Entries in ‘Wine Country’ 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.

Napa Valley Boutique Hotel

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

A Napa Valley retreat for the senses, Senza ignites your sight, smell, touch and taste experiences. Situated in the heart of Northern California wine country, between downtown Napa and Yountville, this boutique hotel is a retreat for the mind, body and soul.

Senza, hotel, Napa, California

Entrance to Senza. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Owner Ann Hall’s sense of whimsy comes forth with Monarch butterflies suspended in the air, moved by soft Napa Valley breezes. Icelandic statues stand guard in the front of the luxury Senza hotel, welcoming guests to step inside the modern 41 room compound, while an installation of tiny blue butterflies swarm like bees to a hive up the staircase in Senza hotel.

Parker Mansion, Senza, Napa, California

Parker Mansion photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

The hotel grounds are divided into five separate buildings; the Parker Mansion dating back to 1870 houses eight rooms, the Senza House includes 12 rooms, in addition to the dining room, reception and lobby, the Hall Building is home to 10 rooms, the Walt Building holds eight rooms and the Cellar House features three rooms. There is also a heated swimming pool with cabanas, separate hot tub, conference room, fitness center (open 24/7) and spa facilities.
pool, Senza hotel, Napa, California

Relax in the pool and hot tub. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

After I dropped my bag in the Cellar House king room, I stepped outside on the communal deck to take in the vineyard view and water tower. The two acre property includes pine and redwood trees, in addition to vineyards. No surprise there, as the Hall family is a well-known player when it comes to Napa Valley wines. Tastings may be arranged by appointment only at the exclusive Hall-Rutherford Vineyard, while tasting is open daily at the Hall-St. Helena Winery. Hat tip to the family for offering a nightly wine and cheese tasting hour at Senza that includes a nice selection of neighboring vintners. During my mid-week visit, St. Supery was pouring their 2012 Napa Valley Estate Élu, a Bordeaux blend retailing for $75. that Robert Parker rated very highly – if points are how you select your wines. Personally, I chose my wines like my hotel beds, if it makes me feel good, I like it.
Senza hotel, Napa, California

Vineyard views from the deck. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

wine & cheese tasting, Senza, Napa, California

Nightly wine & cheese tasting. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

On that note, my Cellar king room #16 was very spacious and light-filled with a kitchenette, fridge & microwave oven. All hotel rooms come with a gas fireplace and generous sized walk-in shower. If you prefer a wood burning fireplace, you’ll want to stay in the Parker Mansion. Rooms come with robes, slippers to take home, free wifi, two bottles of water and a small bottle of Senza lavender mist to spray on your pillow for guaranteed sweet dreams.
Senza, hotel room, Napa, California

Cellar House king room. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Continental breakfast served from 7:30-10 a.m. includes fresh juice, coffee, tea or espresso, yogurt, fruit, cheeses and pastries from nearby Bouchon Bakery in Yountville – yum! Whether you’re headed downtown to do Napa like a local, or looking for things to see and do in Calistoga – up valley, be sure to take time to stop and smell the roses. Afterall, Senza is all about creating an experience that stirs your passions while blending big city sophistication with wine country charm.
Senza dining room, Napa, California

Breakfast is served. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Insider Tip
Ask about the California resident rate during the off season. Shhh! It’s like the secret menu at In-N-Out Burger, only better. For additional insider tips follow Northern California Travel Writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter and @SenzaHotelNapa.

Monarch butterfly, Senza, Napa, California

Monarch butterfly photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Check-In Time: 3:00pm

Check-Out Time: 11:00am

If You Go:
Senza (707) 253-0337
4066 Howard Lane
Napa, California 94558

Hotel review, video and photos courtesy of Lodging Editor Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of Senza while researching an article for another publication.