Food fit for a cave
Mar./Apr. 2011 California Country magazine
Story by Kate Campbell
Photos by Florence Low
Chef James Lehman
Uncomplicated dishes, with natural flavorings, are the foods served by James Lehman, executive chef at Ironstone Winery in Murphys. Whether it's a banquet crowd numbering into the hundreds or a select few dining in elegance in the winery's beautiful and mysterious wine caves, fresh California meat and produce light the way to healthy menus.
"When I think about food fit for a cave, I think about basic, unadulterated food that's simple to prepare and deeply satisfying—seasoned and roasted or grilled and eaten by hand in large chunks," Lehman said. "No small, dainty pieces. I'm a minimalist when it comes to food preparation."
Although these kinds of dishes might be particularly appealing to men, Lehman said, "I think we've all got a little caveman in us. And, when it comes to dessert, rich and fulfilling works best in the caves. I'm serving Bundt cake and pound cake with fresh fruit."
Ironstone Winery is set in the Sierra Nevada foothills where native trees, shrubs and berries are abundant and the natural setting plays a big role in the winery's style. The main building and tasting room, built in the style of a gold-mining stamp mill, offers a rustic backdrop for meals prepared at the winery deli or served in the grand dining room, as well as the caves.
A California native, Lehman trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., where he learned about modern and classic cuisines of the world. He has worked in the kitchens of restaurants in the Napa Valley and in New York, and said he has always had an appreciation for fresh foods, simply prepared.