I often write about the transformative power of food. In the hands of the right chef, a particular combination of ingredients can be blended together into a dish whose flavors will captivate the imagination and delight the palate. When one experiences these dishes in the proper environment, and if one is surrounded by the right company, the exploration of food can be the perfect recipe for a lasting memory, a snapshot of life as vivid and compelling as any one of the photos in a treasured scrapbook. The act of collectively experiencing good food appeals to several senses at a time and as such can be re-experienced over a lifetime, as the sight, taste, smell or touch of a particular meal is reimagined and re-experienced again and again. Food is tangible in a way that an image cannot be, and as such is laden with the potential to transport us back to a moment in time more effectively.
JESSE MALGREN, CHEF
The ability of to create dishes that convey their point of view is a gift that only a few great chefs possess. It goes beyond good cooking to an understanding of the experience of eating— both it’s cultural significance and the ability of food to captivate the human imagination. It conveys an understanding that food is more than nourishment, it is meant to be an expression of who we are. Jesse Malgren is a such a chef. A man whose goals in feeding his patrons expand well beyond the simple act of eating to sustain life. A man whose talents elevate his meals into a realm that nurtures the diner to a vibrant, interactive, and ultimately memorable, collective dining experience.
Jesse’s talents are formidable. He is that rare breed of chef that understands the subtler language of food, particularly in his masterful use of fresh seasonal ingredients. Madrona possesses a magnificent garden and Jesse is has a profound understanding of how best to use this produce as it matures. From earth to table, he transforms the voice of the harvest into a song; he is a chef who truly allows the flavors of the food he prepares to shine through. Jesse Malgren is the consummate garden-whisperer.
It is fortunate for his patrons that the setting in which one is able to consume these magnificent dishes is equal to his culinary acumen. Built in 1881 as a family home, Madrona Manor is a lovely echo of our collective history. Architecturally stunning, Madrona stands preserved as an homage to the past and appointed with the loveliest of antiques, the Manor hearkens to the past, while managing to serve food that speaks of the future. Dishes arrive in presentations as crisp and modern as any that might be acquired in the sleekest kitchens of Madrona’s more modern culinary compatriates. Transformed by owners Trudi and Bill Konrad, at the urging of their children, Madrona has been turned into an Inn as well as Michelin-starred restaurant, with 5 suites among the 22 rooms available to its overnight guests.
Recently I was a holiday guest of the owners, invited to partake in a magnificent five-course meal amid the enchanting decorations of the Manor at Yuletide. The diners were serenaded by the talents of the Twelfth Night Singers, a group of local troubadours with remarkable talent in harmony. They appear throughout the evening— as if by magic— characters conjured from of the pages of a Dickens novel, their voices angelic as they performed familiar carols along with traditionals almost as old as the holiday itself.
Madrona reinvents herself with the calendar, presenting a face that beautifully reflects the changes in climate and feel of each season. I have seen it in full blush of summer, dining on fresh stone fruit and lovely morsels of delicate roasted chicken. I have seen it in the chill of a California winter (such as they are) while enjoying the rich flavors of avocado and the decadence of perfectly prepared beef.
The meal we had on the occasion of this particular Dickens Dinner was imaginative and delicious. It was also impressive in its undertaking, as the meal is done in a single seating, each course coming out flawlessly timed to the songs of the Twelfth Night. With each course came the lovely wine pairings of Drea White, Madrona’s talented sommelier. The meal was perfection, as each course outsung the last. It was a spectacular event, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of a favorite song:
“A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there’s a legal limit to the snow here
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
Madrona is indeed a magical venue. Equal parts wine country scenery, Disneyland showmanship and culinary genius, all come together to create a venue where one can achieve a welcoming respite from a cold Winter’s night or the perfect setting for a romantic evening. In summer the grounds transform to a spectacularly blissful paradise that would be the perfect venue for an intimate summer wedding. If you are planning your own nuptials, it’s worth a look. If not, make a reservation and spend a night within its walls. Dine at Jesse’s table. Treat yourself. Life is short, make a memory worth treasuring.
1001 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448