Who says you can’t go home again?
In this case, home for chef Aaron Meneghelli is Farm at The Carneros Inn, where he spent more than three years not all that long ago as executive sous chef.
A few months ago, Meneghelli returned to The Carneros Inn as the property’s executive chef, eager to share ideas and goals with all members of the culinary team at the upscale resort in southwest Napa.
The Napa native is focused on unifying food operations on the expansive resort property, including Farm, Boon Fly Cafe, the Hilltop Restaurant (open to guests daily for breakfast and lunch), room service and special events.
“I want to work in unison by sharing goals … in the way we use our garden and approach every season — how we handle our produce, how we design our menus,” the chef noted during a recent midmorning chat. “There’s a common thread … we get the same message.
“This is a well-oiled machine — I’m just fine-tuning it.”
Would he assign paperwork to someone else as part of his returning strategy? The genial chef said, with trademark grin: “No, I have the same amount of paperwork but I intend to be more hands-on. I want to be in the restaurants more, to be involved as much as I can.”
While Meneghelli puts his stamp on the culinary side of the operation, the ownership is making cosmetic changes to The Carneros Inn at the same time. Resort registration is moving to a more accessible area on the property, adjacent to Farm. Updates on property pools are underway and the remodeling of hotel rooms should be completed by the end of the month.
Like so many chefs, Meneghelli got his start at age 17 bussing tables and washing dishes at a long-gone popular downtown Napa restaurant, Rio Poco. But he hadn’t made any decisions regarding career at that point and left town for an extended period to pursue educational avenues.
“My mother was the first to suggest that I go to culinary school,” the Napa chef said. He’d helped at home and, coming from an Italian family, Meneghelli enjoyed sharing food and familial experiences around the dining table.
“I looked into it … it made sense … I enjoyed the camaraderie and creativity of the kitchen — it was a creative outlet.”
Meneghelli enrolled at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. “I was finally able to get it … it was the first time I felt that I excelled in an educational setting,” he said.
Following graduation, chef Sarah Scott invited him to join the culinary crew at the Robert Mondavi Winery. He not only cooked at the winery but got to go to VinExpo in Bordeaux as part of the team that established a special event restaurant for attendees. While in France, Meneghelli also spent some time in the kitchen of noted Paris chef/restaurateur Michel Rostang. He also hung out in Trento, with relatives of his father, Mike, who still reside in northern Italy.
Meneghelli also gained valuable experience working with chef/restaurateur Bob Hurley in Yountville and at Bettina Rouas’ Angele in Napa, where he blended his Italian heritage with classic French cuisine.
For the past two years, Meneghelli served as executive chef at the Calistoga Ranch, preparing menus for resort guests and guests of a sister property, Auberge du Soleil.
Asked about those who provided counsel and were influential in helping him in his career, Meneghelli singled out chef Sarah Scott. “She was one of the first to encourage me,” he said. Another mentor was former Calistoga Ranch chef Robert Leva, currently executive chef of the Moana Restaurant Group, which is planning two new downtown Napa restaurants.
“The hospitality industry feels natural to me,” he said. “I guess it’s the way I grew up.” His father spent many years with the Robert Mondavi Winery, working in production and then as a respected and well-liked wine educator.
“I’m a social person … I like people, and I like being involved. It just feels natural for me to bring together cultures and generations.”
His wife of six years, Shannon, is a local event planner and they have a 4-year-old daughter, Madison.
“We entertain at home and I entertain for a living,” he added. “My wife and I are a power couple when it comes to throwing a party. And my family is a huge encouragement for me.”
Popular with locals for its contemporary roadhouse cuisine, Boon Fly Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Farm serves dinner daily from 5:30 to 10 p.m., with the bar and pavilion opening at 4:30.
Offering a seasonal menu that includes produce from gardens on the property, Farm’s menu features organic and sustainably grown product. A recent menu incorporated lobster carpaccio with buttermilk panna cotta, agnolotti stuffed with chestnuts and apples, Tai snapper accompanied by Manila clams, artichokes and pearl onions, a New York strip loin with icicle radishes and garden brassicas, plus pastry chef Matt Zepeda’s caramel arancini with coconut sorbet.
Meneghelli’s team includes Justin Stark, Carneros Inn executive sous chef; Nick Sherman, Farm sous chef; Albert Rivera, Boon Fly chef; Farm manager Eric Larson; plus wine director Brian Penly, who presides over an extensive list of regional wines, with special emphasis on Napa and Sonoma valleys. General manager of The Carneros Inn is Dan Poli.
The Carneros Inn is at 4048 Sonoma Highway, Napa. For information and reservations, call 707-299-4900.