The Bewildered Pig: An Interview with Janelle & Daniel

by Lisa Bauer, June 15, 2016

Daniel and Janelle are long time Mendocino County devotees. Daniel began visiting Anderson Valley over twenty years ago. He brought Janelle here for the first time thirteen years ago, zig-zagging her through the bucolic, tree-lined roads on the back of his motorcycle. They often fantasized about moving here. The Bewildered Pig began catering for local wineries here over six years ago. In 2014 they began rooting in the Valley “At the TownsEnd,” in the old Claudia Springs tasting room. Then they fulfilled a seven-year dream: to breathe life into The Bewildered Pig restaurant. It finally happened at the old Floodgate building, in West Philo, almost one year ago to the month.

The Bewildered Pig is the Valley’s newest restaurant and in many ways is the culmination of many years’ experience and intention. The utilization of ultra-locally sourced, organic, sustainable, and seasonal foods has always been the mission and Janelle and Daniel believe this Valley is the perfect location to manifest this commitment. Many things have shaped Daniel & Janelle’s lives, paths and choices. Both began cooking quite early in their lives.

Janelle grew up in Indiana, Michigan, and Alaska where each place had either a substantial home garden or a lot of wild game hanging in the garage. Her grandfather and father shared a passion for hunting so strong that they moved the family to Alaska where she spent several of her formative years. Janelle still recalls the memories of salmon-filled rivers and majestic mountain views. Strongly influenced by her Eastern European heritage and her maternal great grandmother (Busia), Janelle recalls the “pie house” where six-inch high meringue pies would line the top of the chest freezer for weekend family gatherings, the much loved czarnina (duck blood soup), fishing crawdads with bacon, and eating fish from the lake on which they lived. Her Mother cooked extensively from their large home garden.

Janelle worked her first “line position” at age twelve (illegally), cooking eggs at a local breakfast counter in Elkhart, Indiana after a confrontation with the chef about his improper techniques. Although beginning college with a focus on pre-law and business, she decided that cooking was her passion. She studied at a non-professional cooking school initially working as a chef assistant to get exposure to the cooking classes. She mopped floors, washed dishes, and helped with prep. Within one year she took the chef position. Shortly thereafter she leased the restaurant space with her then partner and they grew a successful catering operation. Having developed a passion for wine, a trip to the Napa Valley on a rainy February day paved the way for the next decade of intense cooking for some of the top names in the wine and restaurant industry. She moved to Napa after accepting a management position at Meadowwood Napa Valley. Shortly thereafter she met restaurant designer/restaurateur, Pat Kuleto and they shared an instantaneous connection based on certain sensibilities about food, wine, and the service of them. As executive chef for his namesake winery, she cooked for Pat and his guests for seven years and sourced the majority of the food from his fully sustainable ranch, orchards, and gardens. It was Pat who introduced Janelle to Daniel, who was literally the boy next door. When Pat sold the winery to corporate owners that did not share her vision of a sustainable food program she accepted the executive chef position at Peter Michael Winery, where she spent four years cooking for the Michael family/winery guests, among whom were some of the most respected individuals in the wine and food world. After over twenty years of cooking, her style, which she calls “refined rustic,” gelled as she melded together her range of culinary experiences from the bacchanalian to the highly refined.

Daniel Townsend also came from humble beginnings. Born in Santa Monica, his world vastly shifted when his father decided to become a missionary on an Apache reservation in the White Mountains of Arizona. While his fanatic father tried to preach to the Apache people Daniel visited the shamans. He hunted and gathered with his father as they were very poor. They ate everything, including doves and squirrel. Daniel began working in a restaurant kitchen at age eleven in order to help the family and to eat. His strong work ethic emerged and French chefs took him under their wings. He worked in various Arizona restaurants throughout his teens and was offered a position at Maxwell’s Plum restaurant in San Francisco before he graduated from high schoo.. He eventually made his way to the Napa Valley, arriving with his bicycle, an aloe plant, and less than two dollars in his pockets. For the next seventeen years Daniel worked in a range of restaurants: he opened Piati, worked at Chandon under Philippe Jeanty, and at Bistro Don Giovanni. He then began his own private chef business with clients such as Stags Leap and Pine Ridge Wineries. He was Robin William’s chef for several years. His range of interests expanded and he moved into the position of cellar master at Honig Cellars to learn more about winemaking.

All the while Daniel had been cultivating a substantial and head-turning garden at his Yountville home, which caught the eye of a local hotelier. His first commercial offer then came: to design the landscape at The Harvest Inn. So began his landscape design business, now over twenty years running. His signature design style has shaped the Martini House Restaurant, Nickel & Nickel, and Far Niente Wineries. He loves horticulture and everything edible in the garden and admittedly has an intense connection to growing the things he cooks. “Food: it’s all about the edible garden,” he opined. With a very eclectic and earthy aesthetic he has designed all the exterior elements of the restaurant. It is ethereal, aesthetic, and captivating.

Next door, “At the TownsEnd,” there is an enchanting private space, soon to be available for special events and wine tasting. It will also feature a small collection of locally made, bespoke goods. The space is officially titled a “think tank,” but what it really reflects is the full circle that both he and Janelle have created together based on their love for food, gardens and entertaining. Janelle and Daniel have been together for thirteen years. Both have a passion for gardening, and fondly remember their mother and grandmother’s cooking. They both honor and harken back to a more traditional way of living; a family garden, and fresh, really local ingredients.

As the Napa Valley continued to grow, Daniel and Janelle, who lived there rurally, decided it was time to relocate to a place more aligned with their values and goals. “We reached a point in our lives and careers at which we wanted to take our philosophy and way of life and create a space where others who share our sensibilities could come eat, drink and relax, enjoying the experience on all sensory levels.”

In 2009 while road tripping through the Pacific Northwest in their ’78 Westie, armed with wine, caviar, and truffles--with no particular destination--the concept of The Bewildered Pig germinated. As they were driving, they contemplated life, food and humanity’s role in the world. The topic of pigs came up: that they were super intelligent and yet both revered and maligned in our language and culture (dirty pig…yummy food). References to the pig are often very derogatory, yet our foodie culture celebrates pork in many ways. Bacon is so revered it’s almost a food group in and of itself! What would the pig think of this dichotomy? Well, the pig would be bewildered! And so, the name was born. The pig is a metaphor for us. What does The Bewildered Pig mean to Janelle and Daniel? Both find it somewhat difficult to explain--it's all about a perspective on not just life, but how we live it, how we feed ourselves (both food and non-food), and it’s about the awareness of the sourcing of our food. It’s about consciousness, living with passion and having integrity. It also represents a kind of denouncing of the judgement system so inherent in our food culture today, where chefs are often only recognized by how many “stars” they have, and bygone are the days of the informative Julia Child cooking show in favor of rude exploitations of nonprofessional cooks on trial by fire.

With the idea of The Pig having taken shape, Daniel and Janelle started looking for a suitable location. They looked in the towns of Mendocino, Gualala, Pt. Arena, Stewart’s Point, Hopland, and Rutherford looking for just the right spot. They have always loved Anderson Valley, and they had an established catering clientele here in addition to some friends. They decided to rent the old Claudia Springs tasting room at the end of Philo as a place to store some of their possessions and as a place to manifest ideas -- a creative outlet. It was an opportunity to “get their foot in the (Anderson Valley) door,” so to speak -- to get a feel for the community. When the previous tenants approached them to take over the Floodgate restaurant location, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. They cashed out what they had in retirement savings, and “bought them out.” In many ways, the location was the perfect spot for them: it was in the middle of the wine country, sixteen miles from the Pacific Coast and “At the Town’s End.” They proceeded to spend the next eight months giving the neglected restaurant a much needed facelift while honoring the historical presence of the space.

Choosing this valley was a very conscious decision; they came here wanting cleaner air and more moisture. They have brought the local, bountiful food and wine offerings as well as the casual mentality of the Valley into the restaurant. They want folks to be able to identify the farmer when eating their food. The plethora of beauty in this place -- the redwoods, the hills, the sky, the old barns -- are all sources of inspiration in the décor and on the menu. Janelle and Daniel were also drawn to the vast number of artists and craftspeople in the Valley and the “renegade” spirit of Mendocino County.

Their goal has been to create delicious food sourced with intention and served in an environment that is symbiotic with the space and its surroundings. They wanted to create a non-pretentious yet refined restaurant where guests could wear flip-flops or heels and both would feel comfortable. They offer world class food, sourced and prepared with integrity, all nestled into their magical design. They have chosen to repurpose, reclaim, reuse, and to fit the aesthetic of the valley in the ambiance of the restaurant, which is meant to reflect the bounty and beauty of the valley: simple yet sophisticated.

Daniel and Janelle were aware of the perceptions some in the valley might have of “Napa folks” coming to town: bringing in an ostentatious style, but it would be hard to be farther from who they are and what they’ve done. They respect the community that exists here, and they appreciate that the community diligently works to be the greenest county in California. They acknowledge and celebrate the huge commitment to sustainable, organic farming here. While they still feel like the “new kids on the block,” with the rest of the class getting used to them, they are here for the long haul, committed to creating a long standing, iconic gathering place.

When asked about their specific commitment to local, sustainable, organic foods, they both blurted out, “there is no other way!” They acknowledge that they chose this place because of the food grown here. They would not have a restaurant here if local food products were not available. They are also foragers, hunters, and farmers, and prior to moving to AV grew and raised their own food: sheep, rabbits, chickens, bees, and gardens. They hope to again have their farm. They cultivate relationships and dialogue with the farmers. They honor their ingredients, and hardly anything goes to waste in The Pig kitchen. Elizabeth Leas, who has been The Pig’s Sous Chef for over five years, gathers food from multiple farms on her daily commute to restaurant from her new home in Yorkville and brings the compost back to them on the way home. Mendocino County Heritage Pork, Blue Meadow Farms, Pennyroyal Farms, Emerald Earth, Petit Teton, Natural Products of Boonville, Princess Seafood, and Mendocino Seaweed are all purveyors from whom they gratefully source their menu’s items.

They believe the fundamental credo: we are what we eat, but would add: we are connected to this earth by what we put into our bodies. Good food has consciousness. If its being pollinated from local bees, has local yeast, then eating it where it is grown is being part of the process. Connectivity to the food, the environment, and the community is about nourishing the whole person. It was the plan the entire time to source locally, organically, and sustainably. When one has a specific intention for so long, and the process of manifestation unfolds, the realization is quite life changing.

There have been challenges. Janelle commented that they felt they could understand Alice Waters’ initial struggle. A completely locally-sourced endeavor requires teaching, time, and is about building relationships. It’s a constant conversation with food partners in community. They engage in a lot of communication with their suppliers.

The two also sensed as they moved into the Valley community, that they were scrutinized as if they are wealthy. In fact, the two are not well-heeled Napa-ites. They have used every penny they have, and then some, to start this restaurant. They also had a few local believers invest in their vision. Reflecting on the first three months of operation, Janelle commented, “We are happy to do what we love, and we hope to live comfortably, doing that. We don’t need to be wealthy -- wealth comes from within. We want people to gather here: eat, drink, and return often! Our livelihood depends on it!”

There are plans to host a market someday -- a community farmers’ and merchants’ market, with artists, craftspeople, and musicians in the side parking lot. They also plan to host wine tastings, events, and parties next door in the lovely outdoor space “At the TownsEnd.”

For now, The Pig is open for dinner Thursday through Sunday, and they have just opened for seasonal Sunday Brunch. Thursday night is Loco(l)s Night; the menu features a hearty, economically priced “Trough of the Day,” and waived corkage fee on wines. There are dishes for all: gluten free, vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, meat lovers. They will launch a take-out program this summer. Reservations (by phone and not email!) are a good idea, but not always necessary. Well behaved children are welcomed. Registered service animals only. No WI-FI. Price range is $5-$35 per course. Beer and wine served. The Bewildered Pig is located at 1810 Highway 128, at the west outskirts of Philo. There is no sign on the building (yet), but the old Floodgate sign is still there. Reach them at (707) 895-2088, info@thebewilderedpig.com or thebewilderedpig.com.

(The Connecting With Local Food series is brought to you by Anderson Valley Foodshed to highlight local food options.)

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