Fate on the Plate Vincent Sanchez of The Harvest Inn, St. Helena
PERHAPS IT WAS BEING RAISED by loving, hard-working migrant workers who didn’t stand for laziness and didn’t offer handouts that had Executive Chef Vincent Sanchez of Harvest Inn in St. Helena keep listening to his gut. Raised in Gilroy and observing his parents tend farms and work fruit stands, Sanchez grew up with a natural affinity and respect for fruits and vegetables. “We always just had fruits and vegetables in abundance. That was our life. There’s 30 farm stands around Gilroy, but each is unique in their own way. But this is only true if this is your world, your reality. I realized this the first time I took my soon-to-be wife to our family’s fruit stand to get some strawberries. To her, all the fruit stands were the same, but for me, each of them were very different having to do with the hard working people who ran them, their history, and what they sold. This had a big impact on me growing up.” Bussing tables at 13 to make his own spending money, Sanchez, was a self-confessed “trouble maker.” Despite scholarship offers and his mother’s tearful disappointment, Vincent turned his back on college and hit the high road to visit his brother Mateo who was attending culinary schooling in Boston. Vincent shares, “I realized that restaurant kitchens were a place you could always work, no matter your background, and also a place you would always be accepted.” Chef Sanchez’s first bit of luck occurred when the instructors at his brother’s culinary school, a CIA affiliate, took Vincent under their wing to observe classes and even eat with the enrolled students. After moving back to Gilroy, and securing a job at a local steakhouse as a cook, Sanchez
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From L to R: Seared fish and creamed farm greens.
tasted his first dose of kitchen reality. Vincent shares, “I just got my ass kicked up and down by a bunch of Hispanic guys that worked there and were like, ‘This guy’s our supervisor? He’s 20 years old! How is he our boss?’ They were like, ‘We’re gonna throw you on this station.’ And they watched me get my ass handed to me over and over and over.” Having witnessed his brother fall instantly into debt after graduating from culinary school, Vincent took Mateo’s advice and decided to achieve his culinary education by learning while cooking. A colorful journey of experience followed, calling for Chef Sanchez to follow his intuition in regards to his career trajectory. From learning about authentic Italian ingredients and cooking by a master mentor named Lorenza, to opening a restaurant produced by an inexperienced software tycoon, followed by a quick stint cooking at a nudist resort, Vincent found himself cheffing in the corporate world of Marriot. Sanchez offered, “Yeah, that big corporate lifestyle wasn’t feeling like a good fit for me. Just too many rules.” With his sights on working with the top brass in the Bay Area’s illustrious culinary world, Vincent applied for a tremendous amount of high-end, well-reputed venues zoning in on Italian cuisine. This pursuit led him to Acquerel-
lo (now with Two Micheline Stars) in San Francisco, which would become a real game-changer in Chef Sanchez’s career. Vincent shares about the day he got the “big call” by the “whole new fishbowl.” “I think I probably sent my resume to Acquerello seven times. And then finally…it was my day off. I was eating a bowl of Cheerios in my girlfriend’s bed in my underwear. It’s funny because I remember this so acutely. But that was the call. That was the day that changed my life. Chef Suzette Gresham called me, and she just said, ‘Hey Vince, I’d love to get you in here, does tomorrow work?’ I said, ‘Absolutely!’ And before I even got the job, I called the Marriott and said, ‘I don’t think this is going to work out.’ I literally put all my eggs in one basket. Acquerello is where I really cut my teeth in the kitchen. It was hard, but I learned a ton. I eventually became the Sous Chef there. I was just stubborn and willing to work stupid hours. Chef Suzette introduced me to the big leagues, the James Beard awarded, the Michelin starred; folks like, David Kinch, Dominique Crenn, and Ron Boyd. Just so many cool chefs. We’d meet at The Fairmont in San Francisco, wineries in Santa Cruz, etc. I just got stepped up to a whole new bowl of fish. I realized I was just the smallest little fish in this huge pond. So, I just put my head down and worked.”