Chef Ken Frank opened the first La Toque on the Sunset Strip at age 23. After a 14-year run, and a succession of other high- profile culinary positions, he heeded the call of wine country and moved north to open a new La Toque in Rutherford in 1998 before moving the perpetually Michelin-starred eatery to its current home in the Westin Verasa. As COVID upended the hospitality  world,  Frank,  who is also 2021 chair of the annual  Napa Truffle Festival, took quick action. “The speed at which COVID changed everything we knew was overwhelming,” said Frank, who quickly closed the restaurant and narrowed staff to keep the candle burning until reopening. “Worse, COVID represents an existential threat, as socializing, not distancing, is key to everything we do.” The crises caused Frank to focus on how La Toque fits into the community. “Our most basic function is to feed people; it’s what we do.  Suddenly we had an abundance of capacity but no  demand,  so  we  adopted  the South Napa homeless shelter.” Working with the food bank, the farmers market, and generous local benefactors, Frank and his team continue to prepare and provide hot lunches five days a week using 99% donated food. Reopening this past summer entailed a number of tweaks to provide accessibility to a loyal clientele. “So far, we’ve managed to pivot each time we needed to, and we’re determined to get through this together.” As for the Truffle Festival? “This January is  clearly  not  going to happen, but we’re optimistic we can put together a summer festival featuring the great black truffles we get from the Southern Hemisphere during their winter season. Just before the pandemic, I spent two weeks down under and came home really impressed with the Aussie culinary scene. It will be exciting to bring some of those chefs to Napa to share not only their fantastic winter truffles but their great enthusiasm for cooking at the highest level.”

Article By: Fran Miller