Before They Were Chefs

Étoile Chef Perry Hoffman Started Training Really Early

Chef Perry Hoffman kneading dough at age 4.
Chef Perry Hoffman kneading dough at age 4. Photo: Courtesy of the Hoffman Family

2010 Chron Rising Star and recent recipient of a Michelin star, Perry Hoffman, has been the executive chef at Étoile Restaurant at Domaine Chandon for two years. The restaurant just celebrated 30 years with a brand new cookbook, but at age 27 Hoffman is hardly a newbie to the business, or to Yountville’s small but high-end restaurant scene. Hoffman’s grandparents, Don and Sally Schmitt, were the original owners of The French Laundry in the 80s and early 90s, selling it to Thomas Keller in 1994.

“People say, ‘Oh, Thomas Keller took it to this higher level’ and all that, but they were booked four months out even back then,” Hoffman tells Grub Street. The Schmitts were the first to establish the restaurant’s multi-course, prix fixe structure, and given its unique location as a fine dining venue in the heart of the Napa Valley, it had its share of celebrity fans as Napa became more of a tourist destination.

As the Chron reported in their March profile, Hoffman did his first cooking at age 4, when his grandparents would put him to work in the kitchen to keep him busy. “The earliest thing I remember is roasting peppers,” he says. Hoffman has lately been earning raves just down the street at Étoile, and he’s obviously the kind of guy who had no problem joining the family business.

After selling the Laundry, the Schmitts opened The Apple Farm in Philo. Hoffman’s mother Kathy still does the flowers for The French Laundry, as she has since she was 24 years old. Below, a couple more photos of the young Perry, from their archive. (For a shot of him as an adult, see this link here.)

Update: Grub Street heard back from Perry’s grandmother, Sally Schmitt, and here’s what she had to say: “I remember loving giving Perry the job of roasting peppers over the flame on the stove and peeling them. It was a simple job that he could handle… and really contributed to the kitchen work. Our celebrity guests were foodies! Those were celebrities to me! Julia Child. I fed my apple pie to Pierre Troisgros of the Troisgros brothers. He loved my Gravenstein apple pie. Marion Cunningham. Richard Olney who wrote Simple French Food.

“The typical menu in those days: There was a choice of three appetizers. A soup course that was set, main that was set, followed by salad and cheese and a choice of dessert. So it was a five-course meal and we had one seating and one price. We spread the time of arrival between 7 and 8:30 so everybody didn’t come at once.”

Perry at age 1 or 2 sitting on the walkway of the French Laundry gnawing on a baguette and eating some herbs.

Sharing a cocktail with Grandpa.

Earlier: Etoile’s Perry Hoffman Started at Age 4 [Chron]

Étoile Chef Perry Hoffman Started Training Really Early