Several recent graduates of Napa Valley College’s Napa Valley Cooking School are giving high praise to Executive Chef Barbara Alexander for training students through a foundation in traditional culinary techniques and an eye on the future of modern culinary world.
“At the Napa Valley Cooking School we are kind of old-fashioned in a modern way,” said Alexander. “We instill great technique, attitude, values and work ethic in our students. We value tradition, creativity and passion in this age-old trade.
“We look to the future of the food service industry encompassing trends, artistic styles and other artisans — and we do it while cultivating the students’ passions. Our program is only as good as the chefs that come out of the school. We have so many students to be proud of.”
The school is in St. Helena, at the Upper Valley campus of Napa Valley College.
A sampling of students offered a taste of what “Chef B” inspires.
St. Helena native Ryan Gold graduated from the NVCS with confidence in his ability, passion for his chosen occupation and a solid job offer from Thomas Keller.
He spent the next two years working full-time in New York City at Michelin Star restaurant, Per Se, owned by Keller.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Gold, who plans to continue his love affair with food by studying food science at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, where he attended high school.
“I want to work with food systems in the United States, fixing the food problems we have right now, with food sourcing, and small farms that don’t have access to sustainable measures,” said Gold.
He said he acquired his passion for food knowledge from Chef Alexander, who inspires students to become professionals.
“I give Napa Valley Cooking School 10 out of 10 stars,” said Gold. “Especially for the cost, it is unbeatable. I’ve worked with students from all types of food schools and I teach them words that Chef B has taught us.
“The professionalism that she instills in her classroom is outstanding. She prepared me to work where I wanted to work, doing what I wanted to do. I was as prepared as I could be. I sing the school’s praises wherever I go.
Matt Jaspering didn’t know what to do after high school, wavering between college and getting a job.
He went to work for Insalata’s in his home town of San Anselmo as a prep cook. The restaurant’s head chef Taylor Carnes had graduated from Napa Valley Cooking School and saw that Matt, who was taking culinary classes at Santa Rosa Junior College, had an interest in learning more.
“I put in an application to Napa Valley Cooking School and asked Heidi Krahling, the owner of the restaurant, to give me a reference. She called Executive Chef Barbara Alexander, so I was well recommended,” he recalled.
“I took it seriously and dove right in. I love Napa, being in the food and wine and hospitality industry, amid historic Napa and St. Helena. It had some romanticism to it.”
After graduating as Class of 2016 valedictorian, Jaspering had his eyes set on Taj Compton Place Restaurant on Union Square, but an even better offer came along.
“Chef Dominique Crenn met me at the restaurant where I got to do my externship, and I worked at Michelin star, Atelier Crenn, for six months,” he said.
Matt now works at Saison in San Francisco.
Marielle Fabie, who graduated in 2012 and is currently working at Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco, credited Alexander for “setting up students for success” through a required 500-hour externship and four stages at restaurants, which is a valuable way of introducing them to chefs.
“The learning atmosphere is open, inviting, never abrasive,” she said. “You feel very comfortable, not threatened or scared. Chef B is always evolving, showing newer techniques as well as every side of the traditional. She absolutely encourages creativity.”
For example, students are each given a black box with mystery ingredients and told to “create something on the fly” within 30 minutes. “You get to show your peers what you did, you get to be excited about working with a new ingredient and you come away with a new outlook.”
Fabie, 27, graduated from the Napa Valley Cooking School and began looking for work in some of the best restaurants.
“I wanted to work in a Michelin star restaurant and was looking at the best new chefs in San Francisco and found Saison. I got halfway through my externship and they were, like, ‘You come on and work with us,’ and I stayed for two years.”
She stopped cooking for a year to go into business with a friend as a fine-dining food purveyor, but returned to cooking for two years as sous chef for Alexander’s Patisserie under Executive Pastry Chef Quentin Collignon, in downtown Mountain View.
“I had gained a lot of organizational skills and knowledge from Chef B and became a manager in the kitchen,” which led to her current job working the savory dinner service at Tartine Manufactury.
“My career has taken me to places I could never have seen or done. It’s not very glamorous but it is something I truly love to do – cooking for people, bringing people together and getting them excited to eat. There’s a story behind the connection between people and food, and I’m very happy to tell it.”