Cavallo Point cooking school director's culinary callingFebruary 26, 2016
There are many ways to become director of one of the top hotel culinary schools in the world. Jayne Reichert can thank Ted, her basenji.
On their frequent walks together at Sausalito’s Schoonmaker Beach, Reichert would often run into other dog walkers, including a man whose wife just happened to be the program director of a luxury lodge that was about to open at a former military base overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge — Cavallo Point.
“We would just have conversations about food, hospitality needing a renaissance, and one day he looked at me and said, ‘You know, my wife has this project she’s working on at the end of Sausalito. Would you like to talk to her?’ and I was like, ‘Sure,’” says Reichert, a trim blonde with a warm smile.
At the time, Reichert was juggling being a personal chef and catering director at the Lodge in Tiburon while also running her own cutlery store in San Francisco.
She was promptly hired to manage the new cooking school, which opened in 2008. She took over as director and chef instructor in 2010, when Gayot, the international dining, hotel, travel and lifestyle guide, named the cooking school among the top 10 in the world, calling it “a dynamic cooking school that emphasizes seasonal cuisine, sustainable practices and local, organic ingredients.”
Last year, the school and lodge were hosts to the launch of the Lexus Culinary Classic, a three-day culinary celebration. It went so well, she says, that it will return this year, March 11 to 13.
The 49-year-old Sausalito resident admits it’s an amazing job.
“To get to do what I get to do and really enjoy it is pretty rewarding,” she says.
What she does is plan the numerous classes the cooking school offers every month, many of which sell out, and creates most of the menus and recipes, solicits guest chefs, and oversees private events such as cooking parties and corporate team-building events as well as her seven on-staff chefs.
Besides Fresh Starts Cooking School in Novato, which mostly serves low-income students, it’s the only cooking school in Marin.
Reichert had planned on being a journalist and graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in journalism.
But her rural roots and her hours cooking in the kitchen of her parents’ Illinois farm house never quite left her.
“I always cooked as a kid ... much to my parents’ chagrin because my mom didn’t want us to be farm housewives. Nothing my dad ate could be boxed or canned, everything was made from scratch,” she says.
“I remember sitting at the table and her drinking either lambrusco or Blue Nun, which was very chi-chi, and saying, ‘Jayne’s going to be the next Barbara Walters,’ and I’d be in there going, ‘Don’t put that on the meatloaf!’” she says with a laugh.
But she was offered a job after graduating that sent her on a path as an event and culinary program planner for numerous companies, including Walt Disney Studios.
While Reichert loved her career, at one point she realized there was something essential missing — working directly with food. So she signed up for the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco unsure of what she was going to do. “I wanted to see where it would take me,” she says.
It was her first formal food training, which offered her “a solid foundation.”
Running a cooking school in Marin makes it easy for her to indulge in the kind of food she grew up with — fresh from the fields — and the kinds of flavors she loves, big, bold and a mash-up of various ethnic spices.
“Being here and having the diversity and abundance and so many truly, truly good people in regards to who we source from, that’s amazing,” she says.
She’s at the Civic Center farmers markets Thursdays and Sundays, and sometimes Saturdays in Larkspur.
Even when she was overseeing menus for events that attracted thousands of people, she insisted that everything be fresh and made from scratch.
“She pushed my buttons daily ... and this would lead to our daily screaming match,” says Daniel Young, who worked with Reichert at the Sports Club in Irvine in the 1990s and now runs his own food company in Denver. “I still carry that level of culinary standard in everything I do.”
“We were brought up with an integrity that translated into everything we did. My mom, if she was going to put out a meal, it wasn’t necessarily gourmet but it was the best that it could be and it came from someplace deep inside. It means a lot to be feeding somebody,” she says. “I really take it to heart when I’m sharing food with somebody.”
She still insists on fresh, from-scratch food, which can sometimes disgruntle the cooking school’s chefs.
“I will write a menu and then go to the farmers market and I find all this stuff and I come back and say, ‘Yeah, we’re not doing that’ and literally it can be within the same day,” she says. “It’s truly in the moment and the best that I can find, but I’m sure it can be nerve-wracking because we’re creating a dish like an hour before class time.”
And it has on the rare occasion irked a student as well.
“There was one woman who was very upset that I had her make mayonnaise from scratch. She actually wrote a letter to the general manager,” Reichert recalls. “We do everything from scratch. We’ll make creme fraiche from scratch, we’ll make pasta from scratch. It’s connecting to the food.”
She prides herself on that as well as the school’s diversified programming.
“The comments that we get here are that the menus are challenging,” she says.
Still, the complaint hurt.
“I was a basket case,” she admits. “I take the criticism super personally. You’re really putting yourself out there.”
That hasn’t stopped Reichert from leading classes, however.
“I love the teaching and the sharing. It’s personal. You’re giving a lot of yourself, and when we’re on, we’re on stage,” she says. “It’s a live performance, and the audience is interacting with you.”
There have, of course, been mishaps, like when several chickens on barbecues burst into flames (“Each chicken looked like a Roman candle,” she says), or when her students threw away the duck tenderloins she planned to use (they were salvaged from the garbage; “We have organic trash,” she notes), or when a men’s group showed up for a class with a few bottles of wine each and proceeded to get pretty soused.
But cooking isn’t all that hard, she says. “If you cook from the heart, there’s no wrong or right.”
One thing she hopes all her students learn, no matter what class they take, is to get to know the farmers at their local farmers market.
“If you’re taking the time to shop there, why not take the time to get to know the ladies and gentlemen who take care of what we’re going to put in our bodies?” she asks. “That connection makes us much more empathetic to their plight, particularly when there’s a drought.”
As much as Reichert may push her chefs and her students, she isn’t any easier on herself. Two years ago she was invited to take part in a wine tasting whitewater rafting adventure for which she would prepare a gourmet meal — three appetizers, a salad, entree and a dessert — for 18 guests and guides each night.
“I immediately thought, no!” she says, remembering a rafting trip she’d gone on in which she wrapped her raft and had to swim in the rapids of the American River.
But she changed her mind. That was a good decision.
“It was a blast,” she recalls.
Although it was the first time she cooked outside her comfort zone, everyone was curious about her recipes and techniques, so she was in her element — teaching.
Even after a long day at Cavallo Point, Reichert goes home and cooks for herself every night. “It relaxes me,” she says.
Sometimes, she cooks for Ted, who is clearly a chef’s dog; has a penchant for chicken, sautéed broccoli rabe, roasted tomatoes, lacinato kale and sweet potatoes.
But, after all, he did lead her to Cavallo Point.