Tuesdays with Tastemakers – Dustin Valette
Chef Valette honed his craft in some of the most celebrated restaurants on the West Coast, including the Michelin-starred Aqua in San Francisco, and Napa Valley’s Bouchon. Additional credits include Hokus at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Honolulu, a five-star, five-diamond property; the exclusive North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, California; and VOX Restaurant & Wine Lounge in Henderson, Nevada. For the past 6 years Chef Valette has been the Executive Chef of Dry Creek Kitchen, a Charlie Palmer restaurant in downtown Healdsburg. The Chef gathered great acclaim for the strong relationships he cultivated with local farmers and purveyors in order to provide the restaurant with the Sonoma County’s freshest and most unique ingredients. Chef Valette was celebrated at Dry Creek Kitchen for his exceptional ability to pair some of the country’s best wines with his intense, flavorful, and dynamic cuisine.
Originally from Sonoma County, Chef Dustin Valette is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He currently resides with his wife Johanna, their first child Charlotte and their two dogs, in Downtown Healdsburg a block away from his restaurant.
Why did you become a chef?
I always wanted to recreate the memories from childhood and our entire family would sit around the dining room table having dinner together; those are my fondest memories and something I strive to recreate for our guests here at Valette!
If you weren’t a chef what would you be and why?
Winemaker! I love harvesting something from nature, using my hands to re-shape it and sharing it with friends…Oh, and I love wine!
What is your greatest strength as a chef?
The ability to see flavors as three dimensional objects and move them around like a chess game to create a flavor profile.
What is your biggest weakness as a chef?
What’s the one mistake you made in the kitchen that you would never repeat?
In 2000 while working at Bouchon I over seasoned a sauce and didn’t taste it, with a stern “enlightenment” from my chef. I’ve never sent out a dish without tasting it since.
What is your proudest achievement?
My family (My wife, Johanna, who I’ve been married to for 8 years, and my daughters Charlotte and Adeline), my restaurant, and having the ability work with my family daily while doing what I love!
What was your scariest kitchen experience to date?
Still waiting for it…though living though some fires, earthquakes and explosions are a good start.
What is your favorite word or saying?
Don’t ask “How?”, ask “Why?”, it summarizes us as an advanced civilization and as cooks who want to always improve themselves.
What is your most prized possession?
The Silver Spoon that I was given by Thomas Keller in 2001.
What’s the oddest thing about you?
I don’t sleep more than 5 hours.
What is your favorite memory?
The birth of my two children.
Which of the five senses is your strongest?
What is your biggest motivation?
Always wanting to improve whatever it is I’m doing. Charcuterie, making a dish, just not taking the shortcut but instead always striving to make it better.
What one food group would choose to be stranded with on a deserted island?
Cheese! I would have all the fish I would need, though I couldn’t live without cheese.
What is the difference between a good and great meal?
Does it leave a lasting impression? When you think back on the meal, do you remember every bite with clarity or was just “good;” that to me is what we’re trying to achieve here at Valette, the creation of memories!
Name three individuals you would like to have dinner with.
Escoffier, Keller & Hawkins.
Who is your kitchen hero or mentor?
What does the concept of “balanced meal” mean to you?
Acidity and fat; softness and crunch; tannic wine and charred steak; The yin and yang of food, everything working in perfect harmony to elevate the dining experience.
What is the one thing you want people to remember about your food?
That it gives a sense of place.
Best comment made about your food?
“The new standard for fine dining in the wine county.”