F&B Spotlight: Wine Country's Meeting Offerings

A Q&A with Executive Chef Aaron Meneghelli of Napa Valley's The Carneros Inn

Aaron Meneghelli Carneros Inn

Aaron Meneghelli recently joined Napa Valley's The Carneros Inn as executive chef, bringing a focus on local ingredients and creative dishes to the property's three restaurants (the high-end Farm Restaurant, classic American Boon Fly Café, and the Hilltop Dining Room). Covering 27 acres of rolling farmland and offering five distinct meeting spaces including the 3,300-square-foot Napa Ballroom, and outdoor Apple Orchard, 86 cottages, and three villas.

Successful Meetings spoke with the chef about his new gig, the evolving "Napa Cuisine" scene, and how groups can tap into great food when visiting wine country.

Q: How do you incorporate the wine scene and local landscape into the culinary offerings?

A: Where we're located, we get the full seasons and try to rotate our menus every couple weeks --it's more than butternut squash in the fall. We have a quarter-acre garden on property that feeds the menu, and relations with the local farmers that helps shape the ingredients we use. 

As far as the wine scene, we have a beverage director on property who helps shape our extensive wine list, with many selections that have won Wine Spectator awards. It includes plenty of local vineyards, but also international ones as well -- whatever works best with the food.

We just pulled a ton of turnips from the garden and have to figure out what we're doing with them. We have lots of carrots and we make sure to use the whole plant, for example making pesto from the carrot tops. We try to be creative, maybe fermenting or pickling or dehydrating. We're always asking 'what do we do to keep everybody on their toes?'

Q: Are you from Napa Valley originally?

A: That's right, I started out here, went to culinary school in San Francisco, then worked in Dallas as a chef (at the French bistro Angel). While at the restaurant, I went to France to learn more about that cuisine. At those places, they might just have you stand in the corner and peel potatoes, but if you're open and willing to learn, you take in so much that you can bring back home. So all that, from France to what I ate growing up, serves as influences when I came back to Napa Valley.

It's fitting because there are so many cultural influences in Northern California, and the climate lets us grow anything, so that all impacts what we eat locally and shapes NorCal or Napa cuisine. 

Q: How can groups take advantage of the F&B offerings at The Carneros Inn?

A: We brought in a banquet chef who is dedicated to helping with groups, and he has helped shift from where we were focusing on setting up events to now really being hands on in the kitchen. That speaks to the larger trend of people traveling for food, and if we can offer enough variety where they don't need to leave the property, all the better. Even groups that are looking for just a buffet will get something elevated. We may have a planner that goes for a line of chafing dishes, but we try to show them that they could instead do a five-course plated dinner. They'll say, 'that went well,' and might start rethinking their whole approach to group F&B.

Q: How did coming from Napa affect your approach to food and understanding of the wine region?

A: When Napa Valley started, the town of Napa was in Yountville, and you might drive right past it. In just the last 10 years there has been incredible growth in the town, with tons of restaurants and a lot more tourism coming in, and more jobs with it.

My dad and uncles are in the wine business. My dad is at Mondavi, so understanding how that worked grew my understanding of the industry and town. While Mondavi is the big vineyard now, it feeds the artisan vibe that affects the food industry.