California’s Paso Robles wine region boasts some of the state’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends. One of the finest winery dining experiences can be found at JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery where Executive Chef Rachel Haggstrom oversees the seasonal food and wine pairing prix-fixe menu at The Restaurant at JUSTIN. This small gem is located among the vegetable and herb gardens and expansive vineyards surrounding the winery. The generous seasonal tasting menu with wines is led by one of the several on-site sommeliers.
A California native, Chef Haggstrom attended The Culinary Academy in San Francisco and worked at The French Laundry in Yountville, The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco and Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach. She joined The Restaurant at Justin Winery in March 2019.
Chef Haggstrom took some time to visit with Santé Magazine to share how she plans her menus to pair with JUSTIN’s award-winning wines.
Santé Magazine: Rachel, what are some of your earliest childhood food memories?
RH: I was born in Orange County and raised in Temecula on a citrus grove my grandparents planted in the 1970s. From an early age, I was exposed to a variety of rare fruits and vegetables. I remember picking oranges from the trees and sharing them with our golden retriever. As a teenager, I remember the first time I appreciated white pepper on a crêpe in Paris – to this day I love a savory crêpe.
Santé Magazine: What- or who- inspired you to pursue a career as a chef?
RH: I found myself in the kitchen a lot as a child and teenager, trying to learn how to use new vegetables from the garden or perfect making a caramel from acclaimed Pastry Chef Sherry Yard’s cookbooks. Around that time, I remember hearing about a small restaurant in the middle-of-nowhere Northern California and reading the stories and accolades it was receiving. Thomas Keller and his restaurant, The French Laundry, were gaining an enormous amount of attention and thus, I too, dreamed of pursuing a culinary career.
Santé Magazine: Who do you consider some of your mentors in the business and what did you learn from them?
RH: From The French Laundry I learned efficiency, urgency, and a sense of team[work]. At The Dining Room, Ron Siegel taught me a different, gentler, kind of mentorship and management. My eyes were additionally open to many new ingredients. At the Balboa Bay Resort, I was encouraged to really push my limits and boundaries as a leader by Vincent Lesage, and he really helped me to stay organized and manage a business by looking into the future, while managing day-to-day.
Santé Magazine You are lucky to have a beautiful on-site herb and vegetable garden. What are some of the dishes you enjoy making from the produce grown?
RH: My favorite things that come from the garden are hard-to-find herbs and flowers. Our team grows: lemon verbena, anise hyssop, purple basil and many more herbs. Additionally, I have the benefit of using the flowers and seeds that come from flowers, onions and garlic which add a pack of flavor in a beautiful delicate garnish.
Santé Magazine: The Restaurant at JUSTIN offers a prix- fixe menu. How often do you change it?
RH: We change dishes as needed, as opposed to an entire menu change at a stated time. For example, there could be very small changes daily; however, entire dishes might change every two to three months. Menu changes are dictated by what is in its prime that we are harvesting from our garden or alternatively sourcing from a local farmer.
Santé Magazine: Tell us about your thought process when planning a menu to pair with specific JUSTIN wines
RH: At JUSTIN we have a large portfolio of wines, which is great when it comes to having options to pair. At The Restaurant, we offer two different wine pairings – a standard and a premium. As such, I must consider the wines we have in our offerings when creating dishes. Because most of our wines are red, the second course in our menu can at times be tricky depending on the time of year, such as spring or summer when ingredients are lighter.
One example is butter-poached lobster, ratatouille, lobster jus made with roasted lobster bodies paired with JUSTIFICATION, our Cabernet Franc blend. This is an example of a dish that would assume a white wine, but the richness of the fish and the sauces allow the use of red wine. In the case of JUSTIFICATION, it has a medium-body and enough complexity and acid to cut through the fat of the dish. It is also light enough to not overpower the dish.
RH: Despite the above, I generally come up with a vision for a dish first. Once I have done that, I will consider the wine pairing and adjust the dish as needed. When pairing the wine and food, sometimes I will consider a wine that has a similar body and fruit profile. Other times I will additionally consider the acidity in the wine compared to the fat in the food, allowing the fat or tannins of a wine to cut through the dish.
Santé Magazine: What is your secret indulgence?
RH: My secret indulgence probably isn’t much of a secret if you know me…. Fried, salty potatoes in the form of chips or fries. I said I would never put a truffle fry on the menu. I did and I can’t stop eating them.
Santé Magazine: Paso Robles is a beautiful area to visit. What do you enjoy most about living and working in this area?
RH: It is a great balance of life and work because I love food and wine. Being in the central coast at JUSTIN is an obvious win for work. In living here, it makes eating at home so nice all the time since, with little effort, we eat great and drink great wine regularly. It is physically beautiful, the area promotes an easy-going lifestyle, and quick (no traffic) access to the beach is great.
Justin Winery was founded in 1981 by invesment banker, Justin Baldwin, whose vision was to make world-class Bordeaux blend wines, including its iconic Isosceles, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.
In 2010 JUSTIN Winery was acquired by the Wonderful Company, whose brands include POM Wonderful, FIJI Water, Wonderful Almonds, Wonderful Pistachios, Halo Oranges, Teleflora and Landmark Vineyards. Yes, you will be served plenty of FIJI water when you dine at The Restaurant!
The Restaurant at JUSTIN Winery is located at 11680 Chimney Rock Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446 Tel: 805-238-6932. For a lucky few, the JUST Inn offers three on-site suite accommodations. The winery also offers a shuttle service by reservation to and from Downtown Paso Robles or can arrange a hired car service. Reservations and information: www.justinwine.com