Bread and Butter
The Charter Oak keeps things simple-except for its bread program.
Local Loaf: The bread at this St. Helena eatery is created with regional ingredients.
Photos by Kelly Pulejo
The first item on the menu at The Charter Oak restaurant in St. Helena is Charter Oak bread—$5 for a small loaf, $10 for a large one. Far from your standard table bread, this staple is the result of a robust bread program headed by executive chef Katianna Hong.
The brainchild of three-Michelin–star chef Christopher Kostow of the Restaurant at Meadowood,TheCharter Oak offers similarly creative, artistic, and hyperlocal cuisine. But this endeavor—located in the stone building that once housed the legendary Tra Vigne restaurant—sports a more casual, family-style-dining setting. Breaking bread—or the act of sitting down with family and friends to share a meal—is what The Charter Oak is all about, so it’s fitting that bread plays an integral role in the menu, which features not only the namesake loaf but also house-made buns, tortillas, flatbreads, and more.
“Our general theme and our ethos is using our garden, using local products—doing things simplistically but making it special to us,” says Hong, the former chef de cuisine at Meadowood (which now picks up its bread daily from The Charter Oak). “It might be a simple bread, but you can only get that loaf here.”
Though the restaurant’s approach is to keep it simple, making a trademark bread is anything but. The first step is acquiring locally sourced, high-quality wheat. Charter Oak preservationist Charlie Appel (who is responsible for dried, cured, and fermented items) found biodynamic farmer Sally Fox of Vreseis Farm in Brooks, who now provides the restaurant with two varieties of wheat: Patwin and Sonora.
The grain is then milled locally and the resulting flour is fed to The Charter Oak’s starter, which is over 25 years old. The starter was adopted by the bread team and nourished with its signature wheat flour, and it is the basis for every bread product at the restaurant.
“Anyone can buy a bread cookbook, order the same flour, and make bread,” says Hong. “We wanted something that speaks to this area. You can only have our bread because it’s a relationship we’ve built with a local farmer.”