The professional and personal journey of Natalie and Jonathan (Jon) Niksa is a lifetime in the making, from East Coast beginnings to moving to the Napa Valley 15 years ago.
One might call their various life stages “seasons,” as in the French name of their primary Napa business, La Saison. It serves as both a reference to seasonal foods and a series of pivotal life moments and connections that led Natalie and Jon to each other and their culinary endeavors, which also include Nappalachia and Napa Valley Provisions.
Natalie is a believer in connecting the dots, that everything happens for a reason, all in due time. While a second grader growing up in Connecticut, she recalled a classmate who moved from the Napa Valley, and from that moment on, she knew she wanted to be here.
She also recounted the story of a classmate in her private, girls’ high school, whose family owned a restaurant in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. During her junior and senior years of high school, Natalie’s interest in cooking and food blossomed, so she worked at the restaurant as an apprentice. These two childhood friends influenced her so much that she decided instead of going to a traditional college or university, she would become her school’s first graduate to attend a trade school. However, it was not just any trade school, but upstate New York’s The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, where she flourished as the president of the wine society. It was also at the CIA where she met Jon, a culinary arts student, who graduated in 2003. Between 2003 and 2005, Natalie and Jon continued to date in spite of the distance that separated the two.
The year 2005 would prove to dramatically change the lives of both Natalie and Jon. During the blizzard of 2005 in New York City, they met for what Natalie thought was a goodbye dinner at the three-star Michelin-rated restaurant, Le Bernadin. But instead, Jon surprised Natalie by taking her to The Plaza Hotel and proposing. The same year, Natalie graduated at the top of her class in the CIA’s bachelor’s degree program in business and food management. She was also selected to attend the Aspen Food & Wine Classic as part of a culinary experience that paired 10 students with 10 chefs. Natalie was paired with a chef from the Napa Valley, and was hired shortly thereafter, which led to Natalie and Jon’s cross-country move to California. They found a home in Pope Valley – where they continue to live and raise their son, Smith. Pope Valley’s mountainous terrain reminded Natalie of her original home state of West Virginia, as well as upstate New York.
After a couple of years working in the food, wine, and hospitality industries – including Natalie’s apprenticeship at The French Laundry where she reconnected with the aforementioned high school friend – she and Jon decided to go into business for themselves, which afforded them more time together in both their work and home lives.
In 2007, they began selling their first products, including La Saison Herbes de Provence Almonds and Napa Valley Olive Oil Cake, at local farmers markets. A combination of hustle and perseverance helped La Saison survive challenging times such as the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, the 2014 earthquake, and the 2017 wildfires.
La Saison is a full-service catering company that prepares and delivers customized meals – including 100% plant based, if requested – for winery and other private events, as well as drop-off, family-style lunches and dinners.
Another division of La Saison is Napa Valley Provisions, food items that can be ordered online and delivered to customers nationally at no additional cost. Available for shipping are La Saison Herbes de Provence Almonds, Napa Valley Olive Oil Cake, Savory and Sweet Granola, NIK-SA Hot! Sauce (vegan and gluten free), and Napa Valley Cookie Connect, a choice of three cookies: Oatmeal Raisin Orange Cardamom, gluten-free Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Brown Butter Toasted Hazelnut Chocolate Chip, the latter of which pays homage to their favorite New York City bakery. La Saison Herbes de Provence Almonds are also distributed in the wholesale food market.
Due to its success, La Saison has grown to include a commercial facility, seven full-time employees, two part-time employees, and a sister business lovingly named Nappalachia as a nod to their East Coast and Pope Valley mountain roots. Nappalachia’s offerings include cooking classes, events, guest speakers, workshops, and pre-ordered items such as bagged lunches and plant-based foods. Together, La Saison and Nappalachia “create foods to savor. Our menus are thoughtful, creative and inspire memories.” While neither La Saison or Nappalachia focus solely on alternative ways of eating, Natalie and Jon use local, fresh ingredients, which naturally – and often – fall into these categories.
In 2020, after 13 years in business – a number that Natalie considers to be one of her lucky numbers – La Saison Herbes de Provence Almonds recently won a 2020 Good Food Award from among more than 2,000 entries, all of which must meet the foundation’s strict standards of authenticity, sustainability, and social responsibility.
This year also brings the reopening of Nappalachia on Saturday, March 21 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The kick-off, in partnership with Miyoko’s plant-based creamery, will include a number of female food producers. A variety of plant-based/vegan and gluten-free offerings, cashew crema, locally grown edible flowers and herbs, and seasonal crudités and flatbreads. The plan is for Nappalachia to be open regularly on Saturdays. On April 25, La Saison will be participating in HALL Wines’ 11th annual Cabernet Cookoff, a fundraiser in which teams of chefs prepare dishes to pair with HALL Cabernet Sauvignon. If La Saison wins, Natalie and Jon have elected to donate to The Queen of the Valley’s Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), which cared for their son and allowed Natalie to stay overnight for 18 days, while he fought a serious infection at birth. Natalie detailed her experience in a Feb. 21, 2018 Napa Valley Register story, “18 days at the Queen.”
Another service that Natalie offers through the Nappalachia brand is what she calls Gentle Guidance, a one-hour session that incorporates a Human Design reading, described on the website as, “the contract your soul makes with the Universe about who you came to be, what you came to experience, and what karma you came to correct,” a quote written by Jenna Zoe.
It is in this spirit of not only being artisan food purveyors, but also compassionate and giving Napa Valley residents, that Natalie and Jon created their official social media hashtag, #LaSaisonIsNow. Natalie explains that it means to live in the present and allow life to unfold, instead of resisting it. In the case of La Saison, Nappalachia, and the Niksa family of three, their season is decidedly and wonderfully now.
Follow their ever-changing seasons on Instagram at @lasaison_napa.
La Saison and Nappalachia is at 748 California Blvd., at the corner of Third Street in Napa. There is parking on the Third Street side behind the building for La Saison customers.
Herbes de Provence Energy Bars
Makes 12 bars.
1 cup of La Saison Almond Butter (approximately 1.5 cups of La Saison Herbes de Provence Almonds)
¾ cup of dates, pitted
½ cup of gluten-free oats
½ cup of wild blueberries, dried (you may also use dried pears, apples, prunes, or strawberries)
½ cup of sunflower seeds
½ cup of pumpkin seeds
¼ cup of chia seeds
1 tablespoon of honey
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, more or less depending on texture. If the dates are super juicy, you won’t need as much.
Prepare your almond butter using Herbes de Provence Almonds.
Purée until smooth. If you can’t blend it as smoothly as desired, add the honey and olive oil to help blend the almond butter.
Add the dates, oats, and all seeds, then season to taste with salt.
Press the mixture onto a sheet pan or dish of any size.
Refrigerate for 4 hours, then portion into desired size bars.
Elizabeth Smith is a freelance writer and the professional wine tutor at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at elizabethsmithconsulting.com.
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