Entries in ‘California’ Journal

Review: Napa Cooking School

Friday February 20, 2015 at 6:06 AM | 0 Comments

When my husband and I married, nearly 30 years ago, our videographer asked a close friend of ours to share a word of advice to the new bride and groom. “Don’t cook together,” she said with a laugh. She knew both of us too well.

Silverado Cooking School, produce

Fresh fruit and vegetables play a key role in cooking classes. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


Today, neither my husband or I are comfortable in the kitchen. I prefer to make reservations rather than follow a recipe and my husband will always opt for the backyard barbeque over the stove. Yet, after a morning spent in Napa at Silverado Cooking School, my culinary skills moved up a notch.

Chef Malcolm de Sieyes learned to cook at the tender age of five. As a dual citizen of France and the United States, de Sieyes blended the best of both places. “California is the closest place you can get that is similar to Europe,” notes de Sieyes.

Malcolm de Sieyes, Liam Mayclem

Chef Malcolm de Sieyes with Liam Mayclem. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


“Good food doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive,” said de Sieyes. “I want people to feel comfortable in the kitchen. We’re not like a restaurant. We’re a commercially licensed kitchen, but I wanted this to be a very friendly place. I tried to create a space that was warm and inviting.”



His hands-on cooking classes are geared to the home cook with a typical class lasting four hours, resulting in a four-course meal. From Fortune 500 companies looking for a team-building activity to girlfriend getaways, or wedding party bonding, Silverado Cooking School is a unique way to spend time in the Napa Valley other than wine tasting. That’s not to say that wine (or beer) is not served throughout the class. Chef Malcolm and his crew aim to please and teach students a lesson, or two.

chicken soup, Silverado Cooking School

Winter wilted greens, potato and chicken soup. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Sample class menu

Our lunch menu consisted of winter wilted greens, potato and chicken soup, Santa Maria tri tip, salt-roasted carrots and turnips, sauteed wild mushrooms with creamy polenta and warm Meyer lemon pudding cake with blood orange sorbet for dessert. Our group of eight students divided into teams to prepare each course. I volunteered to chop the root vegetables and add them to a bed of salt. Not only did this dish make for a pretty presentation, it was very friendly to those watching their caloric intake.
Spectacular proteins paired with fresh produce is the goal for Chef Malcolm de Sieyes. The majority of the produce comes from his two acre farm, augmented with produce from Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa.

Classes range from 1-12 people with $1,500. renting the kitchen and crew. For groups of 12-24 people the cost is $95. per person.

Silverado Cooking School

Lunch is served at Silverado Cooking School. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Insider Tip
As a newbie cook, I am sorely lacking in knife skills. Some of you might be familiar with “the claw.” Keep a half open fist when you hold an item to be diced or sliced. This hand position will protect your fingers from getting cut on the hand that is opposite a very sharp knife.

Have you ever taken a cooking class? What are your insider tips to share when it comes to the kitchen?

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and Silverado Cooking School on Facebook.

Silverado Cooking School

Cooking in wine country. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

If You Go:
Silverado Cooking School (707) 927-3591
1552 Silverado Trail
Napa, California 94559

Article written by, photos and video courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Silverado Cooking School while researching this article. All opinions are my own.

Olive Oil Tasting in Suisun Valley

Friday February 13, 2015 at 6:06 AM | 4 Comments

Ann Sievers wears many hats. While her former life had her feet firmly planted in the health care industry taking care of patients, she now plants her hands and feet in the olive groves, citrus trees and vegetable gardens that she oversees in Suisun Valley.

When asked her official title at Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company, Sievers replied with a smile, “I consider myself a grower, miller, weeder, chef and fork lift driver.” “She loves driving the fork lift,” added husband Mark.

Ann Fiorello Sievers, Mark Sievers, Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company

Il Fiorello Owners Ann and Mark Sievers. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown



The couple have been making olive oil for 10-11 years in Fairfield, California. They bought the property and planted 2,000 olive trees eight years ago. Growing 13 different olive varieties, the trees range from Italian, Greek, French and Spanish. Ten Mission olive trees grace the front entrance of Il Firoello in a nod to California’s adaptation of the olive, developed by Spanish Missions along the El Camino Real during the late 1700’s.

Not one to stray far from her Italian heritage, Ann Fiorello Sievers named the olive oil company Il Fiorello, translating to little flower in Italian, named after the tiny white blossoms on an olive tree.

Il Fiorello

Light fixtures made from olive baskets. Photo © 2015 Jane Reid

Beyond bread and salad

Living in Northern California, I’ve gone wine tasting on numerous occasions, but olive oil tasting was new for me. It turns out that I had a lot to learn about this liquid gold.

“We give people suggestions on how to use olive oil beyond bread and salad,” says Ann. “I want people to make sure they are buying certified extra virgin olive oil in California.”


Il Fiorello tasting room

Olive oil & balsamic vinegar tasting. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

How to taste olive oil
Unlike swirl, sniff and spit, olive oil watch words are color, mouth feel and taste.
Warm a small tumbler of extra virgin olive oil (evoo) with the heat from your hand, cover the container with your hand and then release the aroma – smell the beautiful aroma.
Swirl and spray the evoo in your mouth.
Taste the flavor – assess the oil.
The aroma, bitterness and pungency should be balanced. Il Fiorello includes harvest and mill dates on their bottles. Depending on the variety, most olive oils are at their peak when they are young. The family-owned company also makes balsamic vinegars – in this case, the more aged the vinegar, the better.
The company offers oil tasting flights (for a fee) and full tasting flights of olive oils, balsamic vinegars and wines (for a fee) in the visitor center. Additionally, Il Firoello Olive Oil Company offers cooking classes. I attended the pasta making class with Executive Chef Marvin Martin and left with a full tummy and inspiring recipes that even the non-cook (that’s me) can re-create. Check the website for details.
wheel, Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company

Grinding wheel from Italy. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Insider Tip
Olive oil is a fruit juice; the fresher the better. This product is meant to be enjoyed when it is young and fresh. Store your olive oil in a dark bottle in a cool pantry, away from sunlight. Remember, heat and sunlight are the enemies of olive oil.

Have you gone olive oil tasting in Suisun Valley or anywhere else? Do you prefer a blended olive oil or single varietal?

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and Il Fiorello @ilfiorello.

Il Fiorello, olive trees

Olive trees in Suisun Valley, California. Photo © 2015 Jane Reid

If You Go:
Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company (707) 864-1529
2625 Mankas Corner Road
Fairfield, California 94534
Article written by, photos and video courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. Il Fiorello sign and bottom photo courtesy Jane Reid. Disclosure: I was a guest of Il Fiorello’s cooking class. All opinions are my own.

Travel and Adventure Show 2015

Wednesday February 11, 2015 at 6:06 AM | 0 Comments

Now in its fifth year, the Bay Area Travel and Adventure Show attracts people from around the greater San Francisco Bay Area. This was my first time attending the two-day show. With over 500 exhibitors, the Santa Clara Convention Center was buzzing with travel enthusiasts learning the latest travel trends and destinations and shopping for travel apparel. Here are five things that I learned at the Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show.


Winery San Francisco, wine, travel & adventure show

My custom blend from Winery San Francisco. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


I. Wine tasting on San Francisco’s Treasure Island
Did you know that you can go wine tasting on Treasure Island? The Winery San Francisco offers California wines paired with some of the Bay Area’s best water views. I had the pleasure of creating my own custom wine blend using three varietal wines (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) on tap at the travel show. Guests 21 and older were offered a special wine pairing and tasting session (for an additional fee.)

bay area travel show

Bay Area Travel Show. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


2. Travel experts share their secrets
Travel experts such as Samantha Brown, Rick Steves and Peter Greenberg share how travel has changed, smart European travel tips and what the airlines don’t want you to know. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for snapping the ultimate travel selfie at the show without setting foot at the airport.
3. Travel apparel
If you travel as often as I do, you become an expert at how to pack light. With 18 tech-ready pockets, I’m a fan of the Scottevest for my equestrian travel. A new find for me this year was Clothing Arts and their Pick Pocket Proof Pants. Founded by Adam Rapp, the clothing company offers more items for men than women, but he’s working on introducing clothing beyond the women’s travel pants. Stay tuned.

"Safari Endeavour" Alaska

Safari Endeavour for the noncruiser. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


4. Crusing
Alaska cruises are still on the hot list for 2015, but have you considered a cruise in Costa Rica, Panama or the Galapagos? Closer to home, UnCruise Adventures offers “edutainment” cruises with crew dressed in period costume on the Columbia and Snake River.
5. Exploring California
Living in California, we don’t have to travel far to experience something new. This year I look forward to exploring Amador, Calaveras and El Dorado counties, in addition to a stay at The Heritage House in Mendocino county. Where will your travels take you?

Korea tourism, travel & adventure show

Meeting new friends from Korea.


Insider Tip:

travel channel, San Francisco travel showTravel & Adventure Show app
The Travel & Adventure Show offers a free downloadable app. TAS Trip Finder features a schedule of events, floor plan, exhibitor list, social news and all the information a person needs to keep organized during the show.

If You Go:
Travel & Adventure Show http://www.travelshows.com/sanfrancisco
Santa Clara Convention Center
5001 Great America Parkway
Santa Clara, California 95054