The Red Grape in Sonoma is more than just a place for pizza. Although it’s everyone’s favorite food. Executive Chef Todd Thompson rolls out, tosses and tops Sonoma’s best slice of pie at The Red Grape. However, Thompson’s menu diversity and the way he rolls out specials that compliment The Grape’s menu is an art in itself. Try the Pork Belly. Or his Eggplant Meatballs. Great dishes that easily could appear on top end Bistro menus. Thompson got his “farm to fork” bonafides while working at Tierra Vegetables in Santa Rosa, and sharpened his skills in restaurants owned by Matt Spector and Michael Chiarello. Thompson reflects on franken-salmon, the importance of a good knife and balancing menus while balancing romance.
What is your idea of a perfect meal?
I would easily defend that sharing a bunch of spicy as hell tacos at the end of a rough shift with a group of guys from all walks of life is the “perfect meal”.
What recipe still gives you goosebumps?
Strudel. My family has a percent of German descent. There is a dish we used to get on our birthdays every year as a kid. The way we had it, was as a savory dish.
What cooking personality, living or dead do you most admire?
Eric Ripert. He has such tranquility about how he manages his life, I can tell he has done a great job at balance in his life and often, as chefs, we tend to forget about healthy life balance.
What’s a style of cooking foreign to you that you wish you had down pat?
I think I wouldn’t mind picking up the dance that goes along with teppanyaki. Sounds like a cool party trick.
Which ingredients do you find yourself using the most?
Truthfully, flour, and butter. The possibilities are endless. I have started working more with freshly ground flours and different grain flours such as quinoa, sprouted wheat, and farina.
What was your biggest culinary disaster?
I worked helping a friend who owns a catering company during passport weekend in Healdsburg, CA. We cooked for 9000 people that weekend. When I got there, the fryer I was sent with did not have the correct connection and wouldn’t work…somehow I had to make everything work out of these soup holders/warmers and it was a nightmare. Guests didn’t know any of this happened and were thrilled.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi. What food do you dream of?
I tend to dream of whatever I happen to be working on at the time, typically what problem I need to solve. Sometimes it isn’t a nightmare.
What’s your most treasured kitchen tool?
A knife with a fresh razor sharp edge is pretty hard to beat. Gliding through food without any resistant is nothing short of an indulgence in titillation.
If you weren’t a chef, what other occupation could you see yourself excelling in?
Music production would probably be the route I would pursue. If I am passionate about something I tend to excel in it.
Mario Batali has clogs. What’s your most marked characteristic?
Probably the pin-stripe chefs coat. I worked in sales during a 5-month hiatus during a period of culinary burnout after leaving Micheal Chiarello’s Bottega and wore a suit every day. I liked that discipline and carried a bit of that look back into the kitchen.
What food do you hold in the lowest of regards?
Genetically Modified Salmon. The FDA just approved this for human consumption and it is scary to think that that has opened the door to patent not only plants, but living creatures as well.
What is the quality you most like in a chef?
What is the quality you most like in a diner?
Chef Boyardee or Colonel Sanders?
Chef Boyardee…He was quite the chef back in the day from what I hear. Though it does delight me to hear from people that if Colonel Sanders was alive today, and he walked into a KFC the way they are no, he would completely loose it over the lack of standards and scream.
Who or what inspires you?
I am pretty inspired by Evelyn Cheatnam. She runs a program called Worth Our Weight in Santa Rosa for underprivileged kids. I find myself trying to assist young cooks I run into, to get on their feet in whatever capacities I can.
How do you take your coffee?
What food trend drives you batty?
Cake pops. Why squeeze cake into a terrible little ball like that. And why did that get popular?
In-N-Out or Five Guys?
Could you “beat” Bobby Flay?
I would take a crack at it if I got the chance.
Do you prescribe to any kitchen superstitions?
I certainly prescribe to “treat it like its yours and one day it will be.”
What’s a childhood dish you loved that still sticks with you?
Eggs in a hole.
Biggest cooking fear?
Miscounting portions for a large party.
What do you cook on your off days?
Chilaquiles. If my girlfriend gets her way, it’s chicken piccata.
Go-to guilty pleasure food?
If you ate some poorly prepared blowfish sashimi and passed, what person or thing would you like to come back as?
The master of that Itamae.
What is your catchphrase?
“Treat it like your girlfriend…finesse it.”