells a story, and Napa has a vast story to tell as one of the most diverse wine-making regions in terms of terroir. At Cakebread Cellars, our diverse selection of wines showcases that rich variety and complexity, and our estate vineyard collection expands throughout Napa Valley and Anderson Valley, totaling 18 vineyards, using only the most exceptional fruit from those vineyards in our wines. How we make our wines translates into an elegance that gives the wine a sense of place and time and captures the story of that unique terroir. Creating many wines allows us to provide a full picture of our many vineyard acres.


How involved was Dolores Cakebread (right, with Jack Cakebread) back in 1973? When did Julianne Laks come aboard? Stephanie Jacobs?


Williams: Dolores Cakebread was foundational in establishing Cakebread Cellars with her husband, Jack, in 1973. Her involvement contributed to the winery's culinary program, hospitality and overall ethos.   Julianne Laks joined Cakebread in 1988 and became its winemaker in 2002, serving until her retirement in 2017. She was succeeded by Stephanie Jacobs, who was promoted to head winemaker in 2017 after being with the winery since 2004. Both Laks and Jacobs maintained the consistency of Cakebread's wines, each leaving their mark on it.


What is meant by a shift toward single-vineyard wine programs?


Williams: My favorite wines that make my heart skip and stick in my memory are those that create a vivid image of a place; even if you have never been to that actual spot, you can smell and taste that multi-dimensional concept of terroir.


Cakebread has been known for minimal intervention in the production of its wines. What can a winemaker do in the vineyard and winery, and what should she not do?


Williams: As a winemaker, we should pay attention to the vineyard site for an idea of how the fruit will translate into wine and then use a light touch to let that terroir shine through. We should not try to force the fruit to be something it is not. Some wines should be full of subtle layers and nuances and elegantly structured. Others should be rowdy with flavor and aromas and sporting a brawnier build. If you insist the fruit must express something that it naturally is not, you’ll probably interfere too much – like a helicopter parent. 


What are some of the vineyard innovations you’re working on?


Williams: In the vineyard we collaborate closely with the vineyard management team to fine-tune farming practices using the latest and greatest methods to ensure that we are securing the future of our vines for not just the next five years but also the next 50 years. Our innovative practices include transitioning to organic farming practices in our estate vineyards, using compost to improve soil health and beneficial microbes and trialing shade cloth in some hillside blocks that receive a lot of direct sunlight. This helps protect the clusters from sunburn, raisin-ing or cooked flavors. We are also tracking sap flow to help determine when and how much to irrigate to help us save water and improve quality.



Jane, you have been exploring lesser-known regions and new AVAs in Washington State, Paso Robles and Edna Valley. What do you see for the future in those regions?


Dunkley: I  hope that the Bezel wines are a testament to the distinctive terroir and microclimates of California’s Central Coast. We’re so blessed to have such different grape-growing environments between the San Luis Obispo Coast/Edna Valley and Paso Robles, which are genuinely underrated AVAs. The San Luis Obispo Coast AVA is one of the newest and most exciting AVAs in the U.S. It boasts (or whispers) a hyper-cool coastal influence that vacillates between oceanic fog and sun-kissed vineyards, ideal for exploring the vibrant, cool climate expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I am tasting several other wonderful cool climate-suited varieties in the region, especially Albariño, which does well in this very marginal climate. By contrast, Paso Robles has vast clear skies and huge diurnal swings, fostering the development of fruit-forward wines with taught structure and complex aromas. Paso Robles has a lot of well-established sub-AVAs that I’m itching to explore in more detail. We already work with growers from contrasting Paso Robles areas, enabling us to build complexity while staying true to the region. I think Paso Robles truly has something for every type of wine lover, and there are a lot of alternative varieties from the Rhone Valley, Languedoc and Spain here that are resilient to a warming climate, so I think the rest of California will be looking to us for what to plant in the future. 


Blum: I first visited Eastern Washington in 2018 when I was invited to be a speaker at an industry conference and really impressed by the passion of the winemaking community there. While wine production is a relatively recent enterprise in Washington State compared to Europe or even Napa, the quality of the vineyards is impressive. There is a lot we don’t even yet know about where the best sites may be and what grape varieties will do best in those sites, so in that sense, it is an emerging region with tremendous potential. Mullan Road Cellars has been producing wines from Eastern Washington for over a decade. We are excited to be based in a region that has been newly recognized (in 2018) as its own unique sub-AVA, the Royal Slope AVA. Our vineyard sources remain the same, but this new designation allows us to represent the region’s unique microclimates and soils and to truly elucidate what is special about our sites.



"The only obstacle to enjoying a true relationship between humans and animals is about to be overcome. Soon, we will be able to understand what chickens say thanks to a specific artificial intelligence program developed by researchers at the Canadian Dalhousie University."--Gambero Rosso (3/22/24)


 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

   The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a  novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured  favorite. The  story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair. 


“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw

“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.

“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.

“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.

“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.


The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe,  The Modern, and Maialino.



MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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