It can be argued that in the Napa Valley the word “experience” is on the verge of being overused. Sometimes it seems every burger eaten and every glass quaffed is less about simple enjoyment and sustenance, and more about it being touted as a lofty, life-altering event.
But a true Napa experience is a magical thing, really. When the elements of time, place and, most importantly, emotions, are presented to you in such a way that you truly open up and receive what’s happening, then those elements coalesce perfectly and your senses lock into memory the feelings of that time – that’s an experience. And if it happens through the connections you make with the people who live, work and play here in the Valley, that’s your Napa experience.
Bob Hurley was, indeed always will be, a steward of those kinds of experiences.
After 17 odd years at the helm of his namesake restaurant that sat at the geographic, and some would say, metaphorical, center of Yountville and the Valley’s food scene, that stewardship, at least one in which he wears chef’s whites, is coming to an end.
The accolades abound, and his provenance and trajectory as a chef and business owner can be found littered across the internet with a simple search, and so they won’t be included here. Lost in that search, however, is that in jumping on board the wine country tourism upswing so early, like his peers Thomas Keller and Cindy Pawlcyn, he was a visionary. As one of the leaders in offering “real” food by way of simple, bold and pure dishes, heavy on flavor and light in pretense, his example of this kind of food experience continues to be emulated.
Bob never wanted to be defined as a chef.
To him, his time at Hurley’s, along with Chandon and the Napa Valley Grille, is just a chapter in his life. He says it makes it easier to move on and embrace his retired life, which includes returning to world travel with his amazing wife Cynthia. But if you caught him mid-stride during his near constant entrance and exit in-and-out of his kitchen while in a chef’s coat, however, you could see that it was as a chef that he made those connections that would turn a meal or a glass of wine while bending elbows with the locals into an experience.
And he was unique in that he did this like all great leaders do – with humility, a deference to his team members and the citizens of the Valley, and by consistently executing with a silent but sure strength.
In the end, though, the times that clients had at Hurley’s were led by a man with an obvious joy for creating those elegantly special times. There’s proof in every picture of Bob. In each one he’s looks directly at the camera with the kind of gentle and sincere smile that only comes from a steadfast belief in who he was and what he did.
Bob Hurley’s vision, his love and care for his staff and patrons, and his resolve in quietly creating the kinds of wine country lifelong memories – it’s these things that made his humble wood-paneled joint at the corner of Washington and Yount streets in Yountville, arguably the center of the birth of the new American culinary scene, a hub for true Napa experiences.