Chef Frankie Lopez Said His Team is His Most Delicious Creation Food
At just 36, Francisco Lopez Jr. is the executive chef presiding over Chef Charlie Palmer’s downtown Napa restaurants at the Archer Hotel- Charlie Palmer Steakhouse and Sky & Vine. Some days he juggles service and up to 13 events, but it’s his team that makes it all possible.
Lopez considers it his job to develop people who work on his team because that’s what chef mentors like Palmer, Daniel Boulud, and Perry Hoffman did for him. Lopez grew up in New Hampshire with parents who were both chefs. His family is Puerto Rican and Peruvian, so French flavors were new when he earned a coveted role with icon Daniel Boulud after culinary school. “I learned French technique and fine dining from Daniel,” he said. “Things like how to tourné potatoes or make classic dishes from pommes purée to Bordelaise sauce.” Today, Lopez runs his chefs through every station to teach them foundational techniques. And there’s a kitchen library filled with books from master chefs so that they can study.
Boulud, who’s heavily involved in the Bocuse d’Or competition, urged Lopez to test his skills. Lopez won the S. Pellegrino Young Chef Competition for the East Coast, and finished in the top 10 for the entire U.S. At the finals he met Perry Hoffman, who was the chef of Etoile at Domaine Chandon at the time. (The restaurant has since closed.) Lopez remembers how proud he was to work with Hoffman, who became the youngest chef in America to win a Michelin star at age 25. “At Etoile we went foraging every morning about the property,” Lopez said. “Just watching farmers and chefs come to the back door and drop off five pounds of chanterelles picked that morning was an awakening for me in California.” Today, Lopez “farms” six raised beds on the hotel rooftop that supply fresh garnishes like nasturtium, borage, and rose geranium, along with lemongrass, cilantro, and parsley.
After a stint at Calistoga Ranch, he interviewed with Chef Palmer at a Top Chef-style audition where he received a mystery basket and created a menu that included a roasted beet salad with smoked goat cheese, and a seared filet with shaved Brussels sprouts, sage, and golden raisins. He promised Palmer that he’d keep learning, and his team shares that passion. Lopez sounds like a proud dad talking about a porter who was curious about making pasta and grew to become a junior sous chef or Elizabeth Espiritu, a pastry chef he took her under his wing, and now serves as his executive sous chef.
He’s looking forward to late summer dishes such as their heirloom tomato salad with smoked goat cheese, herbs and pumpernickel crumble, and the sous vide octopus with citrus supremes, fennel purée, and fennel pollen. Housemade Meyer lemon ricotta tortellini with black truffle beurre montée and Parmesan air is returning to the menu.
“I push them to keep learning and under- standing new ingredients,” Lopez said.
“I want to build a family tree of people who have come through and made a name for themselves.”
HERLOOM TOMATO SALAD
- 4 oz. heirloom tomatoes
- 1 oz. whipped goat cheese
- 1/2 brown butter caraway rye crumble
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp garden herbs
- salt and pepper to taste
Cut heirloom tomatoes into quarters. Dress with olive oil, salt and pepper. Smear goat cheese on your plate. Lay down heirloom tomatoes, dust with brown butter crumble. Garnish with garden herbs.
1260 1st Street, Napa, CA 94559
707-819-2500 • www.charliepalmersteak.com
Article By: Maria Hunt