Nestled among stately homes and towering maple trees, the Fat Duck Inn is just as cozy and warm as the name leads you to believe. On October 1, Rich and Cynthia Koby took over the inn and now run it with a local culinary student (and sometimes their daughter). They not only prepare an expanded continental breakfast, but they also put on wine-pairing and private dinners. Everything is made in-house, based on whatever nearby farmers have to offer. With Rich’s decades of culinary experience, the fixed menu allows him the flexibility to build delicious and creative plates. One thing is for certain: You are one lucky duck when eating at the Fat Duck Inn.
LIFESTYLES: When did you learn how to cook?
Chef Koby: I’ve always had a passion for food, for as long as I can remember. I helped my mom in the kitchen. My mom is an absolutely phenomenal cook. We lived in Sonoma County, Calif., so we had the bounty of the region. We had a very good family friend who was a French chef and that kind of sparked the idea that, “Oh, well, that’s a career choice.” I started cooking professionally at 16 for a little restaurant in the town of Petaluma, and the whole career started from there.
LIFESTYLES: Were you in Sonoma when the farm-to-table movement was starting?
Chef Koby: When it was getting going I was at a small restaurant in Santa Rosa called Restaurant Matisse. We didn’t call it “farm-to-table” back then. We were just so excited to get fresh produce in the back door. At that point, about the late ’80s, we sort of started this new cooking style where we were cooking from the bounty, instead of sourcing product to cook with. So that was a real paradigm shift for the industry. We could cook reactively instead of proactively.
LIFESTYLES: Do you continue to cook reactively at the Fat Duck Inn?
Chef Koby: My biggest inspiration really and truly in this valley comes from the farmers that I go to visit and the wineries and their wines, because most of the time I’m writing wine-pairing dinners. I go and I taste the wines, and from there I come up with a menu based on what I think will pair the best.
LIFESTYLES: What makes a
Chef Koby: Passion. You really have to love food and love what you’re doing. It’s long hours. It’s hard work — and respect. Somebody put the same amount of love and passion and work into that apple that you’re putting into making that apple tart. And that’s really important to me, that passion and respect for the ingredient and the people that produced it.
LIFESTYLES: What has been your best day as a chef?
Chef Koby: I love cooking for my family. One of my favorite memories of working with my daughter is showing her how to make a really simple four-ingredient tomato sauce, and make some meatballs, and cook spaghetti and meatballs. That’s probably one of my best memories of cooking.
DAD'S SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
2 to 3 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
One 28-ounce can whole, peeled pear tomatoes in juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until it is just browned on the edges, 4 to 5 minutes. Carefully add the tomatoes (nothing splashes like tomatoes), and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring for a few minutes with a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes. (This is the point at which you will add the meatballs.) Reduce the heat and let simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in the fresh basil and season again.
Meatballs and spaghetti
2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed in a garlic press
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
4 ounces fresh whole-milk ricotta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh basil for garnish
1 pound spaghetti
Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil for the spaghetti.
With your hands or with a spoon, gently combine all the ingredients (except the basil and the spaghetti) until just mixed together. Don't overwork the mixture, or the meatballs will be tough. Divide into 10 equal pieces and shape them into nice-looking meatballs.
Add the meatballs to the sauce (after it has cooked for about 15 minutes — see recipe for tomato sauce, above), turning over after 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and put it onto a large serving platter. Pour on the sauce and mix well. Spoon the meatballs on top of the spaghetti and garnish with basil leaves. Serve immediately along with extra cheese.