Chef Chat with a Napa Valley Culinary Master

It’s not every day you can ask one of the most renowned chefs in Napa Valley absolutely anything, but along came this article, and that’s exactly what I got to do.  

Victor Scargle, a California native, is currently the culinary director at Boisset Collection, France’s third-largest wine group and the biggest wine producer in Burgundy. Though he calls Northern California home, his food has been showcased at high-profile events and impressive venues around the world.  

Scargle has worked at revered institutions like Bardessono in Yountville, Calif., Julia’s Kitchen in Napa, Calif., and with James BeardAward-winning Chef Michael Mina. He’s been honored as one of SanFrancisco Chronicle’s “Rising Star Chefs.” He also executed menus for Taste of the NFL events during two Super Bowls. He’s an expert at his craft and the perfect person for a casual chat about what to eat this holiday season. 

Let’s start with a question for the home cook: Sometimes a large, holiday meal can be a little intimidating. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone preparing to make a large family meal? 

The holidays are a time meant to be enjoyed with family and friends. The key to cooking is to choose your menu wisely, with items that can be prepared in advance without sacrificing quality. The second part of it is mise en place, which means putting items in their place. Arranging all your ingredients before you cook makes it easy to execute everything for each dish, because the ingredients are all in one area. 

Photo by Mars Lasar

Speaking of holiday meals, do you cook for your family and if so, what’s on the menu this year? 

I usually try to cook some part of the meal or do carving of the meats. For Thanksgiving, I love to make brioche stuffing and for Christmas, I make my Grandma Scargle’s Yorkshire Pudding. 

Are you noticing any food trends for the holidays? 

Photo by Mars Lasar

The biggest trend in food is about getting back to how our parents and grandparents would cook. Years ago, people cooked based on what was available from their own gardens and farms, and from the gardens and farms of their neighbors. When people who trust each other share food, they know the source of their ingredients and it also ensures seasonality, which means your holiday meals—and all meals—will have the best flavor and quality.   

What made you want to become a chef? 

The reason I got into cooking after high school was because of the feeling I would experience while creating a meal for someone. It was amazing to watch my dish bring a smile to a guest’s face. As as a chef, I always think, ‘How I can give someone an experience they’ve never had before? How can I teach someone about food? How can I provide an escape from the stresses in their lives?’  

Obviously California doesn’t quite get the white Christmas we see in other parts of the country and world. How can a Californian bring the warm, wintry spirit of the holidays to our plates? 

It’s all in the ingredients. We may not have snow inCalifornia but the quality of the ingredients this time of year and the spices used to complement them are some of the best in the world.  

Photo by Mars Lasar

Food, I think, should be fun. What’s really exciting you right now in the culinary world? 

I’m excited about the chefs collaborating for causes. In this day and age with television and the media, chefs who have influence are starting to do some really good things to give back. 

You’ve worked with so many incredible culinary masters. Can you name some chefs who are inspiring you right now? 

Eric Ripert from Le Bernadin has always been an inspiration, his consistency of quality is at such a high level. I am also inspired by Katina and Kyle onnaughton of Single Thread. 

Photo by Mars Lasar

What are some dishes you’re preparing at Boisset Collection that are truly reflective of your culinary style? 

Boisset Collection is a fun collaboration of ideas between Jean Charles, who grew up in Burgundy,France, and me. I grew up in Aptos, Calif. near the epicenter of produce and farming in the United States. Some of the collaborative dishes we’re doing include the skate wing with a sun choke purée in lemon caper brown butter; Raymond Vineyards Estate lamb trio with herbed farro, caramelized carrots and violet mustard jus; and a trio of salads with Estate lettuce, pomegranate dressing, confit baby carrots, Dijon curry, roasted baby beets, shaved Garrotxa cheese and a Banyuls vinaigrette.  

Photo by Mars Lasar

In a sentence, how would you sum up your unique culinary style? 

The ingredients determine the meal! We let the produce decide what we are going to have asa protein. Most menus are written by saying, “We are going to have duck.” Then you’d decide what goes well with the duck. At Boisset Colleciton, we speak with our farmer, Joe Papendick, and walk the garden and see what is ready to harvest. Then we choose a protein to go with those items.  

Photo by Mars Lasar

Name three of your favorite seasonal ingredients you’re using in your holiday menus:

Brioche, lemon thyme and vanilla beans.  

Do you have a New Year’s resolution? And does it have to do with food? 

My New Year’s resolution is to not miss any opportunities. Life is short! When it comes to food, eat and try it all. (Also, exercise to allow for that eating.) 

Chef Scargle’s Butternut Squash Soup 

  • ¾ pound fennel core removed, sliced thin 
  • 1 cup leeks sliced thin 
  • ¾ pound celery sliced thin 
  • 3 & ¾ cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded andsliced thin 
  • 1 & ½ cups white wine 
  • ½ cup pastis (an anise-flavored spirit) 
  • 1 quart heavy cream 
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock 
  • Kosher salt to taste 
  • Black pepper to taste 
  • Grape see oil to taste 

Place the grape seed oil in a rondeau (a shallow, straight-sided pot) on medium heat and add vegetables and salt to draw out the moisture and flavor of the ingredients. Cook over lower heat until tender. Add wine and pastis and reduce by half. Next add vegetable stock and reduce by half again. Add cream and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning throughout the cooking process and taste constantly. Blend the soup in a blender and pass through a medium mesh strainer then cool immediately.