Chef Charlie Palmer is known coast-to-coast for founding and leading elite dining experiences. From Charlie Palmer at the Knick in Midtown Manhattan to Aureole in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay to Hotel Healdsburg in Sonoma, Calif., Palmer is synonymous with fine, freshly sourced meat and fish in an ambiance of low-key foodie indulgence.
His most recent dining destination is Wing and Barrel Ranch, a private club in California Wine Country limited to 400 members. Offering a luxury take on a rugged, outdoorsy lifestyle, the well-heeled can enjoy a mix of hunting, fishing, shooting, and hiking before taking in a menu of field-to-table cuisine from founder Palmer. (Wing and Barrel has been open and operating within the state’s regulations and restrictions.)
We pulled the 61-year-old James Beard Award-winning chef out of the kitchen to find out about this newest property and to discover what brought him to the top of the culinary world.
PENTA : Wing and Barrel Ranch feels like a big departure for you. What brought you to the wild outdoors?
Charlie Palmer: I’m one of the founding members with a bunch of great people who enjoy sporting. While it’s a personal project of mine, I involve my whole team. We have one of the most dynamic locations imaginable—about 900 acres now. It’s just been surreal.
A more outdoor-themed property allows me to get further involved with outdoor cooking. I’ve worked with Remington in the past on an outdoor and game cookbook. I’ve had a lifelong passion for being outdoors—hunting and fishing. We’ll provide a complete outdoor experience for our members with wine pairing, preparing that day’s catch, enjoying the sport and enjoying the cooking afterward.
How closely involved are you in the daily setup and operation of a restaurant?
A lot of our success depends on our team of people, of chefs and hospitality entrepreneurs. My job is to get involved in operations. The team jokes that I haven’t been in the office in 18 months, but my office is in the kitchens and the dining rooms, making sure what we’re all doing is a real passion.
Besides cooking, what do you excel at?
I hope it’s being a husband and a father to our four sons, Courtland , Randall , Eric , and Reed .
What would you have dedicated your life to if cooking didn't work out?
I’m pretty good with a knife, so I always thought I’d make a great surgeon. I have friends that are doctors who say I’m crazy.
Who was the first person you ever remember admiring who was not related to you?
When I was at Sherburne-Earlville High School in New York state, I had a home economics teacher named Sharon Crain . She helped introduce me to the kitchen, showed me the basics and helped to inspire me to be a chef. I’ll always be grateful to her.
What is the most interesting city you’ve visited?
I was just in Lisbon, Portugal. I hadn’t been there in 20 years. I was really infatuated with what’s going on there from a food and cultural standpoint. I know I’ve really enjoyed a city when I realize I really want to go back.