Jim Clendenen refers to himself as "a spice guy, a seasoning guy," talking about his love for dill, Espelette peppers and thyme. His talent with spices and seasonings explains why he's such a spectacular home cook. His understanding of flavor also helps make it clear why he's such a famed winemaker: He founded Au Bon Climat outside Santa Barbara, in the Santa Maria Valley, in 1982, helping to prove the region's potential for great Pinot Noir.
As his Easter menu here reveals, Clendenen adores country-French food, which he first encountered when he was 21, traveling through Bordeaux in a Volkswagen camper. His culinary style has also been influenced by watching American chef friends like Alice Waters and Charlie Trotter in their restaurant kitchens.
The word about Clendenen's cooking started to spread during harvest several years ago, when his employees at Au Bon Climat jokingly aimed to prove their diligence by refusing to let their boss do any work. So he cooked lunch for them instead. Ever since he has prepared lunch almost every day for the winery staff—18 people during harvest—along with any guests who stop by. The menus change constantly: "I might be missing the Basque region, so then lunch will be full of almonds, watercress and chorizo," he says.