Cinema Inspires Chefs at Variety’s Food to Table Event at Napa Valley Film Festival

The Variety Film to Table event at the Napa Valley Film Festival on Nov. 14 showcases some of the best chefs in the region, and their dishes that have been inspired by films.

Mark Caldwell

DISH: Tiger prawn noodle salad, pickled carrots, sesame-ginger vinaigrette

Executive chef Caldwell creates dishes at David Estates winery, where his food complements and illuminates the wines on offer. The San Francisco Bay Area’s passion for food was sparked at a young age when he cooked and enjoyed food with his siblings. His film inspiration is Netflix’s 2019 hit “Always Be My Maybe,” which is a romantic comedy that follows an Asian-American chef whose passion for cooking is ignited as a grade-schooler by her best friend’s Korean mom. “I chose ‘Always Be My Maybe,’ as I had just recently saw the movie. I was toying with the recipe idea at work but was not sure which direction I wanted to go in. After seeing the movie I was inspired to put an Asian flavor to my recipe,” he says.

Tod Kawachi

DISH: St. Supery garden squash vadouvan curry

Veteran chef Kawachi, whose early food education came from enjoying the multicultural cuisine of his native Seattle, oversees the estate culinary program at St. Supéry Estate Vineyards and Winery. At the winery, he develops dishes that pair with the wines, but in surprising ways. His film inspiration, “The 100-Foot Journey,” is a film about bridging differences — cultural, linguistic, ideological — with food. “This is one of my favorite food movies since it shows two global cuisines, both classic French and Indian, and expresses a chef’s passion and the pursuit of excellence” through the awarding of Michelin stars,” Kawachi says. “I can really relate to the blending of ingredients and cuisine styles. The ‘journey’ is a great lesson which makes for a very entertaining movie.” Indeed, “My dish is a melding of Indian flavors fused with French influence and technique utilizing our garden produce very much like the dishes created in the movie.”

Christopher Kennedy

DISH: Fresh pulled mozzarella “balloon” with Trefethen Estate beets and fennel

Southern California native Kennedy began his career in Oklahoma City, and he worked in top eateries in Chicago and San Francisco before settling down in the Napa region. He became the chef at winery Trefethen Family Vineyards in 2017. Kennedy’s dish is a playful take on his film inspiration, Disney’s animated “Up,” which famously features balloons as a form of transportation. “I have three young children so Disney gets a lot of airtime at my house. I chose the film ‘Up’ because it is a story of honesty and integrity. Both are motivating factors for me in my food. It is an emotional story of mortality and a struggle to prioritize that ends with whimsy and a sense of adventure.” He promises that “when presented, our dish will resemble a bouquet of balloons.”

Rafael Molina

DISH: Braised crocodile vol-au-vent with apple spuma and floral garnishes

Executive chef Molina is behind all the lunches, dinners and special events that unfold at the Boisset Collection’s Napa and Sonoma properties (Raymond, Buena Vista, De Loach, JCB). The self-taught chef has a passion for baking, with favorites being brioche and French bread. His inspiration is 2003’s live-action “Peter Pan,” in which the pesky crocodile meets its ultimate end as vol-au-vent “stuffing.” Molina recently completed a 12-city tour across the country with the Boisset Culinary team re-creating Jean-Charles Boisset’s’ “Last Supper,” a sensory dining experience inspired by his ultimate last supper menu. “I’ve always felt that cooking is like playing – it’s so creative and fun. Like Peter Pan, I love to live a life full of fun and playfulness. The main focus of this dish is the crocodile which is well known in the film and the garnishes are a bit like colorful confetti to make it pop,” he says.

Dominic Orsini

DISH: Aged gouda cheese doughnut with ancho chili and guava jelly

Orsini, Napa Valley’s Silver Oak Cellars first winery chef, digs deep into the terroir for his style of cuisine, using vine cuttings to smoke meats, cover crops to make pesto and Cabernet to make pate de fruit. “My movie inspiration is the jelly doughnut scene from the movie ‘Full Metal Jacket.’  … It’s a dark and disturbing view of Marine life in the Vietnam era. In the movie there’s a famous scene when Sergeant Hartman, played by the late Lee Ermey, is inspecting the barracks. He notices that the footlocker of Pvt. Gomer Pyle, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, is unlocked. This is against the rules, so Sergeant Hartman begins searching the footlocker and discovers a half-eaten jelly doughnut. A funny, albeit disturbing, exchange ensues. Private Pyle couldn’t resist the jelly doughnuts in the mess hall and the Napa Film Festival guest will not be able to resist my aged gouda cheese doughnut with ancho chili and guava jelly.”

Jeffrey Russell

DISH: Fried Green Tomato B.L.T.

Louis M. Martini Winery executive chef Russell spent 11 years working for the legendary Charlie Palmer and his restaurant group. But the chef harkens back to his childhood in upstate New York, where he recollects harvesting tomatoes from the family garden, with his dish inspired by the 1991 homespun comedy hit “Fried Green Tomatoes.” “I was probably around 8 years old when I started cooking for myself. I’d have these great meals with garlic butter pasta and everyone would look at my plate and say, ‘What the heck? How does he get to eat that?,’” he says. The Martini Winery’s cutting-edge culinary program fits Russell’s progressive Californian cuisine that expands the pairing possibilities of Martini’s acclaimed cabernet sauvignon-led collection. “I’m looking forward to changing up the menu every six weeks and keeping it fresh and fun while focused on cuisine that highlights our world-class portfolio.”

Joshua Schwartz

Dishes: Truffle Shuffle: toasted focaccia, whipped brie and white truffle

Baby Ruth: dark chocolate bon bon with peanuts, caramel and milk chocolate ganache

The executive chef at Piazza Del Dotto Winery & Caves, Schwartz has an impressive resume, having worked at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon, and David Bouley’s Bouley. With such a serious food background, his pick of 1985 classic comedy “The Goonies” shows his playful side. “ ‘Truffle shuffle’ is the classic scene from the movie … this event happens to fall during truffle season, so we are gonna literally ‘truffle shuffle,’ not shake our bellies … unless you want!!!? The Baby Ruth is the iconic candy bar that Sloth loved, so we are gonna add a sweet bite that represents our chosen movie.”

Tony Spleen

Dish: Lobster mac ‘n’ cheese bites topped with Béchamel and buttered lobster

Spleen’s Dry Creek Ranch produces organic olive oil and honey; it’s also where he grows much of the produce he uses in his cooking. Spleen has been passionate about food since the age of 13, when he began honing his butchery skills. His film inspiration is 1989’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.” “As disturbing as this film is to some, it is also a ‘parade of sumptuous images’ … what many people today would call ‘food porn.’  The kitchen scenes are exquisite … visually stunning.  The food is opulent and decadent … a great inspiration for combining two wickedly delicious foods: buttered lobster and macaroni and cheese.”


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