Growing up in Napa Valley, my earliest infatuation with cooking came at age 8, when my mother asked me to help with “Mari’s chocolate cream cheese pie.” I was fascinated with the process, measuring and mixing, and then the delicious result. So much so that I insisted on changing the last letter of my name from “y” to “i”!
But it was the cooking of my two grandmothers, Mary and Laverne, who inspired my cooking, and whose names I share. I would visit the cottage of my grandmother Mary, who would ask me what I wanted to cook. Then together, we would go shop for the ingredients and cook it together. While Mary made family recipes, she explored in her many cookbooks.
My first cooking job came at age 13, flipping hamburgers at St. Helena’s famous Taylor’s Refresher. From that job, I saved up enough to make summer visits to my other grandmother, Laverne, on a bayou south of Houston. She had grown up working on shrimp boats, and cooked very differently from Mary, though both used fresh vegetables and herbs from their gardens.
My innate feel for textures and temperatures has been enhanced and melded in my culinary imagination with these experiences. My enthusiasm for cooking helps me give my clients something unique at each event. Cooking connects me to my many childhood memories and experiences of the gathering of family and friends. The focus was always on the meal and still is.
After a brief stint in New Orleans running the deli of a famous wine shop, I returned to Napa Valley and began cooking in our emerging restaurant scene. Here’s a partial list of where I’ve cooked:
- Mustards Grill
- Table 29
- Bistro Don Giovanni (original Chef de Cuisine)
- Scala’s Bistro, San Francisco (original Chef de Cuisine)
- Gordon’s Café (10 years Executive Chef)
- Foothill Café (Chef-Owner)
- Dean & DeLuca & Oakville Grocery (Executive Catering Chef)
- The Model Bakery
- Silverado Cooking School
I live in the Napa Valley with my winemaker husband, Michael Havens, and I talk every day to my daughter, Alex, about what we found at the market and are cooking. I wake up every morning grateful for my life, and my next thought is, “What’s for dinner?”