A Press Democrat Blog

Meet the Chefs

Profiles on chefs participating in Sonoma County's Wine Country Weekend

Ryan Fancher, Chef de Cuisine, BARNDIVA


Ryan started his culinary career at San Ysidero Ranch where Relais et Chateaux quickly recognized his potential and moved him to Auberge de Soleil to work with Richard Reddington. He then spent four arduous but rewarding years working alongside Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. He was an integral part of the opening at Per Se in NYC. Four years ago he moved to Healdsburg “the center of the most exciting food shed in the country” to lead Barndiva’s innovative… Read More »

Chef John Toulze

John Toulze Executive Chef the girl & the fig John is a native of Northern California from a third generation French family. Cooking was and continues to be a strong passion in his family life. John started his career in hospitality at Viansa Winery in Sonoma in 1994. After several years of cooking and wine sales John left Viansa winery in 1997 to help Sondra Bernstein open the girl & the fig restaurant in Glen Ellen. At the girl &… Read More »

Ari Weiswasser, Chef/Owner, Glen Ellen Star

Established in 2012, Glen Ellen Star is the culmination of a decade-long dream by Chef Ari Weiswasser and his wife Erinn Benziger-Weiswasser. Resembling a quaint farmhouse while invoking a rural and rustic feeling of California wine country, Glen Ellen Star is a taste of both local and international flavors. It is the Weiswassers’ mission to create an inviting, neighborhood-friendly restaurant that consistently exceeds expectations. Ari has worked at New York’s Restaurant Daniel, Picholine, and Paul Liebrandt’s Corton, where he served… Read More »

Dustin Valette, Executive Chef, Dry Creek Kitchen

Dustin Valette began his culinary career at Chateau Sourverain, a Francis Ford Coppola Estate in Geyserville, California where he apprenticed under Executive Chef Martin Courtman. Now, more than 10 years later, Valette finds himself back in Northern California’s wine country as chef de cuisine at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen.

 Valette honed his craft in some of the most celebrated restaurants on the West Coast, including the Michelin-starred Aqua in San Francisco and Napa Valley’s Bouchon. Additional credits include Hokus… Read More »

Bruce Riezenman, Executive Chef/Owner, Park Avenue Catering and Park 121 Café & Grill

Chef Bruce Riezenman’s Park Avenue Catering, the most highly regarded catering company in Northern California’s Wine Country, has been offering Sonoma Sophisticated cuisine since 1989.  Chef Riezenman opened his new restaurant, Park•121, in May 2012 on Hwy 121 in Sonoma, as an opportunity to share what he calls Sonoma Caszh, his causal, elegant and relaxing dining experience in the beautiful setting of Cornerstone Sonoma. To continually impress a high-end clientele, Bruce is constantly creating new entertaining and wine pairing ideas… Read More »

Armando G Navarro, Executive Chef, El Dorado Kitchen

Executive Chef, Armando Navarro, has had a noteworthy resume packed with top restaurants along both coasts. After five plus years as Executive Sous Chef at Auberge du Soleil, Armando went to New York where he trained under some of the best chefs at Le Bernardin, Jean Georges and Daniel Boulud. He returned to California and worked at Jardiniere and Masa’s before relocating to Redd in Yountville as the Chef de Cuisine. Prior to joining Sonoma’s El Dorado Kitchen, Armando was… Read More »

Jeffrey Lloyd, Executive Chef, Cafe La Haye

Jeffrey Lloyd has been Executive Chef at Cafe La Haye since August of 2009. Chef Lloyd has elevated the food at this venerable restaurant garnering him 3 stars from the San Francisco Chronicle and earning a 27 Zagat rating in the 2013 edition. Jeffrey Lloyd came to Sonoma after 10 years with Michael Mina cooking at Aqua and earning the mantle of Chef de Cuisine at Mina’a eponymous restaurant at the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. Jeffrey graduated with… Read More »

Mark Stark, Executive Chef/Owner, Stark Reality Restaurants

Mark Stark is the executive chef and co-owner with his wife Terri of five highly rated and wildly popular restaurants in Sonoma County: Willi’s Wine Bar (which celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2012), Stark’s Steak & Seafood, and Monti’s Rotisserie in Santa Rosa, and Willi’s Seafood and the newest addition, Bravas Bar de Tapas (opened November 2012) in Healdsburg. He’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and honed his professional cooking skills in… Read More »

Tom Schmidt, Executive Chef, John Ash & Co.

Tom Schmidt’s fascination with food started early as he helped his mother in the kitchen preparing meals for a family of eight. Right after high school Tom enrolled at Contra Costa College studying culinary arts under the tutelage of Chef Kenneth Wolff. He graduated there in 1980, after which Tom worked as a sous chef for three years honing his skills in all aspects of kitchen operations. Working in California and later as owner of a catering company, Tom learned… Read More »