YOUNTVILLE — Every November, chefs from Napa Valley restaurants thank military veterans for their service as only they can – from appetizer to main course to dessert.
Ahead of the nation’s 100th Veterans Day, hundreds of men and women living at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville were treated to a feast created by chefs at Brix, Bistro Jeanty and other fine dining establishments, and served by more than 60 volunteers from local homes and businesses.
Wednesday’s three-course meal was the centerpiece of the 14th annual Celebrity Chefs Veterans Day Luncheon, the brainchild of the longtime Yountville chef-restaurateur Bob Hurley. Since 2005, Hurley and the town’s chamber of commerce have partnered in a banquet he said seeks to bring haute cuisine into a community that can feel farther away from the town’s high-end vacation atmosphere than the short distance suggests.
“The chefs do it as a thank-you gesture,” said Hurley, who founded his eponymous restaurant in 2002 and operated it until its closure in April. “The Veterans Home makes up a great proportion of Yountville (more than 800 of its roughly 2,900 residents), but they could never enjoy Yountville the same way visitors can. So the idea was that if they couldn’t come down, then we could come up to them.”
Seven chefs contributed six dishes to the banquet, from Nate Lindsey’s filet of beef with red-wine demi-glaze to Gregory Short’s sautéed Blue Lake green beans to a parsnip-potato puree created by Donald Young and Adam Nichol. Carrying the dishes to the military veterans and spouses inside the Veterans Home dining hall were several dozen volunteer waiters in white jackets: residents, merchants, even Town Council members.
“Our veterans absolutely love this event – I would go so far as to say it’s their favorite (Veterans Home) event of the year,” said Joshua Kiser, spokesman for the Yountville Veterans Home. “You see a lot of our folks dress up. A lot of them don’t get to experience Yountville in its entirety, so today, Yountville comes to them.”
Nearly a half-hour before the banquet’s first seating at 11 a.m., Veterans Home residents were queued outside for most of the length of the dining hall – and some expressed their appreciation for this gift from local star chefs.
“When they do this, especially right before Veterans Day, it’s a very special day for all of us,” said Navy veteran Douglas Doolittle, a four-year resident.
“It shows somebody cares about veterans – and Yountville has some of the best restaurants in the world, so we’re very fortunate,” said James Farrell, who served six years in the Navy during the Vietnam War and moved to the Veterans Home in 2015.
Young, a chef for the Napa Valley Wine Train, had not taken part in the veterans’ luncheon before this year but had gotten to know some of his guests-to-be during visits to the campus and at baseball games at nearby Cleve Borman Field.
“What these veterans have done for us all so we can live the lives we live is wonderful,” said Young, whose grandfather served in the Navy aboard an oil tanker in the South Pacific during World War II. “Anything we can do so veterans can have a good time and a great meal, I’m 100 percent for it. We wouldn’t have the lives we enjoy if it wasn’t for these guys.”
The feeling would be mutual for a longtime Veterans Home resident partaking of the feast prepared by Young and his fellow chefs.
“Makes me feel so special, I wish my husband were here,” said Mary MacClanahan, who moved to the Yountville home more than two decades ago with her late husband George, a Marine during the Second World War. “Makes me feel very privileged, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”