Can Travel Inspire Hyper-Local Cuisine?

At The Charter Oak, a well-traveled chef prepares food that’s deeply rooted in the Napa Valley.

Can Travel Inspire Hyper-Local Cuisine?

Vegetables from The Charter Oak’s garden

The Charter Oak, Photography by Kelly Puleio

There are few restaurant openings more exciting this summer than The Charter Oak in St. Helena, a town in the Napa Valley. It officially opened for service on Monday, June 5. The restaurant is focusing on hyper-local cuisine, both in its ingredient sourcing and its concept.

However, its chef, Katianna Hong, recently returned from a series of international trips, bringing home inspiration from the food culture of each place she visited. This begs the question: Can a restaurant focused on local cuisine and ingredients be inspired by travel? You bet. We spoke with chef Hong about a few key items you might see on the menu and her recent trips around the globe.

Katianna Hong

“Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to travel across the country as well as internationally for both leisure and work, including trips to Rome, London, Copenhagen, Bangkok, New York, Chicago, Charleston, Mexico, and New Orleans. Travel always inspires how I view the place in which we cook. At The Charter Oak, our menu will be composed of a multitude of dishes, all thoughtfully crafted with hyper-local ingredients and inspiration from the Napa Valley. We’re working with some great farmers and purveyors—including a very special garden of our own—to source only the best of ingredients in an effort to highlight this beautiful place we call home. Below is just a glimpse into some of the dishes we may include on our Charter Oak menu:”

Charter Oak Bread

“We’ll offer fresh bread, baked daily, served alongside our own cultured butter. Some of the most seemingly simple dishes I tried throughout Europe had the largest impact on me—the smell of fresh bread evokes a sense of nostalgia from your travels. We’ll offer small and large servings for the table and will offer bread to go.”

Leftover Bread Pieces & Ends

“I found that almost every place I traveled to utilized leftover portions of bread and vegetables in the local cooking to create something new and exciting. At The Charter Oak, we’ll bake chicken thighs in cast iron over the leftover bread. The bottom of the bread that is touching the cast iron will crisp from the chicken renderings, and the bread surface that touches the actual chicken soaks up its juices.

Tartine of Green Garlic, Lardo, and Peas

“Served on Charter Oak Bread (grilled lightly on our open fire hearth), we’ll incorporate several seasonal ingredients from our garden to top things off. With spring in full swing, we’ll offer peas and green garlic. We’re very lucky to have a beautiful garden, which inspires us daily. A lot of the places I visited while traveling embraced this mindset of shopping locally for produce and ingredients, including a beautiful indoor market in Copenhagen.”

Salad of Broccolis, Chois, Puffed Grains, Ricotta

“We’re very fortunate to be surrounded by so many wonderful farms and purveyors, so it’s only natural for us to feature a dish that incorporates it all. With produce from our garden and local grains, we’ll include fresh buffalo milk ricotta from Double 8 Dairy based in Petaluma. I had a few dishes during my travels that combined fresh produce intertwined with a local dairy product to add richness.”

The restaurant's entrance.

The restaurant’s entrance.

The Charter Oak, Photography by Kelly Puleio

Smoked & Braised Chuck Roast

“There are so many different ways to eat while traveling, but almost everywhere you’ll find a dish that is completely warm, hearty, and comforting. For our Smoked & Braised Chuck Roast, our braise will be made of our own tomatoes, a reduction of Napa Valley red wine, and ‘mushroom ketchup’—a custom seasoning sauce we created for use during hearthside cooking.

“Our Curry”

“Curry is an international dish—you can find it in several cultures, and I tried it in many different iterations on my recent travels. The Charter Oak’s rendition of curry will be more of a staff-meal dish, and will include house-made noodles, white wine from the Napa Valley, and the peppers and spices we use come from our culinary garden—even the citrus leaves come from our trees surrounding The Charter Oak property.”

Ham Sandwich

“The best sandwiches, no matter where you travel, are the simplest and use the most high-quality ingredients. For our bar menu at The Charter Oak, we’ll use our own weekly roasted ham, combined with a house-made baguette and local cheese.”

>>Next: The Glitzy Napa Valley Happening You Need to See for Yourself

From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR