Born and raised in Guatemala, Alex Espinoza worked his way up from humble beginnings as a line cook at Tra Vigne in St. Helena, where he spent seven years honing his craft, before accepting the position as Sous Chef at The Grill at Meadowood. Today, Alex helms the kitchen as Executive Chef at Peju Province Winery in Rutherford, California.
What is your relationship like with local farmers/ranchers and how do you support one another?
My relationship with our local farmers allows me to request certain types of vegetables I know I will need at the winery, and which they grow for me seasonally. I strive to use as much produce from local farms as possible because I strongly believe in working with local flavors and products.
Do you incorporate your Guatemalan heritage into your dishes at Peju?
Growing up in Guatemala, we always used fresh ingredients so this is something I have taken with me to each place I have worked. The passion for using fresh, local food was instilled in me as a young boy when I was first became interested in cooking.
You’re also involved with hands-on cooking classes at Peju. What is one of the most memorable dishes you created with your guests?
There isn’t one specific dish that sticks out in my mind as being a favorite because each class is so different and unique. Sometimes I get to watch people who are so shy about cooking learn to feel comfortable in the kitchen. Sometimes I get to watch people who love to cook expand their skillset, and sometimes I even learn a few things from my guests. I love when we get our guests involved in challenges, like pizza making competitions and appetizer challenges, because it’s fun to see what people come up with without my influence. We always challenge them to pair their dish with a wine, so it’s a great learning experience to see what different people from all around the country, and even the world, come up with.
What is a current favorite summertime wine and dish pairing from the menu?
One of my favorite summer food and wine pairings I am currently serving at the winery is a short rib slider paired with our Peju Fifty/Fifty, which is comprised of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. When I’m pairing food and wine I love to make sure that the food enhances the flavors of the wine, rather than masking it, and that is exactly what this dish does. The flavors of the slider bring the Fifty/Fifty to life – one slider is never enough. If I’m looking for something on the lighter side, I also love our Sauvignon Blanc paired with a fresh, bright summer salad.
And finally, when not in the kitchen, where could we find you? We heard you enjoy hunting wild game and preparing it on Sundays with your family.
You’re absolutely right, I do love hunting with my friends when I have time off. I also enjoy cycling and there are so many great places to do that around Northern California. And, of course, I never say no to a day on the beach with a nice glass of wine.
Photo Credit: Michelle Walker Photography.