Great palates are a matter of nature versus nurture. But a bit of nature further enhanced by nurture is truly transcendental. Chef Jesse Mallgren brings a superb amount of each to the kitchen at Madrona Manor where he has created inspired cuisine since 1999.
The kitchen environment agrees with him. Youthful and dynamic, Jesse was born in San Francisco and raised in Sonoma County. He grew up listening to stories told by his mother a professional folkloric story teller. As she learned each new story, she would immerse herself in the culture of its setting by preparing regional foods. As a result, Jesse was exposed to exotic flavors at an impressionable age. “She is an amazing cook,” Jesse beams, recalling the flavors that first influenced his palate. He took his first job in a kitchen washing dishes while still in high school. When a cook called in sick one night, the chef asked him to fill in. He was smitten and has been cooking ever since.
Jesse honed his culinary skills alongside some of the most esteemed names in the culinary world, including Jeremiah Tower and Gary Danko. He credits Danko, for whom he worked at Chateau Souverain, for guiding him with wine pairing. He gained confidence in innovation from Tower at Stars in San Francisco where Jesse served as Executive Sous Chef. Later, Jesse received accolades as Chef de Cuisine at Syzygy in Aspen, Colorado for three years before returning to Sonoma County. At Madrona Manor he has made his own mark as one of Sonoma County wine country’s most respected chefs.
Jesse wants to cook the food he likes to eat. His cuisine is based on a classic French foundation of sauces and stock punctuated by global influences. Ultimately, a healthy dose of his inspiration comes from the garden itself. “We have an amazing organic garden right here on the estate. I love to stick my nose right into the box of fresh-picked quince that will later be accompanied by foie gras. It’s the aromas of a fresh succulent peach warm from the sun that drips down your arm when you take a bite…” Jesse uses tomatoes, greens, vegetables, herbs and fruit grown in the Madrona Manor garden and prefers seasonal ingredients from Sonoma County and California.
Jesse feels at home cooking at Madrona Manor because owners Trudi and Bill Konrad have given him free reign to run the culinary program as his own. “I am allowed to grow here. I have an evolving menu where I can bring in new ingredients and try new techniques. I can be as creative as I want.”
His menus reflect that same freedom of expression. Teeming with fresh, wild-caught fish, garden fruit and vegetables, he conveys a flair for the unexpected.