Chefs spend all week planning and overseeing the execution of elaborate dishes for the pleasure of the dining public. We have often wondered, what do chefs cook, eat and pour on their days off? In this series, Chefs Cook at Home, we visit the personal kitchens of some of our favorite chefs, to see—and taste—what they're up to in their downtime.
Sean O'Toole does not want to wash dishes or spend all day coddling a sauce when he's in his home kitchen. "A day off involves a lot of sleep," says O'Toole with a laugh. "TORC is a young restaurant—we opened about a year ago—and I don't take many days off. When I'm cooking at home, I'm usually cooking grilled stuff, always on charcoal or mesquite. We'll do a piece of beef, maybe a nice dry-aged rib eye or a New York strip, with a Little Gem [lettuce] salad dressed with good oil and vinegar."
TORC occupies the space in downtown Napa that was once home to the Michelin-starred Ubuntu. O'Toole is a native of Boston who grew up working in the hotel and restaurant business. In a career that's taken him to New York, Paris and San Francisco, he has cooked for Floyd Cardoz, Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse, Laurent Gras and Ron Siegel. He was the opening chef at Bardessono in the Napa Valley town of Yountville and held operations management roles at the Michael Mina group and at Quince and Cotogna in San Francisco before opening TORC with his wife, Cynthia. She has written a wine list that's balanced between Napa and Old World selections, with a few standout bottlings from other regions.
The recipe below is a much-simplified version of a roast chicken dish for two from the TORC menu. "When you cook six and a half days a week, you want to do something really simple, but at the same time tasty and elegant," says O'Toole. A compound butter under the skin gives the bird intrigue and layers of warm, spicy, nutty and herbal flavors, but at the end of the day, it's a comfortable dish that requires little fussing. Sean and Cynthia enjoy it with a Syrah from Cayuse winery, or another Syrah from Washington, as the wine's big structure stands up to the buttery chicken while an olive/herbal element is echoed in the vegetables.